LINCOLN — A group of veterinarians seeking to build the state’s largest feedlot for cattle is now proposing an even larger facility in a new location in Dundy County.

Blackshirt Feeders, headed by Eric Behlke, a Canadian veterinarian who grew up in Benkelman, is now eyeing a location north of Haigler, Nebraska, near the Colorado border.

The proposed feedlot would eventually feed 150,000 head of cattle at a time, which is 50,000 head larger than planned at a feedlot site 23 miles north of Benkelman that was approved by the county for Blackshirt Feeders in June.

Old location drew complaints
That location, which hugged the Dundy-Chase County line, had drawn complaints about being too close to a residence. Critics also said the plan threatened groundwater quality and quantity. Several contentious meetings of the Dundy County Planning Commission and County Board preceded the 3-0 vote in June to approve the facility.

The application for the relocation noted that the site north of Haigler “will address several of the concerns” raised about the initial location.

“It is critical to Blackshirt Feeders that we are good neighbors,” Behlke told the Benkelman Post newspaper this week.

One member of the Dundy County Board, Richard Bartholomew of Benkelman, told the Examiner on Wednesday that the new location is much more palatable to him because it impacts fewer neighbors.

Tax benefits to Dundy County
All of the property tax benefits, Bartholomew added, will go to Dundy County schools via the new location.

Blackshirt’s application for a conditional use permit for the feedlot notes that the new location is farther away from nearby residences and cemeteries and requires only about 1/4 of a mile of county road, which Blackshirt Feeders will pay to pave.

The feedlot will also invest an additional $125 million, the application stated, to build a methane digester, to turn the manure produced by the cattle into fuel.

A hearing before the Dundy County Planning Board about the project is scheduled for July 25.

Concrete base for feedlot
Behlke and the two other veterinarians who are the prime owners of Blackshirt Feeders, Kee Jim and Calvin Booker, have a combined 70 years experience in the cattle feeding business, according to the company’s application.

The vets are proposing to use a roller compacted concrete floor for all of the livestock pens, which they maintain will make it easier to clean, will reduce odors and flies and will improve livestock performance.

Some cattle producers question the need for such large feeding operations, contending that they push out smaller feedlots and make it harder for smaller producers to market their cattle.

Bartholomew said he’s not a fan of “bigger is better” but is resigned to the fact that agriculture is moving in that direction.

“I want it to be successful. I hope it’s a showplace,” he said, adding that a lot of experience went into the planning of the facility.

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