By Betty Jo Gigot Publisher
Editor’s Note: An April 1996 CALF News feature titled “The Quiet Giant” spotlighted one of the most creative and successful feeders in the history of the industry. William C. (Bill) Foxley not only built and operated the largest confinement feedyards in the business, but at one time, his cattle company was the nation’s largest. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit with him in his office in La Jolla, Calif., and record some of his memories of 40 years in the industry.
If Foxley is anything, he is a scholar, and research and in-depth knowledge of history are his forte. A 1976 Omaha World Herald article quotes him as saying he agrees with Harry Truman that “the only part of the future that a man doesn’t know is the history he hasn’t read.”
The article went on to say that a Foxley company annual report might refer to quotes from Truman, Bernard Baruch or Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff.
Foxley’s office in La Jolla was piled high with books by a variety of authors, from Mark Twain to Rush Limbaugh, along with the books he read before deciding to stay in the cattle feeding business.
“I took a night course in business law while I was in the Marines,” Foxley said. “It served me well. Contracts work. Of all of the cattle we were involved with, only a few turned out to be bad deals. Cattle people are good people and their word is their bond.”
Fitting for today’s industry, Foxley spoke about the cattle cycle, saying that everyone knows about the cattle cycle. “Sometimes it is an aberration and will come earlier or later than you thought, but it always happens.”
The cattle feeding business was not in Foxley’s master plan. Fate intervened. His father was killed in an auto accident in 1957 while he was finishing college at Notre Dame University. After three years in the Marine Corps, Foxley returned to Omaha, Neb. All that was left of his father’s large enterprise was an 8,000-head capacity feedlot on 50th and H street in downtown Omaha. At the time, Foxley was not at all sure the cattle business was where he wanted to be.
“As a kid, my dad would get me out of bed at five o’clock in the morning,” Foxley said. “We would get pancakes and then go to the stockyards where I would hold the gate for him while he sorted cattle.” Foxley said that was not exactly what a young man with a bachelor’s degree in pre-med found interesting.
When he returned, Foxley & Co. was feeding cattle for packers or investors and Foxley did his research, finding out that, for the past five years, the feeders had lost $48,000. The decision was made that they had to change their methods of operation.
His research took him to Arizona to the feedyard run by two young men named Hughes and Ganz. His first lesson came when he spied a boxcar on a siding carrying Nebraska corn.
“They were freighting the corn into Arizona and had cheaper cost of gains then we did at home,” he said. “You have to remember that we were using very primitive technology up north. We were using a horse and wagon and shoveling the cracked corn into the bunk in the middle of the pen. In Arizona, they used trucks to haul feed to bunks along the alley. They had hired the services of a nutritionist and were flaking their grain
“You also have to remember that, in those days, we were feeding 2- and 3-year-old steers for 60 to 100 days. Sometimes the mud in the pens was awesome.”
After the trip to Arizona, Foxley saw the opportunities and he built his first feedyard the following year.
Next time: Foxley gets down to business.