Business plan

Grass-Fed Beef Requires a Different Business Plan | Cattle

LOVILIA, Iowa – Nestled among the rolling hills of southern Iowa is Whippoorwill Creek Farm, where John Hogeland and Beth Hoffman work to establish themselves in the world of grass-fed beef.

“It’s beautiful rolling hills here,” Hoffman says as she walks over to the cattle and goats the couple raise. “Breeding makes sense in this part of the world.”

Photo by Gene Lucht

Animal production is not quite where Hoffman imagined he would grow up. She grew up on the east coast and ended up on the west coast, where she made a living as a teacher and food writer. It was there that she met Hogeland, a farm boy from Iowa who went to culinary school in San Francisco and made a living as a chef, produce buyer, and eventually butcher.

But he always dreamed of returning to the family farm.

So when her children grew up, the couple decided to change careers. They left the career they had in the Bay Area of ​​California and moved to Iowa, where they took over the operation of the family farm in Hogeland. The farm produced corn and soybeans, as well as livestock. They worked with Hogeland’s father and bought a farm. And over the next five years, they worked to build a farm based on grazing cattle and goat farming and the idea of ​​being an environmentally friendly business.

“We saw the potential for grass-fed meat as a market,” says Hoffman.

But animal husbandry, especially grass-fed cattle, is not always easy in today’s world of highly mechanized agriculture. And farming isn’t easy to start with, says Hoffman.

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“The economics of farming is pretty brutal,” she says.

There are always challenges. The weather doesn’t always cooperate. COVID has complicated the business plan. Getting market access and good information can be difficult. The couple says organizations such as Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Iowa Farmers Union have been invaluable. They now market some beef locally and others through an organization that works with niche beef producers. They also raise products and fodder for the mushrooms, but these items are not the main activity of the farm.

Hoffman and Hogeland also raise meat goats.

Hoffman and Hogeland also raise meat goats.

Photo by Gene Lucht

They also tell their story. Hoffman wrote a book, “Bet the Farm”, about their efforts to start the business. Agriculture can be many different things, they say. It can be corn and soy. It can be other crops or livestock. These may be market garden products or niche products. It can be environmentally friendly.

“If you have a unique product, there’s an opportunity,” says Hoffman.

Hogeland, on the other hand, enjoys working with animals. He points out that even cattle are a bit different. He points to grazing cows and calves to show how body type can differ from that preferred for grain-fed beef. The legs tend to be a bit shorter and the body lower and thicker as preference is given to animals with a large rumen so they can digest grass and gain weight.

He also sits with customers and talks about the product.

“He sits down with each person (who buys his meat) and does what I call beef advice,” Hoffman says.

This tip involves using your expertise as a chef and butcher to explain the different cuts of meat and how they can be prepared. This is where Hogeland’s previous career meets his new market niche.

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