Robbi H. Pritchard was raised in Annawan, IL. where he went to church and school and spent his formative years working on the family farm raising corn and soybeans, along with a significant feedlot and hog operation. He didn’t much care for the hogs, but absolutely loved the feedlot. He learned a lot from his grandfather, Albert, who was very successful and progressive with managing his family feedlot. In 1970 they were feeding diets that were a blend of high moisture corn and dry rolled corn with either alfalfa or corn silage along with a liquid supplement that contained urea and DES. They fed twice a day and read bunks long before reading bunks was a normal practice and managed those bunks with the goal in mind of no feed left in the morning and no cattle looking for feed. Now days that is called slick bunk management. They had a big 2’x3’ illuminated clock in the feedmill and it absolutely ruled the day. They understood the meaning of consistency, every day. With the cattle they fed in this manner, they usually topped the market at the Chicago Stockyards. It was not your typical Illinois cattle feeding operation. Robbi spent most of his initial 15 years of research trying to figure out whether there was really any merit to what Albert had taught him and coming up with data to support what he was taught as a kid.
Robbi left high school with the intention of only going back to the farm. But by August he enrolled at Black Hawk East in an associates program hoping to learn how his grandfather knew how to change diets and get the cattle finished and ready on time. Black Hawk East didn’t teach him what he wanted to know so he enrolled at Southern Illinois University. As luck would have it Jim Males was a new professor at Southern Illinois University. Dr. Males was very instrumental in Robbi’s development and ultimate professional career. Robbi was on the livestock judging team and was hired to feed bulls in the brand-new bull test station which contained 72 Calan Gates. Robbi says you learn a tremendous amount about cattle intake behavior with Calan Gates. Dr. Males allowed Robbi to conduct some experiments on his own and worked with Elanco on some Rumensin projects while an undergrad. Robbi nearly finished his BS in three semesters but had a little trouble with making required labs while on the judging team. He was 4 credits short, so he was talked into an assistantship to attain those four credits.
The next thing he knew he had a Master’s Degree and Dr. Males and his new bride, Terry, decided he should follow Dr. Males to Washington State University to pursue a doctorate program. Robbi was into cow nutrition at this point and Dr. Males would be a great person to study under. However, when he arrived at WSU, Dr. Preston who was head of the department didn’t think Robbi had an assistantship since he had never taken a college entrance exam at any level. Therefore, to prove he belonged in a doctorate program he had to enroll in some very tough weed-out classes on his own that had little to do with Ruminant Nutrition. He proved himself and was finally awarded an assistantship. As Robbi states “my marriage survives, Dr. Males gets tenure, and I actually earn a Doctorate in 1982”. It was a long, strange trip and ultimately worth the sacrifice. But he says it was definitely lean times and there was no money for things like razors or haircuts. But it was the 70’s and he fit right in anyway. He just didn’t outgrow it!!
At some point he impressed Dr. Preston who shows up one night and explains that Robbi doesn’t need to take the cow/calf position he was thinking about and needs to come to Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX to set up and run his ruminant nutrition lab where Dr. Preston had taken the original Thornton Chair position. He must have really impressed Dr. Preston because he didn’t even ask him to get a haircut!!
Robbi worked as a Post Doc with Dr. Preston at Texas Tech University and conducted research at Pantex while running the Texas Tech University ruminant nutrition lab. While at Texas Tech University he overlapped with Kendall Karr, which must have been quite a pair to draw to and learned of and participated in Plains Nutrition Council at that time. Robbi accepted the position at South Dakota State University. Interestingly, Robbi studied under Dr. Males at WSU. Then while Robbi was at South Dakota State University, Dr. Males accepts the head of the department position, and they get to work together for another 10 years! It seems it was a genuinely great partnership.
When his grandfather discovered Robbi was going into academia, he gave him two rules to live by if he was going to be an academic and give advice to producers: 1) the data better actually matter, and 2) the advice and data better really work. He lives by those standards as his research has been well received by producers worldwide. Dr. Pritchard is very well published and much of his research is cited today and quite often.
Robbi received a plethora of awards during his academic tenure. However, most of them went into a box somewhere as his biggest reward was meeting expectations 1 & 2 from his grandfather. Another was at WSU at the end of his 4th graduate biochemistry class the profs that taught the class gave him a mint condition wall map of metabolic pathways. It was to honor the only cowboy that ever got that far in their biochemistry department! The second one was the Illinois Community College Trustees Assoc recognition as a Distinguished Community College Alumnus. However, his biggest rewards and honors are things like being invited to speak at Plains Nutrition Council meetings in front of his peers, and things like the CNES anniversary symposium, the old Oklahoma State intake and implant symposiums, and producer meetings are the accomplishments that count. The fact that Iowa State chose to continue the old Feedlot Short Course that they started in the John Wagner days at South Dakota State University, and they allow him to participate, and he gets to do it with Dan Loy (fellow Black Hawk East alum) and Dan Thomson. That counts. That Jim Elam and Ken Eng knew who he was and consulted him on his research and thoughts, that he got to work and be friends with Rod Preston, that Jim Males became a good friend and took on and salvaged a kid that no one would ever take on as a grad student today, those things count. That Bill Larson stepped up and made it possible/justifiable for him to stay on at South Dakota State University for so long. That award has no name, but he says, “it was about as big an honor as one could ever imagine”. He was honored to be on the NCR committee with Bob Brandt, Steve Loerch, Steve Plegge, Pete Anderson, Todd Milton, Allen Trenkle, Jack Riley, Chris Reinhardt, and Rick Stock.
Robbi had a plethora of exceptional grad students he mentored. And I believe every one of them would testify that they learned a tremendous amount under Dr. Pritchard. At one time he signed undergrad payroll time sheets for Brad Johnson, Mike Brown and Tosha Opheim, as well as the lab tech time sheet for Dan Thomson and the post-doc workload sheets for Simone Holt and Anna Taylor (Smith). Other grad students that are busy in the cattle nutrition business that he says he didn’t irreparably damage include Kelly Bruns, Zach Smith, Sandi Parr, Allen Stateler, Wanda Kreikemeier, Sheri Bierman, Wes Gentry, Ethan Blom, Howard Blalock, and Mark Robbins. There are more outstanding people on the grad student list and post-doc lists, but they aren’t as involved in the world of PNC and cattle nutrition. He is proud to have been on the Feedlot Extension Specialist search committee that hired John Wagner, Brad Johnson, Simon Holt, Erik Loe, and Ben Holland. What he thought was even more outstanding was the fact that he got to work with them and learn from them all.
Robbi now spends his time with his wife Terry on their cow/calf operation under the name of Annawan Cattle, LLC. He also stays busy with some consulting gigs and speaking engagements as he is still sought after for his knowledge. Probably has to do with satisfying his grandfather’s two requirements if he was going into academia. Robbi and Terry have a wonderful daughter, Calli, who along with her husband, Tate Williams, have a robust cow/calf and bull sale operation of their own. Calli and Tate have two sons, Jack (4) and Tommy (1.5), that Robbi and Terry dote over as proud grandparents. Perhaps Robbi will teach them some of the things his grandfather taught him. That is the way of our business, and we shouldn’t trade it for any other way to teach our younger generation. Robbi says, “I think of myself as a Forrest Gump”. That simple guy who ended up in some of the most remarkable places and interacted with some of the most remarkable people. Dr. Robbi H. Pritchard you are truly a remarkable individual and very deserving of being inducted into the class of 2023 as a Legend in Feedyard Nutrition.