After a successful career as a pioneering consulting nutritionist and rancher, Kenneth Eng provided a $2 million endowment in memory of his late wife Caroline. The money will fund ongoing beef cow efficiency research at three major land-grant universities. He is our 2013 Trailblazer honoree.

Eng began his professional career in 1962 with a young family, a fresh Ph.D. in animal nutrition from Oklahoma State University, and a research position at Texas A&M University’s (TAMU) Gulf Coast Research Station in Angleton.

He assumed he’d spend 30-40 years in academia, hoping to save enough money to retire to a small ranch where he could raise a few cows and horses. But anyone familiar with Eng’s full-bore personality could probably have told the Boone/Madison County, NE, farm kid that academia might not provide enough action for him.

Eng spent three years at TAMU (he would come back later to develop and head its M.S. program in feedlot management). He became Ralston-Purina’s first technical feedlot consultant in 1965. A few years after that, he hung out his shingle as one of the early consulting nutritionists who were helping boost the efficiencies of a surging commercial cattle feeding industry in the Southern Plains and western U.S.

kenneth eng, 2013 trailblazerEng describes those days as “a boom time rivaling that of the gold rush in California and Alaska, and the early oil industry in Texas and Oklahoma, and the epicenter was Amarillo, TX.” In those days, he says, “every commercial plane you boarded to Amarillo was full of cattle people or those in allied industries. The motels, restaurants and clubs were full, and it wasn’t unusual for large business transactions to be consummated on a restaurant or club napkin.”

Eng admits the fast and furious pace consumed his life initially, as he scrambled from the High Plains to the West Coast, plus international destinations. He says his record was three days on the road without getting a motel room.

“In those days, non-ticketed persons could get into the gate areas, and we just met in the airline lounges. I cleaned up in the airport, changed clothes and slept on the plane,” he says.

But it’s a pace that he says came at a personal cost. “I let some folks close to me down,” he says.

Second time around

But Eng feels he got it right the second time around. He met his second wife, Caroline McDonald, who became an inseparable companion for 20 years. He says they spent only two nights apart during that time.

He says one passion they shared was a love of the land and the cattle business. He began downsizing his consulting business in the 1980s, and focused on personal yearling operations in the 1990s and cow-calf operations in 2000. Prior to her accidental death in June 2010, Caroline served as chief financial officer of Eng Ranches — their land, cattle, research and consulting operations.

“In the late 1980s, I reduced my consulting business. With a lot of help from bankers, we bought ranches when the land market was depressed. We often stocked our operations with cows from drought areas that were started in semi- or total confinement. It turned out to be a pretty good business model, and Caroline and I had a lot of fun. Good cattle prices and escalating land values made the investments successful, even though I made plenty of mistakes,” Eng says.

Before Caroline died in June 2010, the pair had begun to formulate a business exit strategy, but her death brought that to an end in a heartbeat, Eng says.

“Life is sometimes lonely and always less exciting without Caroline, but good friends and new investments have helped me make it through the night and cope with semi-depression,” he says.