Customer Stories

Customers of FNBO – Harper Feeders

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    • FNBO

      Commercial Banking
      Sep 15 2023

Customers of FNBO – Harper Feeders

We are proud to feature Harper Feeders in Eaton, Colorado, a family-owned sheep and cattle feedlot.

Mike Harper owns and operates the business with his wife, MaryAnn, and daughter, Catherine. MaryAnn does the bookkeeping while Catherine works with Mike, learning the business and preparing to one day take it over. It’s a big job, with 65,000 sheep and 3,000 head of cattle.

“No one understands a business like family,” Mike said. “If we didn’t have a family member who was interested in taking over, I don’t know what we would do.”

He knows what he’s talking about. Mike’s father, Harold Harper, started the business in 1977, after years of working in packing plants. Mike joined his father.

“He dragged me along and then he allowed me to stay,” Mike said.

The sheep industry is small. Those who provide lambs to market are interconnected and deals are often made with a phone call or a handshake. Anyone interested in entering the field needs to know that relationships are key to a successful operation.

“You can buy lambs until you’re poor, but the important thing is to have an outlet for what you produce,” Mike said. “Get a partner to help you get your sheep to market. Get a contract.”

He recommends working with an extension agent or reaching out to someone in the business.

“Go see other operations,” Mike said. “We are very support of each other in the industry. We’re proud of what we do.”

The sheep industry is also difficult, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought additional challenges.

Before the pandemic, U.S. lamb feeders relied heavily on restaurant trade. When COVID hit, restaurants closed and there were no more orders.

“On Friday lamb was $1.60 a pound, by Monday the price had dropped to $.80,” Mike said. With 60,000 lambs on feed, the Harpers weren’t sure what they were going to do. They turned to the retail market, which normally relies on imported lamb.

“People were cooking at home and trying new things,” he said. That opened up new opportunities. Lamb hit record high prices. But when the pandemic slowed, lamb was on the grocery shelves at high prices and sales dropped.

“The volatility is scary,” Mike said, which makes it important to have a bank that understands the challenges. FNBO’s history in the ag industry – 165 years – makes the bank a good partner for the Harpers.

“Your banker needs to understand the industry and the volatility” Mike said. “We value our relationship with our banker and FNBO. It’s definitely good to have a bank that understands you.”

The Harper family business will continue to adjust and grow, always striving to do better.

“Sheep are wonderful animals and have sustained our family since the late 1970s,” Mike said. We just have to navigate change and figure out how to stay profitable. We aren’t going anywhere.”

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The articles in this blog are for informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations. When making decisions about your financial situation, consult a financial professional for advice. Articles are not regularly updated, and information may become outdated.