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Connecting with the Community

Caviness Family
From left, Terry, Regan and Trevor start their days early, either at the plant or in the corporate office. (Photo courtesy of Caviness Beef Packers.)

Building long term relationships is a key mission of Caviness Beef Packers. From the rancher to the dairy manager, from the food distribution service to the local university, the Caviness family works to create meaningful relationships in their industry and community.

“A goal that drives our business is building long-standing relationships with our suppliers, our customers and our employees,” said Terry Caviness, CEO of Caviness Beef Packers. “That’s been our primary goal, and we want them to grow with us and continue to be progressive in the industry.”

Building the Beef Business

Terry graduated from Texas Tech University in 1969 with a degree in industrial management. He immediately returned to work the family business at Caviness Beef Packers. Years later, his sons Trevor and Regan followed suit, coming back to work for the family business after earning their degrees at different institutions. Trevor now serves as the company president and Regan the vice president.

Creating relationships, giving back to the community and operating as a family have been the driving forces for Caviness Beef Packers since Terry’s father, Pete, opened the doors of the packing plant in Hereford, Texas, in 1962.

That first day, Terry said they had around 15 employees and harvested about six head. Now, 58 years later, Caviness Beef Packers harvests up to 2,000 head a day and employs some 1,100 people. What was once a budding business, has turned into a thriving, third-generation family operation in the “Beef Capital of the World.”

“Really, if you’re not growing, you’re falling behind,” Trevor said, “so we’ve always invested capital back into the business. As long as I’ve known or been around, we’ve been building, improving, changing or modifying something.”

The operation outgrew the original plant and moved to a newly constructed facility in 2005. In 2010, they added rendering and hide operations, and they will finish a 130,000-square-foot addition in 2020 that will allow them to add a second shift to their operations.

Products from Caviness Beef Packers are distributed to more than 40 states in the U.S. and exported to at least 13 countries. Trevor said most of their product goes to food service distributors of varying sizes, while the rest is split between retail services and quick service restaurants.

As a family-owned business, Trevor said they can maintain an open-door policy with both their suppliers and customers to encourage open and honest communication about supply and demand in the industry.

Knowing the needs of the industry allows Caviness Beef Packers to respond to consumers wants and needs. Another aspect that helps them respond to shifting demands is the size of their operation. As a smaller operation, Trevor said, they can be agile and maneuver to meet the desires of the consumers with the supply they have.

“We’ve always kind of had the motto of, ‘If the consumer is willing to pay and we can do it, then we’ll jump through hoops to provide him or her with what they want,’” Trevor said. “Our ultimate goal as an industry is to satisfy the consumer.”

Cows and bulls currently make up 90% of the cattle harvested at the Caviness Beef Packers’ plant, while the other 10% are cattle younger than 30-months from area feed yards. Terry said the cattle are all procured from within a 600-mile radius of the packing plant. They work with area ranchers and dairy operations to procure cattle for their bull and cow processing and strive to add as much value to the operations of their suppliers as possible.

Investing in Education

As the Caviness family has invested in their relationships with those in the local industries and community, they have been able to give back to the community in very meaningful ways.

Supporting higher education initiatives in the West Texas region is one way the Caviness family helps foster their community.

With their deep roots in the agriculture community and a vested interest in the continued advancement of agriculture in the region, the Caviness family said they feel it is especially important to support higher education in that field. This is what led their family to be one of the philanthropic trailblazers for the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine.

“Whoever supports the area ranches, feed yards and dairies – we’re with them,” said Terry. “They’re our life blood.”

Dr. Guy Loneragan, BVSc, the dean of the Texas Tech’s new School of Veterinary Medicine, said the Caviness’ investment has made the vet school possible.

“When you look at the vet school you can look at it as a number of ways,” said Loneragan. “It’s an educational program, it’s a workforce program, but above all else, it’s a program that is engaged in the community. So when people like the Caviness family step up to contribute to those activities, it means that the community’s invested in that engagement as well.”

Loneragan said there are two main goals guiding the recruitment strategy, admissions structure and curriculum design for the new vet school: serving rural and regional communities and increasing access to affordable education in Texas.

The school will recruit and admit students from rural and regional communities Loneragan said. They will also encourage students to not only go back and work in those rural and regional communities, but really invest in their communities in a similar way as the Caviness family has invested in their community.

This Texas Tech model of veterinary education is what really moved the Caviness family to invest in this initiative. They want to see the university educating students from rural and regional communities, Trevor said, and giving those students the tools necessary to send veterinarians back to help advance rural communities.

Trevor said his family and the company believe education is critical to developing young people and advancements in the industry. He said the relationship Caviness has developed with the Texas Tech School of Veterinary Medicine will help bring bright people into rural communities to help advance their industry and the community.

“You have to look at Tech’s model of looking at more than just paper scores,” said Trevor, “and it’s modeled to get folks back to rural communities. You have to find someone with a passion for ag, teach them skills and give them the tools needed to go and invest in those rural communities.”

