Great people. That’s what Joe Burford said is essential to making a cattle operation like his a success.
“Many of our people have been with us for 25 or more years and they’re the backbone of what we do,” Burford said. “We wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
Joe is a fourth generation Coloradoan who grew up on a sheep ranch in western Colorado. Summers were spent in Eagle County near Vail. Winters were spent west of Grand Junction.
His father Robert sold the summer ranch in the late 1960s, bought a place near Grand Junction and converted to cattle, about time Joe graduated from high school.
Burford said his father was also involved in politics. He ran for the Colorado state Legislature and later became Speaker of the House. In the 1980s, he went to Washington D.C. during the Reagan administration as director of the Bureau of Land Management.
After graduating from Colorado School of Mines, Burford went on to graduate school for a master’s degree before getting into the ag lending business in 1976.
“I’d moved to Oklahoma for a year before returning to Denver,” he said. “We were financing feedlots, packing houses and investor cattle programs. I was there for 11 years before we came up to Scottsbluff with a feeding operation in 1985.”
As part of the operation, he established a captive finance company for the feed yard.
“That’s very common for feed yards these days,” Burford said. “If you have a commercial feed yard you usually have a finance company to go along with it for customers who what to finance their feed or cattle or both.”
Because of his educational background, Burford was mostly involved in the finance side of feed yard operations. But that was about to change.
Burford and his wife Shirley bought a ranch and from there, their business interests expanded into feeding, farming and ranching.
After buying a home in 2000, the Burfords leased a feed yard north of Bayard, purchasing it about 10 years later.
His next acquisition was in 2005 — High Plains Feed Yard Inc. north of Scottsbluff in Sioux County.
“We’re predominantly in the feed yard business, but we also have some farms that fit in well with our operation,” Burford said. “And we have some grassland in Sioux County where run some mother cows and yearlings. Everything feeds down into the commercial feed yards. We feed about half the cattle and have outside customers for the rest.”
Capacity of the Burford feed yards is about 22,000 to 23,000 head. They usually run anywhere from 12,000 to 22,000 at a time.
“Everybody has a lot of cattle on feed this year,” he said. “It seems like everyone is at near capacity.”
Closer to town, Burford has his Burford Group of Companies offices in Scottsbluff, where the accounting and finance functions are done. They also have a shop, B&W Inc., where they run cattle trucks.
Burford and Shirley’s family is also involved in the operation. Their daughter, Susan Young, and her husband Lucas work at the High Plains Feed Yard. Their son Bob and daughter-in-law Brooke are involved in both the Sioux County and Bayard operations.
“Their families want to continue on with the operations and make a career of it,” he said. “The kids like being involved with the ag operation, the ranch and the cattle. Otherwise I might be looking for something else to do with my free time.”
Although he still enjoys the cattle business and following the markets, Joe and Shirley have been able to spend more traveling.
“We’ve been to a lot of places, but it’s always good to get back to western Nebraska,” he said. “There are less people and more quality people around.”
Over the years, Burford has been involved in a number of different areas. He’s currently on the board at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Bayard. He’s also on the Regional West Foundation Board.
He was one of the founding shareholders and directors of the former Valley Bank and Trust, now Western States Bank. He remains active on the loan committee.
“We stay active, but a lot of our time now is supporting grandkids and following them around to athletic events and other activities,” he said.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!