Longtime farm lore seems to work.
“Feed cows at night and calves in the daylight,” cattleman Scott Hoffman says.
Even so, he still checks his cattle frequently at night during spring calving, the birthing season on his farm. He worries most about the new moms, prompting checks at 10 p.m., 2 a.m., 6 a.m. and then several times during broad daylight.
“Those 2 a.m. welfare checks are not fun when you have to get dressed, wake up and then try to go back to sleep again,” says Hoffman, owner of J&S Angus in southwest Wisconsin. “It makes my blood boil when people think we don’t take care of the animals. I think cattlemen are very good stewards of the land and animal welfare.”
A fifth-generation farmer, Hoffman maintains Beef Quality Assurance certification, implements best management techniques and uses research- based, low-stress handling practices on his farm. He earned the title of 2016 Cattleman of the Year from the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association. The award annually recognizes a Wisconsin cattle producer with a positive influence on the industry.
Hoffman and his wife, Gail, live on the family farm, homesteaded in 1868. In the deeply carved area of Richland County, they run a cow-calf and seedstock Angus farm, representative of Wisconsin’s diversity and family ownership in the beef industry. In traditional cow-calf operations, farmers care for brood cows to deliver calves, which they eventually sell as feeder calves to feedlots. Seedstock producers like Hoffman raise genetically superior cattle for breeding purposes. Other Wisconsin farms may background cattle, or teach calves to eat from a bunk before they head to a feedlot. Some of the state’s cattlemen may operate their own feedlots, where they feed the calves to market weight.
“The Wisconsin beef market is very diversified, as well,” says Austin Arndt, president of the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association. “Anything from selling a quarter of a freezer beef to a neighbor to selling four truck loads of steers to a national packer.”
And beef is big business. The Wisconsin beef industry generates $6.94 billion each year from on-farm and processing revenue, according to the Wisconsin Beef Council.
Wisconsin Beefed Up
While dairy claims Wisconsin’s cattle fame, the state actually contains more beef farms than dairy. Dairy takes the lead in the number of cows, with more cows per farm.
“I try not to divide the industries because at the end of the day, they’re all beef cattle,” says Arndt, who operates a diversified crop and beef cattle farm with his family in southern Wisconsin. “When a dairy cow is done being productive with her dairy life, she is beef.”
Regardless of bovine type, cattle work well in Wisconsin. The state contains ideal natural resources, access to feed co-products from ethanol plants and profitable marketing opportunities with packing and processing facilities.
The state’s topography also caters to cattle.
“I got into beef because we have steep hillsides that are not good for row crops,” says Hoffman, also a director on the Wisconsin Beef Council. “Cattle can turn a brushy hillside into a good-tasting piece of beef. It’s also environmentally sustainable, and you can help feed the world.”
Motivated to Perform
Hoffman collects lots of data on his herd, symbolic of his emphasis on cattle performance. Whether birth and weaning weights, pregnancy confirmation or reproductive tests on bulls, Hoffman tracks statistics that encourage perpetual improvement. He also orders carcass ultrasounds to determine meat quality. And he works closely with his veterinarian to perform those evaluations, establish a health care plan and verify nutritional needs.
“After 22 years, I still wake up motivated and love raising beef cattle,” Hoffman says. “I sometimes call it cow therapy.”