Frank Felton (1940-2003) receives BIF Pioneer Award

The Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) posthumously honored Frank Felton with the Pioneer Award at the 36th annual convention in Sioux Falls, S.D. on May 27. The award recognizes individuals who have made lasting contributions to the improvement of beef cattle.

Frank Felton was a master cattle breeder and steward of the land. He was a national and internationally acclaimed cattleman and a pioneer in the use of performance testing data and genetics. He traveled throughout the world speaking on livestock issues and served as president of numerous agriculture-related groups.

He was a lifelong farmer and resident of Maryville, Mo., and worked diligently to conserve and improve the land on which he and his family made their living. Frank was a devoted husband and father. He and his wife, Lynne, centered their operation in Maryville. There, they raised two sons, Jay and Matthew, and two daughters, Allison and Katherine.

Throughout his career, Felton received countless awards, including BIF's National Seedstock Producer of the Year, Missouri Polled Hereford Breeder of the Year, University of Missouri School of Agriculture Food and Natural Resources Citation of Merit and Missouri's Outstanding Young Farmer Awards.

Felton was a pro-performance breeder and was known for record keeping. In fact, he was one of the first producers that collected and used data in cattle. He took his first weaning weight measurements in 1962, which was unheard of then. When he first began taking scrotal measurements, he used his wife's sewing machine tape because scrotal measuring devices weren't available at the time. He started taking birth weights on his calves in 1965 and, in 1970, began to take pelvic measurements. He used carcass data to evaluate his cattle's usefulness for feedlots. Each year, he invited order buyers from the local sale barn to his ranch so they could see the Felton herd and review his carcass data. He used this activity to find out what type of cattle the order buyers needed to meet their needs and the needs of their customers. Accordingly, he worked hard to make sure his cattle were bred to meet the needs of the beef industry. He was committed to using his mind to produce beef, while preserving the land for future generations.

Felton believed that education was key to staying ahead in the cattle business. "We are starting a new era of value-based marketing and alliances. We have to educate cattle people. We can use all this carcass data, and we need to be utilizing it to help our customers and, at the same time, build a genetic base. We also need to educate our customers on how to use EPDs," Felton said in an article printed in Hereford World in 2001. The lessons he taught others were not just about cattle, but about agriculture and life as well.

Felton was considered progressive among his peers — not only did he collect a sizeable amount of data, but he also used it to make his herd one of the best documented anywhere. Dennis Padgitt, animal science professor at Northwest Missouri State University, said his friend was a true geneticist who loved to study production data and breed cattle to develop a quality animal. "Felton developed polled Hereford bulls that are among the elite of the breed. The genetics he developed were used around the world," Padgitt said.

The genetics developed by Frank Felton had a great affect on the Hereford breed, and his contributions to the industry will never be forgotten. The legendary Felton Hereford herd was dispersed on Oct. 30, 2003. More than 130 buyers from 30 states and Canada came seeking Felton genetics to add to their program and affect the future of the breed. When the gavel fell for the final time, 275 lots averaged $3,250.

Felton passed away April 16, 2003, at Heartland Regional Medical Center, St. Joseph, Mo.