Supporting the Community

The Caviness spirit of building relationships and investing in the community has truly shone during the challenging times caused by COVID-19. As the coronavirus pandemic takes its toll on the meat packing industry and the Caviness’ West Texas community, Trevor said they have done their part to make sure their employees are safe and fill the needs of their community.

Caviness Beef Packers has followed all federal guidelines and taken over 40 additional protective measures in their plants to ensure employee safety said Trevor. Led by their health and wellness team, along with their safety team, they have also provided education to their employees about safety measures at work and home to help protect the health of their employees and their families. Because of this, Caviness Beef Packers has only had two employees test positive for coronavirus and they have been able to continue to keep their plant running at 100% capacity.

“Our number one priority is doing an effective job of educating on best practices to keep people COVID free,” said Trevor. “That is our main focus today.”

Trevor said they have also been able to use their industry relationships to help fill needs in the community during the pandemic through donations to nonprofits in the area.

We just want to help fill the needs so the community prospers.

Caviness Beef Packers partnered with Cactus Feeders and others in the local agriculture community to support the High Plains Agriculture Pop-Up Pantry where 2,000 farm-fresh family food packs of beef, milk, cheese and other items were provided to people in need in the local community. They have also financially contributed to an emergency fund created by the Amarillo Area Foundation and have provided a total of $300,000 in bonuses to their employees.

“We’ve been helping out nonprofits and others with good initiatives to help those in need,” said Trevor. “We’ve been giving out ground beef, contributing to food pantries and providing dollars to help those with true needs. We’ve been there.”

Building relationships and investing in the community have been key initiatives at Caviness Beef Packers for the past 58 years. From early childhood education to senior citizen initiatives, from higher education to nonprofit support, Trevor said their family works to give back to their community in any way they can. They want their communities to grow to create a healthy and prosperous environment for all who live there.

“We do what we can to enhance all their life initiatives,” said Trevor. “We feel like it’s our civic duty to do that. We just want to help fill the needs so the community prospers.”

50 Years in the Making

Chancellor Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D. speaks to the media
Chancellor Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D. spoke to the media about the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board commissioner’s visit to the Texas Tech University System in March.

In true West Texas fashion, Texas Tech University and its surrounding communities came together, overcame tremendous obstacles, and, against all odds, finally got the veterinary school they had waited so long for.

In 1971, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board voted for Texas Tech University to open a veterinary school; a seemingly impossible task at the time, which then took half a century to accomplish.

Gaining Momentum

Dr. Tedd L. Mitchell, Texas Tech University System chancellor, said he had been president of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center for four years by the time opening a veterinary school became feasible for the System.

It was not until the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015 that the System really began to research and develop momentum for the vet school, Mitchell said. It was then that he and a team of leaders from across the System – including then-chancellor, Robert Duncan – began working on the vet school initiative.

“We actually went and visited the three geographically closest vet schools to Amarillo: Colorado State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State,” Mitchell said. “All three of them are closer to Amarillo than College Station.”

After researching the different models of veterinary education and visiting with surrounding schools, the System chose the newest option to the veterinary medical world: the distributive model.

“If you look at the vet schools that have begun in the last four years, it’s the preferred model, because it keeps your own overhead low, and it really doesn’t put you in competition,” Mitchell said. “In fact, quite the contrary, your local veterinarians become your faculty members, and they love it.”

Having prior experience using this teaching model at TTUHSC, the team was ready to move forward with the vet school initiative by advocating to the community, industry leaders, accrediting agencies and legislative officials, Mitchell said.

Part of this team of advocates was Guy Loneragan, BVSc, Ph.D., who is now dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. Loneragan said he believes the veterinary school could change the landscape of veterinary medical education by creating highly sought after, skillful graduates who are business-minded and have the desire to serve rural populations.

“To me,” Loneragan said, “it means the opportunity to help and contribute to building something that will provide access to high quality, affordable education, which will influence and impact students and rural Texas for generations to come.”

The Tipping Point

On Jan. 8, 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature began and set into motion the most historic legislative session for the Texas Tech University System since the institution’s formation in 1996.

Mitchell said municipalities from across West Texas put aside their differences and came together to sign a letter to governmental officials expressing their support for the veterinary school in Amarillo.

“I’d be willing to bet you that has never happened in the history of the legislature,” Mitchell said.

The Texas Legislature’s Conference Committee voted to include $17.35 million in the state’s budget to establish Texas Tech’s School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo on May 17.

Just one month later, on June 15, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the state budget into law, thus appropriating $17.35 million for the operational needs of the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Loneragan said he attributes Texas Tech’s success at the 86th Texas Legislature to the System’s great leadership and the overwhelming community support they received.

“For the vet school, it’s possible because all of those great leaders moved forward in a very unified approach to make this happen,” Loneragan said.

However, during this legislative session, the System was not only focused on the veterinary school, they were also advocating for the addition of a dental school at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso.

