Cattleland Feedyards Ltd.: Ambition Transforms Local Farm

If ambition and confidence were commodities, one could safely assume that Greg Appleyard, president of Cattleland Feedyards Ltd. (Cattleland), possesses a surplus. Although he’s still in his mid-30s, Appleyard has transformed the feed yard in Strathmore that he purchased at the age of 27 into one of the leading facilities of its sort in Alberta. Cattleland offers superior service to clients in all areas of beef cattle procurement, feeding, research and marketing.

The feed yard was started in 1975, though Appleyard did not join Cattleland until 1994, when – tired of political studies at the University of Calgary – he started working as both a county agriculture employee and a Cattleland night-shift worker. Around the same time, the ambitious 19 year old decided to pursue a personal stake in agribusiness, purchasing a grain farm. “I didn't have a clue about grain farming, but that is what I started to build along with a cow herd. At first it was just a hobby as both my wife and I had other jobs, it was a tough three or four years, but we made it,” Appleyard has been quoted as saying.

After a couple of years Appleyard decided that the county job was a dead end, so he walked into Cattleland’s general manager’s office, announcing, “‘I want to do this full time during the day, but I want X amount of money, a truck, a cell phone and you have 48 hours to decide.’ Today, if someone talked to me like that, I’d bounce him down the stairs,” laughs Appleyard.

In Five Years, I Want to Own This

Cattleland’s general manager agreed to Appleyard’s terms, however, and after a couple of years Appleyard had been promoted to farming manager. During his tenure he introduced cost-effective growing techniques and increased efficiency. Five years later, Ben Thorlakson, who would ultimately sell the company to Appleyard, bought out Cattleland.
“Early on Ben asked me, ‘Do you think you can run this place?’ I told him no problem, and then he asked where I wanted to be in five years. I told him the truth, that I wanted to own it," relates Appleyard. “He laughed and said I’ll keep you in mind.”

Appleyard got that phone call a couple of years later. He found the investment partner he needed in local accountant Karen Gregory, who helped arrange the deal and who has helped him maintain his finances since. Unfortunately, the news of a bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, more commonly known as mad cow disease) outbreak hit the news on the day the deal was supposed to close.

“Ben called me on May 20th and said that BSE has broken out and the deal was on hold until we saw what happened," Appleyard was quoted as saying. “I had the opportunity to pull out of the deal and Ben was being fair about the situation, but I wanted to go ahead anyway.” In October of that year, Appleyard became the owner of Cattleland, which now employees 45 and can develop a beneficial cattle-feeding strategy for all clients.

Appleyard’s family “grain-farm hobby” had also grown substantially during the same time, and by the time he purchased Cattleland the farm grew to 14,000 acres through the combination of Cattleland and personal land; this land included 500 head of mother cows, and within three years the farm exceeded 20,000 acres. The farm, Creekstone Farms Ltd., operates in conjunction with Cattleland, provides a custom trucking service for hauling cattle, grain and fertilizer, and the two companies complement each other.

“The feed yard is the main focus and that where most employees are, but Cattleland is one of those things that helps everything else go from good to great,” says Appleyard. “Our cattle-feeding operation feeds off of our grain farm, and if you have a hail storm, you can salvage what’s left as bedding or silage. Cattleland adds an extra value of 20 percent to the Creekstone grain farm.”

Not content with just being one of the youngest feed yard owners in North America, Appleyard also built the Integrated Beef Research Centre, a division of Cattleland Feedyards Ltd. (IBRS-CFL), the largest privately owned bovine research facility, which can hold up to 18,000 research cattle. “It conducts research on animal welfare, safety, feedlots trials, etc. … We’re also leading the commercialization of genomics in North America; we DNA test all of our animals,” reveals Appleyard.

Further Divestment Increases Business

Appleyard further divested his business when he partnered up with Chicago-based RMI, a risk management company, in its new agricultural division. “I’m a joint-venture partner that helped developed the software and consult on margin management and commodities to run risk assessments in the agricultural sector,” notes Appleyard proudly.

Appleyard has been focused on increasing his agricultural operations’ efficiencies during the recent economic downturn, and Appleyard has a strategic goal over the next 10 years that includes expansive growth of the grain farm by 50 percent, an increased return on investment to 25 percent, and a maximization of the productivity of every acre.

“We’re a solid business, but I want to make sure that we are on the best footing possible when it comes to expand again,” says Appleyard. “In the future our next steps will be getting into more alliances with mega-corporations, and I’ve been studying hedge funds and private-equity groups for when we go from 20,000 acres to 50,000 acres. We need to make sure we’re on the forward side of the curve.”

Cattleland and Creekstone lead the industry in hiring specialized private nutritionists to study cattle feed and agronomists for its grain production. “Seven years ago it was not normal to have those trades on site, and we’re proud to have been one of the leading farms in Canada to introduce them,” says Appleyard.

Compared to his fellow farmers in Alberta and across Canada, Greg Appleyard is years younger. Regardless of his tenure in the industry, Appleyard’s ambition and energy has expanded Cattleland Feedyards Ltd. into one of North America’s leading feed yard and grain farm operations.