HOXIE — It’s been 19 years since the Bob Foote family ventured west, purchasing what was then a small, less than 10,000-head capacity, feedlot not far from Hoxie.

Today, under Scott Foote’s supervision, that feedlot has a capacity of nearly 53,000 head, and serves as a major economic driver in Sheridan County and much of northwest Kansas. Ten years later, the Footes purchased a feedlot not far from Imperial, Neb., where Scott Foote’s brother, Brad, is the manager.

But the family’s reach has expanded well beyond Sheridan County, first with the purchase of Lane County Feeders north of Dighton and then Pioneer Feedyard on the east edge of Oakley.

They’ve since added Decatur County Beef north of Oberlin to the inventory, bringing the family’s feeding capacity to approximately 230,000 head at any given time.

At that level, Foote Cattle is thought to be tied as the sixth largest cattle feeder in the nation.

It could be more, but expansion plans for the Hoxie feedlot are on hold, pending a turnaround in the cattle business.

Scott Foote was straightforward in his assessment of the industry: “2014 was good,” he said, pausing only slightly to add “2015 was bad.”

This year hasn’t changed so much from 2015, he said, but there’s hope.

“It’s been bad so far,” Foote said of 2016, “But we’re optimistic.”

Foote grew up near Bucyrus in northeast Kansas, where father Bob started the business as an order buyer for others in the cattle business. Bob Foote also had cattle on grass in the Bucyrus area, and started feeding cattle in feedlots.

The Hoxie feedlot was the first for the family, purchased in 1997, with a capacity, Scott Foote said, of less than 10,000 head.

“I moved here in December 1997 when I got out of college,” Foote said.

Today, Hoxie Feedyard has the capacity for 53,000 head, employs dozens of workers and each fall builds a mountain of high-moisture corn purchased from area farmers, primarily in Sheridan County for Hoxie Feedyard, but stretching out to Thomas, Decatur, Rawlins and Graham counties.

That high-moisture corn practice has since spread to the other feedlots, where each year hundreds of trucks race from field to feedlot bringing load after load of corn — often being paid a premium. The corn runs through massive hammermills and then pushed and packed by a cadre of tractors.

At Hoxie, nearly 5 million bushels of corn is purchased each fall; Oakley’s feedyard piled 2 million bushels of corn on the ground last fall.

Foote said the business has grown based on a simple business approach.

“Every time we make a dollar, we just invest it back into the business and try to make it better,” he said.

So far, they’ve made it work.

“We’ve had a lot of rough spots,” he said of conditions when prices don’t permit profits. “We try to be better cattle feeders. We’re big animal husbandry people. We want to take care of our cattle.”