Celebrating Beef Month
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We recently interviewed Jim Rexroth, a beef and crop farmer from York County, PA to celebrate May Beef Month. Jim shared about his farm and the cattle he raises for beef.
First, start by telling our listeners about your farm.
Rexroth Farms was originally settled by the Rexroth family in 1945. My grandpa and grandma had 12 kids. They did anything they needed to do to make the farm mortgage payments and feed their family. They fed dogs, rabbits, hogs and anything that seemed to make some pennies. This was post great depression era in the rural area of Windsor, York County.
My dad being one of the 12 children, was always hungry to do a little more. He really liked agriculture. He took what he started with and grew the operation. He raised tomatoes and potatoes. He rented land that others were struggling to farm. This was the 1950s and 60s when a lot of guys were not even breaking even with their farm operations.
In the early 70s, my dad built a dairy barn and that gave him a little more time at home as opposed to running to the markets on the Eastern Shore with his produce. He fed cattle. He milked cows and grew crops to feed the cows. We did less and less potatoes and tomatoes as time wore on.
When my father’s children became old enough to become involved, including me, we went other directions. We focused on dairy, beef and crops, exclusively corn, soybeans and wheat.
As far as the dairy operation, we retired that in 2018. There were clear market signals that we did not need to continue to the dairy, and the decision was made. Our dairy barn is now full of antique tractors. My dad has a whole lot more fun with those than we ever did with the cows.
Today, we feed cattle and grow corn, soybeans, wheat and grass hay.
We flirted with hemp. We tried that for a year. It wasn't a bad deal. It was something different. We’re always open to new opportunities.
An odd ball situation that everyone asks about is that we farm islands on the Susquehanna River. We run a river barge to get our equipment to and from the islands.
We’re always willing to try something new, but at the end of the day, it does have to make financial sense.
Let’s talk a bit more about your beef operation. Could you share about the steers you raise and how you care for them?
We sell about 1,200 animals per year. They're all certified natural cattle. We're feeding a marketplace that's a little bit of a niche market and there are a lot of barriers to entry.
We feed a common York County forage-based ration including corn silage and corn. We also do feed some grocery waste including fruits and vegetables. Then we supplement that with feed wheat that we get from a local mill.
We try and have the feeder cattle come to our farm in the low to mid 700-pound range. They're coming from as far away as Georgia, with a lot coming from West Virginia.
They spend the majority of their lives on grass from the beef cow to that yearling or background feeder animal. At our farm, we try to have them from start to finish here on the feed lot about 220 days. Then they go for harvest and end up in the Whole Foods market.
That’s what works well for us. There are a lot of different regulations and a lot of auditing, but we've made that work for what we do.
Why do you feel that the beef operation is an important part of your farm business?
There's synergy on our farm because of the beef operation.
We grow a significant amount of grain and have a large grain facility, for our area of the country. If we have any off-quality grain, we can blend that with really good quality forage for our cattle. Or, if there is a discount at the feed mill, we can feed that to beef cattle and make a good ration from it. We feed our own grain. We feed forages. We have a nice land base.
We look at the cattle feeding operation, not only from income diversification, but it's a way to market the grain that's a guarantee. We can basically book our cost of production in whatever it costs us to grow our corn. We can sell that grain to our own feedlot operation without transportation costs. If we're using high moisture corn, we don't have drying costs.
There are a lot of efficiencies to have really large cornfields right at the feedlot. It allows us to take that corn and feed the cattle. If we're only using the grain from the corn, we can then harvest the fodder from that corn and bed up those cattle. We take all the manure out of those pens and grow the feed for the cattle. It’s efficient recycling.
When we talk about carbon footprint or sustainability, we do also grow cover crops on those fields. That gives us the ability under all current rules and regulations to spread the manure on those fields as needed, even during the winter time with the slopes and the cover crop established there.
We really just saw this as an opportunity to check a lot of boxes, both financially and synergy on our operation. When there are times when we can't do things in the field, we can use employees for processing or loading cattle. It just really fit like a glove.
Since Memorial Day and grilling season are right around the corner, tell our listeners your favorite way to prepare or eat beef.
I like my beef rare. I like it juicy whether it's steak or hamburger. Probably my favorite Memorial Day treat is a gourmet cheeseburger – a rare cheeseburger with all the trimmings including lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and mayonnaise.
I'm not a fan of well done. I like the taste of beef and see it as a great way to turn plants into something that's highly nutritious and delicious.
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