Priefert A Legacy of Innovation.

Published on Thu, 08/07/2014 - 10:24am

Few families have influenced the livestock handling industry as significantly as the Priefert family from Mount Pleasant, Texas. For half a century, the Prieferts have been designing, building, and marketing cattle handling equipment, and, in the process, changing the way the American rancher handles cattle. Marvin Priefert founded Priefert Manufacturing in 1964 with the invention of the first fully front-opening headgate. 50 years later, Marvin’s son Bill, and his grandsons, Eddie, Nate, and Travis, still own and operate the family business, with the goal of continuing to improve upon the design and functionality of today’s livestock handling equipment. Ask almost anyone what sets this family and their company apart from so many others and you’ll almost always get the same answer — innovation.
Marvin Priefert shocked everyone who knew him when he bought a ranch and moved his family to the small east Texas town of Mt. Pleasant. Marvin, who had always been a Nebraska wheat farmer, moved right into the heart of cattle country.
Embracing the change, he set out to become a rancher. To gain experience handling livestock, Marvin and his son Bill helped a neighbor work his herd. When that neighbor brought home a guillotine-style steel headgate, Marvin told him not to put the headgate up at his corral. The problem Marvin saw with this headgate was that cattle could easily get choked down, not to mention that one animal had to be backed out of the way before another could be caught. The inventor in Marvin instantly saw that there was a better way to work cattle. According to Bill, who was just 14 at the time, Marvin’s idea was that a headgate should close around both sides of the animal’s neck, then “fall completely open, be wide as a barn door, and let that cow walk out right through the front,” enticing the next animal to walk in behind her.
Marvin built a prototype of his headgate, and confident in the design, built a second one for his neighbor. He went on to patent this invention as he had many others, but this time, Marvin took it a step further and decided to manufacture and sell the item himself. Thus, Priefert Manufacturing was born, with Marvin and Bill as its first two employees. Marvin’s headgate design proved to be popular among ranchers in the region. Marvin also developed a squeeze chute to sell, and the business flourished with help from the booming cattle market of the late 1960s. When the cattle market crashed in 1974, Marvin knew he would have to diversify to keep the business going. Forced to scale back on the production of cattle handling equipment, Marvin designed new products, expanding his offerings to include hay equipment. His inventions prevailed, helping the company continue its forward motion.
Never satisfied with the status quo, Marvin was constantly re-evaluating his designs to make improvements for efficiency and ease of use. When he revised his squeeze chute design in 1981, he was the first in the industry to make the move to contoured sides on his chute to better fit the shape of cattle. This contoured-side design is still used on Priefert chutes and is a feature that the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program recommends to decrease handling stress on cattle.
In 1984, 20 years after inventing his headgate, Marvin introduced another revolutionary advancement in the livestock industry: a panel featuring a chain connection with a “fishhook” top and J-leg frame. The chain connection was Marvin’s solution to many of the problems created by the traditional pin connection. Chains could easily be adjusted to flow the panels over uneven terrain, allowed for a tighter fit between panels, and even allowed for the connection of multiple panels at one junction. The addition of the small loop at the top of the frame that resembled an upside-down fishhook was also a Marvin original. This safety feature, coupled with the chain connection, helped to guide the legs of unruly livestock up and off of the panel, eliminating the leg trap caused by pin connectors. Although the idea of a J-leg wasn’t new, it helped prevent panels from sinking into soggy ground. This “Premier Panel” was the first panel to effectively bridge the gap between cattle and horse panels, by offering a single panel that was tough enough for cattle, yet safe enough for horses.
The innovation continued in 1988, when Priefert was the first manufacturer to release an open-sided cattle sweep system. That same year, Priefert was also the first to release a double pivot calf table, a design that Marvin’s son Bill created based on the principles of leverage he had learned in his high school wrestling class. This unique design used the weight of the calf to help the operator “tilt” the table, making it much easier to use than the predominate calf table of that time. Sadly, amidst all the success and growth, 1988 also dealt a devastating blow to the Priefert family. In the fall of that year, Marvin passed away unexpectedly as a result of surgical complications. He was laid to rest on the ranch, atop a grassy hill in view of his original workshop. Following the loss of his dad, Bill stepped up and took the reins to help guide Priefert Manufacturing forward and to carry on his father’s legacy. Like his dad, Bill was a forward-thinker and continued looking for ways to improve the status quo. In 1991, Bill developed one of the most important improvements in the company’s history: the Infinite Locking System. The new infinite lock was tested 250,000 times and showed no measurable wear; that would be the equivalent of a ranch working 325 head of cattle three times a year for 250 years.
The lock would allow the headgate or the squeeze on the chute to fit any size animal, from calf to cow to bull. These locks are guaranteed for life and are still used on Priefert headgates and squeeze chutes. Using this new lock, the Model 91 Headgate was released that year, giving the operator the ability to work in manual or automatic mode. This headgate is still one of company’s most popular items.
Throughout the 90s, each of Bill’s sons finished their college degrees and began working full time for Priefert Manufacturing. Each one worked his way through every department, from maintenance to welding to shipping, before being allowed to hold an “office job.” Bill felt this was not only the best way for the boys to learn the ins and outs of the business, but that it was also important for them to see and appreciate what their grandfather had built and the impact that it had on the lives of those around them.
Priefert led the way in 1994 with another industry first when they made the shift from traditional paint to offer a full line of powder-coated equipment. This not only gave their product a glossy, furniture-grade finish, but it also helped extend the life of the product by resisting UV fading and rust. Priefert also installed its first tube mill that year, giving the company the ability to roll and form its own tube for constructing its ranch equipment. They followed that with the addition of a slitter, giving them the ability to purchase raw coils of steel and then oversee each step of the production process. Over the course of a few short years, Bill and his boys had helped Priefert become a vertically-integrated company and greatly improved their ability to control the quality of their products.
As Priefert Mfg entered the 21st century, Bill and his boys continued to innovate. Drawing on experience from working their own herd, a new squeeze chute design, the Model S04, was added to the lineup.
This chute design has become Priefert’s number-one selling squeeze chute of all time, and includes a multitude of features designed to help take the “work” out of working cattle, while making the process safer and easier for both the livestock and the operator. This chute is considered by many to be the best manual chute on the market today.Bill, now a grandfather himself, has experienced the progression of the family business from a one-room, dirt-floor shop in the backyard, to one of the largest farm, ranch, and rodeo equipment manufacturers in the world. When asked about his family’s success, Bill said, “It’s what God put in us. You achieve. You work. You provide. You help the community. We’re happy, we’re blessed, and we’re thankful. . . . Satisfied? No. Maybe that’s a strength, maybe that’s a weakness.” Bill and his boys continually strive to find ways to improve the safety, efficiency, and ease of handling livestock. The Priefert family is proud to produce a quality product that is made in the USA. Motivated by the pride of ownership and the challenge of finding a better way, they have built a business focused on meeting the needs of the American farmer and rancher. Building ranch equipment is not just a job; it’s their lifestyle and integral part of who they are. They credit hard work, innovation, a willingness to step “outside the box,” and abundant blessings from God for allowing their company to not only grow and prosper, but also to earn a strong reputation in the industry for integrity, quality, and reliability. There is no doubt that this will be a family and a company to watch as they move forward into their next 50 years.