By Larry Stalcup Contributing Editor
Gene Lowrey admits he grew up in a house divided. Although the family shared much love, their Alabama home was half Roll Tide and half War Eagle. Since they ran a cow-calf operation, the annual Iron Bowl football frenzy between Alabama and Auburn took their minds off issues of getting calves on the ground and keeping them healthy.
Those early life lessons helped prepare him for the challenges of running a feedyard, something he’s been part of since the 1990s. Lowrey is general manager of the 74,000-head-capacity XIT Feeders in Dalhart, Texas. XIT is part of Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, LLC – the world’s largest cattle-feeding company, headquartered in Johnstown, Colo.
Along with those responsibilities, he’s also the new chairman of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA), one of the industry’s most dynamic livestock organizations. “I’m proud to be involved with TCFA,” he says. “The TCFA staff advocates for feedyard members in Austin and Washington, D.C., on legislation and regulatory issues that have an impact on cattle feeding.”
He learned about the responsibilities of raising cattle from his father, Buddy, and mother, Cathy, on their southwestern Alabama farm and ranch at Atmore. Lowrey chose Oklahoma State University (OSU) to study animal science and business. Part of his studies involved working with the OSU wheat pasture research program. That’s where he was introduced to commercial cattle feeding.
“I worked on a wheat pasture research trial for OSU, and the cattle were fed at Cimarron Feeders [in Texhoma, Okla.],” Lowrey recalls. “The yard was owned by Continental Grain Company. I developed a good relationship with them and went to work for Cimarron Feeders after I graduated.”
After four years at Cimarron, he took the position of feed department manager at another Continental yard, Hartley Feeders, near Dalhart and was eventually promoted to feedyard manager. He managed Hartley for four years before moving to XIT Feeders as manager in 2009.
Of course, the name “XIT” was taken from the mammoth, 3-million-acre XIT Ranch that occupied much of the Texas Panhandle from 1885 to 1912. While the XIT is a sprawling part of Texas history, helping finance construction of the State Capitol in Austin, Five Rivers Cattle Feeding is linked to one of the most celebrated stories in the feeding industry. It’s part of a legacy that started when Warren Monfort began farming north of Greeley, Colo., nearly a century ago.
In the 1930s, Monfort began finishing cattle using crop surpluses to provide quality cattle to packers. The next 30 years saw Warren and his son, Kenneth, grow the operation and expand into meatpacking. After growing their feedyard to a capacity of 100,000 head, the Monforts expanded by building numerous other yards. In 1987, Kenneth sold Monfort of Colorado to ConAgra Foods.
In 2005, Five Rivers Ranch Cattle Feeding, LLC, was formed. It was comprised of the six ContiBeef feedyards owned by Continental Grain Co., and the four Smithfield Beef Group feedyards owned by Smithfield Foods, Inc., and then JBS. In 2018, Five Rivers was sold to Pinnacle Asset Management, LP. Five Rivers now operates 13 feedyards in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. During the negotiations between JBS and Pinnacle, Lowrey worried that XIT, Hartley and other regional feedyards would be split up.
“It was a relief when we learned the yards would remain part of Five Rivers,” he explains.
About 85 to 90 percent of XIT and other Five Rivers fed cattle are company owned. All company cattle are marketed through JBS on a formula basis.
“Marketing on a formula program is a big part of our business,” Lowrey says. “We get paid for what we ship. We also custom feed cattle for loyal ranchers and feeders. They can use JBS or other packers to market their cattle.”
Five Rivers feedyards procure cattle in designated regions. XIT Feeders normally purchases cattle from Texas ranchers and background yards located in North Texas and west of Interstate 35 and north of Interstate 20. They also buy cattle from Mississippi and Alabama.
“They are mainly native beef cattle and a few beef cattle out of Mexico,” Lowrey says.
His leadership at Cimarron, Hartley, XIT feedyards and Five Rivers led to being elected to the TCFA Board of Directors in 2020. He served in the board’s officer rotation before becoming chairman last October.
“TCFA does much for its member feedyards and the overall cattle feeding and production industry,” Lowrey says. “The association staff is heavily involved in youth programs and its education foundation. The youth programs provide feedyard training, safety training and scholarships.
“The expertise within the TCFA staff enables them to provide a range of services to large and small members. Smaller feedyards may not have the resources to maintain environmental or safety managers. TCFA helps provide those services. A lot of people elsewhere look to TCFA to help them make decisions to benefit the cattle industry.”
Lowrey supports the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Beef Checkoff.
“They’re what I believe in personally,” he says. “The checkoff does our industry a lot of good through beef research and beef promotion. And I believe the industry will continue to support the checkoff.
“This is all I’ve ever done. It’s all I know,” he says. “I’m perfectly happy coming to work every day and doing what we do. It’s gratifying to know we’re putting food on people’s plates and providing support for this community and families of people who work here. I think it’s something that’s noble. I want to do my part to make sure other people understand that.”