With the addition of a veterinary school and a dental school, the Texas Tech University System will become one of only nine institutions in the nation to have programs in undergraduate, medical, law, nursing, pharmacy, dental and veterinary education.

“The United States has over 3,000 universities, and there are nine that have the compliment that we have…” Mitchell said. “I think, then, from a System perspective, it puts you in an extraordinarily elite position, nationally.”

Three months after receiving the governor’s signature, on Sept. 19, the System broke ground in Amarillo to signify the start of construction on facilities for the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Guy Loneragan looks at the construction plan for the School of Veterinary Medicine with Project Manager Redha Gheraba
Dr. Guy Loneragan, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine, looks over the facility’s plan with the project manager, Redha Gheraba.

In a little over a month, the first of many hiring announcements was made on Oct. 30, when Dr. John Dascanio, a large-animal veterinarian, was hired to serve as senior associate dean for the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Then, on Dec. 11, three months after the groundbreaking, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the proposed Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree, putting Texas Tech’s vet school on the home stretch.

Throughout this process, Mitchell said he and the System team tried to impress upon people all over the state how important this initiative was for everyone.

“It was not an issue about West Texas, it really was an issue that would impact the entire state.”

Chancellor Tedd L. Mitchell, M.D.

“We tried to make sure that people understood this was not an issue about Amarillo, it was not an issue about the panhandle, it was not an issue about West Texas, it really was an issue that would impact the entire state,” Mitchell said.

The most rewarding part of this journey for Mitchell was watching the different communities come together for something bigger than themselves, he said.

“At a time when politics have become extremely divisive, people still, at the end of the day, pulled together for something that was good for the state of Texas,” Mitchell said.

The Real Work Begins

On Jan. 22, 2020, the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents approved the final budget for the project. With this approval, the next step in the process can begin, Mitchell said.

“Moving forward, the ball is squarely in the court of Dr. Loneragan when it comes to the curriculum and the academics,” Mitchell said.

The School of Veterinary Medicine had hired a total of seven staff members as of March 3, 2020, Loneragan said, including Dr. Bethany Schilling, a mixed-animal veterinarian, as assistant professor in general veterinary practice, and Dr. Britt Conklin, a world-renowned horse veterinarian, as associate dean for clinical programs. By the end of March or early April he said he expected to have finished interviewing candidates for 11 more positions.

“We anticipate by the end of this calendar year we will have 15 to 20 faculty on board and getting ready to start delivering the curriculum,” Loneragan said.

While the hiring process continues, Loneragan said they will also be working with the American Veterinary Medical Association for the accreditation process. He said they will do a site visit of the program at the end of June and should hear the outcome around the end of September, early October.

If approved by the accreditors, Loneragan said they can then begin the admissions process by reviewing applications and inviting students to campus in October. Once they send out offer letters, he said, the next big step is to prepare for orientation and the beginning of classes in August of 2021.

A rendering of the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine.
The School of Veterinary Medicine headquarters will be located on the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center campus in Amarillo. Photo courtesy of Texas Tech University.

Looking Ahead

Mitchell said he is looking forward to the day that the School of Veterinary Medicine opens its doors to its inaugural class.

“In August of 2021, we’re going to have 60 new students running around up in Amarillo with our pharmacy students, with our med students, with the nursing students, with the health profession students that we have up there,” Mitchell said excitedly, “and it’ll be a brand new day, and it’ll be a big celebration for everybody when that happens.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by Loneragan.

“I am most looking forward to the first class of students – seeing them and getting to interact with them – and seeing the faculty start to teach the students,” Loneragan said.

But the chancellor and the dean are not the only ones excited for that historic first day of school. Conner Chambers of Henrietta, Texas, is the lone Red Raider in a family of Aggies. He is a junior animal science pre-vet major at Texas Tech, and said he cannot wait to apply to the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Conner Chambers stands outside of the animal science building.
Conner Chambers, a prospective School of Veterinary Medicine student, is the president of Texas Tech’s Pre-Vet Society, one of the largest student organizations in CASNR.

“I’m ready to apply,” Chambers said. “I’m ready to get there, and it means a lot to me that Texas Tech is supporting this so much for the dreams of students like myself.”

Chambers said having the opportunity to attend veterinary school in the epicenter of the beef cattle industry means his educational experience will be geared specifically toward his goal of becoming a large animal veterinarian.

“Being someone who wants to work on food animals in small town communities, it means a lot that Texas Tech is supporting that dream specifically,” Chambers said.

He said the possibility of being one of 60 students chosen to attend Texas Tech’s School of Veterinary Medicine is both exciting and nerve-wracking.

“It’s definitely exciting to be part of the first class to go through a new vet school because that’s something not very many people get to say,” Chambers said.

Mitchell said that once the first class of students arrive, there is just one more milestone left to reach. One that he said was the most important by far.

“I think the day that we have our first students graduate, that’ll be the day that you know all of the work, all of the efforts, all of the heartache, all of the long nights, all of the long days, that’s when you’ll know it was worth it — with that first set of graduates,” Mitchell said with a smile.

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