From the Farmer's Tractor
January 30, 2011
How did you get into cattle farming?
While I grew up helping my grandfather feed steers, I never had a whole lot of experience with raising and calving cows until I married my wife, Pam. She had a real interest in cattle and already had four Simmental cows. Those four cows have since multiplied and we now have 45 cows that will calve this year!
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
Farming is a process that is continually changing to improve its methods based on the information available and what the market demands. That's definitely the case on our farm. Over the past ten years we have adopted minimum and no-till methods of planting to help reduce soil erosion, and utilized newer crop genetics that resist the pressure from certain insects and allow us to better manage the way we apply pesticides on our farm. We have also begun to experiment with cover crops between rotations that help to replenish nutrients into the soil and allow additional grazing land for our cattle. A lot of these changes have benefited our farm from ecological, environmental and profitability bases.
How will cattle farming evolve in the next five years?
I see a lot of potential for cattle farmers over the next five years. We now have technology such as utlrasounding live cattle to see what the quality of steak will be (much like an expecting mother will have and ultrasound so the doctor can check the health of her baby). This, coupled with the use of statistical data called expected progeny difference (EPDs), will allow us to better select for traits that produce healthy and tasty steaks. Another area that has great potential is niche marketing for small livestock farmers. As people want to know more about how their food is produced they are seeking out local farmers to get this information. This allows not only for the farmer to directly answer their concerns, but they are able to sell directly to the consumer, allowing an increased margin which is important to a farm's bottom line.
What is your greatest challenge as a cattle farmer?
Probably the biggest challenge I face is unpredictability. This may be in the weather, market, or even simple things such as the quality of calf each cow has each year. As a farmer, I can study all the research and data about how to raise cattle or grow a crop. But Mother Nature and the markets always have surprises in store for us, and this is where farmers need to be able to expect the unexpected and be willing to take and adapt to situations as they develop.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
At the beginning of each year I study what worked for me in the past five years and what has not. I then try to decide where I will need to be at five years from now to ensure that my family farm will still be competitive. As for what retailers will want, I try to listen to my customers needs and what they are looking for -– one way I participate in this discussion is through social media.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
Like most farms we are very aware about the relationship we have with the environment. Stewarding our resources to provide for our family farm and the people who get the food from us is one of the biggest considerations for us. One major step was shifting to methods of planting that cause less erosion, especially on soils that are more prone to soil erosion. Several areas that we focus on with the cattle are soil nutrient plans to make sure we are applying manure in the proper amounts in the right places, pasture rotation, and fencing out larger streams and rivers.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
On our farm we sell beef and chrysanthemums locally. The chrysanthemums are marketed through several farm markets in the area throughout the fall and we sell the beef mainly through word of mouth of friends and neighbors that are past customers. We have a website and social media presence as well for people to find us through.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Probably the biggest reaction I get from others when they learn I am a farmer is that they don’t think I look like a farmer. I am not sure why, I still use a pitchfork while doing my daily chores and dress similarly to the way my grandfather did. I'd like to think that most of them can tell how passionate I am about what I do, how excited I am to be a part of agriculture and that they will think of me next time they hear something in the news that generalizes negatively about farmers and give agriculture the benefit of doubt. I'm always willing to have those follow-up conversations.