Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Duo partner in beef production

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 05/20/2013 9:28 AM

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ALDEN, Minn. — Bob Nelson had a 47-head calf nursery and needed to expand.

Philip Schmidt was fresh out of South Dakota State University and looking for a way to farm full time.

The duo partnered in a Holstein beef production business in 2006. The partnership allows Schmidt to farm full time and allowed Nelson to expand his beef business.

They buy 80 calves a month from sales barns in southeastern Minnesota and Wisconsin. The goal is to buy all the calves in one week, Nelson said. They work with an order buyer to acquire calves with an average weight of 95 pounds and a smaller frame.

They are looking for a more uniform product right from the start, Schmidt said.

Smaller frame animals finish faster, Nelson said. He can tell by looking at a calves' head how the animal will fill out.

Sometimes, they can find 80 calves in a day. Sometimes it takes a week, Schmidt said.

They are concerned about the sales barn supply of bull calves, Nelson said. Many of the larger dairies are linked with someone who buys their bull calves directly from the farm. They may have to find a dairy to link with at some point to continue raising dairy beef, he said.

They stick with Holsteins, though they have a few Holstein crossbreds and Red and White Holsteins.

The calves are trucked back to Freeborn County by Nelson or his hired help. He has one full-time employee.

Calves are picked up at the sales barn as soon as possible following sales. When it's really cold, a Carhartt calf jacket is put on them for the ride home. Wood chips and straw are scattered on the trailer floor for the calves to burrow into to keep warm. In addition, an enclosure on the trailer side keeps it warmer. The enclosure is removed when weather warms.

If the weather isn't too extreme, the calf jackets are put on the calves as soon as they come off the trailer, Schmidt said. It's part of the regime he goes through when new calves arrive. He assumes everything is colostrum deficit and the very first feeding is what he calls a "calf powerade," composed of electrolytes and milk replacer. The calves are fed a nutritional supplement for their first 10 days on the farm.

Schmidt built the nursery on his farm five or six years ago. All calves are kept in individual pens with free-choice water and calf starter. They are on milk replacer for six weeks. They are bedded with corn stalks.

The nursery barn has a common area where milk replacer and calf starter are stored and there is access to water. Rooms on either side are filled with individual calf pens. The sides have curtains and there is an open ridge on top to allow for natural ventilation. A large overhead door on the end to allow for bringing in bales and for cleaning between batches.

He feeds the calves twice daily and may have 160 on milk at one time. He strives for zero percent death loss, but said they average 2 percent to 3 percent loss in the nursery and 2 percent from weaning up to 500 pounds.

Once weaned, Nelson and Schmidt each take half the calves.

Schmidt's calves are moved to a monoslope barn on his farm. He raises his cattle to 500 pounds and sells them as feeders.

Nelson moves his to another farm. He has cattle on five farms, including Schmidt's place. The cattle are sent to a custom finisher in Waseca County for the last 400 pounds to 500 pounds before being slaughtered. His goal is for a steer to reach 1,400 pounds to 1,500 pounds in 15 months. Most are sold directly to packers in Green Bay, Wis. He sells 34 head a month.

Nelson said he wouldn't been able to farm full-time when he was younger if it wasn't for raising dairy beef in addition to running crop ground.

There aren't many guys who raise dairy beef anymore, he said.

Schmidt has networked with a few and said he, like Nelson, wouldn't have been able to farm full-time if not for the livestock operation.

The majority of his cattle are on his farm, which allows his children, ages 2 and 5, to tag along with him while he does chores or play in the puddles outside the barn. His wife, Amy, works at Farmers State Bank in Freeborn.

Nelson has two grown daughters and two grandchildren. The grandchildren enjoy spending time on the farm. His wife, Donna, runs Donna Nelson Insurance of Alden.