Profit centers give this Montana family more flexibility
The majestic Rocky Mountains can make any view beautiful, but the white Charolais cattle grazing before Brett DeBruycker are his idea of perfection.
"The northern plains of Montana are as close to a cattle-raising mecca as it gets," DeBruycker says. "The mild summers, cool weather, higher altitude and native vegetation combine to create a near-perfect environment for raising premier breeding stock."
DeBruycker should know—he and his family run the largest Charolais cattle operation in the country. The family’s cattle legacy began in the 1930s. In 1963, DeBruycker’s parents, Lloyd and Jane, purchased 12 Charolais heifers—the foundation of the herd today. The operation grew as cattle were added by the family’s third generation. Mark, Jacque, Brett and brother-in-law Joe Campbell (married to their sister Cathy) are active in the operation; Tammy and Kelly own cattle in DeBruycker Charolais and help when able. Another sister, Jody, handles website design and advertising. All together, the DeBruyckers run more than 2,000 cows. They market females and more than 850 bulls each year through their annual bull sale and private treaty.
While their success is due to the family operation as a whole, the nuts and bolts are still mostly divided. The DeBruycker and Campbell families have never incorporated their cattle operation or their farming operations, but Brett, Mark and Lloyd have set up a formal partnership for their feedlot placements.
The DeBruyckers have divided their operation into what corporate business calls "profit-centered"
accounts, meaning each section of the operation is a stand-alone entity that must prove its muster on the balance sheet.
The familial operational design offers more flexibility if one family decides to grow, change or stop any part of its cattle or farming practices. It also helps reduce stress on family relationships, letting each family chart its own path, DeBruycker says.
"In the Charolais operation, we are a family operation but not a corporation; nor are we a partnership. We each own our own cattle, pay the bills and reap any rewards of those females. However, we have chosen to market the offspring together. DeBruycker Charolais is really a marketing arm for the family," DeBruycker says.
The family was one of the first in the industry to offer bulls for lease. Behind their bull success is a structured cow management system, supported by a Microsoft Access record-keeping program that Jacque and brother-in-law Chris Wend designed.
"I’m always driving Jacque crazy, asking for different breeding or performance reports, trying to find ways to improve our genetics," DeBruycker says.
Profit-minded diversity. The DeBruyckers take their quality mindset with them into the feedyard and the fields. Brett, Mark and Lloyd have a formal partnership agreement on cattle placed in the feedyard, since the majority are either owned or purchased together.
The DeBruyckers keep the feedlot operations completely separate from the cow–calf operation. A full-time secretary maintains a Microsoft Access–based ledger of performance data, and a QuickBooks file is used for standard accounting paperwork.
As in every other sector of the family operation, profit is the focus. In the feedlot, it comes down to feed availability and cost. With not a single stalk of corn on the horizon, the DeBruyckers use local supplies of barley and malt barley byproducts as their main feed ingredients.
"People wonder why we don’t just grow our own feed for the feedlot," DeBruycker says. "We try to raise high-quality winter wheat, barley and hay, in the hopes of not feeding it in the feedlot. The feedlot does best economically when it is feeding off-grade products that didn’t meet the qualifications for malting."
Brett, Mark, Lloyd and Joe also grow irrigated and dryland wheat, malt barley and hay, but each owns or rents his own land and equipment. Even so, they often help each other with labor or machinery. Grain is individually contracted to local malting or grain facilities.
"This type of family business arrangement works for us because we are so expansive in different areas," DeBruycker says. "We’re trying to be the highest-quality producer possible, whether it’s in Charolais cattle, wheat or barley, or feedlot performance."