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May is National Beef Month

By Staff | May 29, 2010

Tony and Josh Brown custom feed just under 1,000 Holstein beef steers at their operation southeast of Armstrong. In addition, they run 100 cow-calf pairs on pasture. EDN photo by Michael Tideamnn

Okay, I’ll admit it’s been a few years since I’ve lived on a farm – quite a few. But give me a break.

I was searching for Tony and Josh Brown’s feedlot Friday, looking for a herd of Angus or Hereford feeders. There were a bunch of Holsteins at one place, so I headed back out the drive and went a couple miles south.

Doggone it, I thought, those cattle have to be somewhere around here. So I headed back to what I thought was a dairy farm and two guys who looked pretty much like identical twins except for a little different style sunglasses walked toward me.

“Are you Tony and Josh?” I asked doubtingly.

They were. And those Holsteins? Well, those were the cattle they were custom feeding out too.

When I was growing up on farm on the rocky bluffs of southeastern South Dakota, beef cattle were Angus or Hereford and dairy cattle were Holstein or Brown Swiss. And that was that.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out that this pair of brothers has had more than average success in custom feeding just under 1,000 Holstein beef cattle in addition to 100 Angus crossbred cow-calf pairs of their own at another site.

Both graduates of the Iowa Lakes Community College ag production program, Tony and Josh have made their beef operation a family affair. Their feedlot is on Grandma Helen Brown’s farm and their father, Gary Brown, grows corn and beans and raises hogs nearby. Undoubtedly, a big part of their success is that everyone helps everyone else out.

Tony and Josh run their own cattle on pasture along the east fork of the Des Moines River. They keep the calves on grass for about four months or 400 pounds before feeding them out. They AI the cattle and use a couple bulls for clean-up.

Like a lot of other cattle feeders, Tony and Josh have gone to ethanol co-products – both DDGs and wet cake. They still swear by corn, though, as the best for finishing. They finish out at a range of 1,200-1,400 pounds or 15-16 months.

So why Holstein beef instead of Hereford or Angus?

“There’s a good market for them,” Tony said. Last fall, Holstein cattle were making money while colored cattle weren’t.

The brothers ought to know. They fed out crossbred Angus right up until a couple years ago.

While it takes more pounds of feed to get a Holstein to market, Tony said feed rations are about the same percentage of DDGs or wet cake to corn as colored cattle. Tony says they feed about 30-35 percent DDGs.

Another advantage of Holstein feeders, says Tony, is they are easier to work with. He does admit, though, they’re a little more of a high-maintenance animal.

At a time when Tony and Josh could be very easily calling everybody else Dad or Grandpa around the coffee table at the local cafe on a rainy day, both brothers are very optimistic about the ag industry in general and beef cattle in particular.

Tony said Farm Bureau has been a big help with its programs for family farmers. And while it’s not impossible for a young guy to start farming from scratch, Tony says it helps to have a family that’s already into farming if a guy wants to start out on the right foot.

Tony said the program at Iowa Lakes helped a lot too.

“It helps you get an idea of your nutrition background,” Tony said.

He said the program also helped him learn how to work with veterinarians and nutritionists. “They lead you down the right road,” he said.

Tony said consumers can rest assured that the beef they buy in their local supermarket is of the best quality.

“There’s been a lot of steps to make sure it’s safe,” Tony said.

Writing about this is making me hungry, so I think I’m going to head over to the grocery store and pick up a New York strip or maybe a filet. Maybe I’ll get a potato for baking, some lettuce for a salad and a little sweet corn too.

After all, it’s Labor Day weekend. The first thing we should do is honor those veterans who died so we all didn’t have to learn how to speak speak Japanese or German or Korean or Vietnamese. The second thing we should all do is fire up the grill and have some good old Iowa beef to celebrate Beef Month.

So happy grilling!