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Ag Entrepreneur: A bent for business

Ben's Bovine Beauties is an order-buying cattle business started by Ben Alsum, Randolph, Wisconsin.

Ben Alsum was just 10 years old when his enterprising nature surfaced. His parents, Scott and Lona, milked cows, and young Alsum soon learned that evening milking was a sure way to earn $10 a day.

His entrepreneurial flair grew from there, flexed around changing circumstances, and landed Alsum, now 22, a full-time career as an agricultural entrepreneur. His efforts earned him the 2009 Star in Agribusiness award from the National FFA Organization.

Alsum's newly purchased farmstead and 80-acre property near Randolph, Wisconsin, serve as home base for a web of enterprises spun from a knack for spotting and filling niche needs. His businesses include an order-buying service for cattle and hay, custom-combining and custom-baling services, a 100-head feedlot, and a 110-acre fresh-market sweet corn business shared with his parents.

"A lot of people go to a day job, and they don't like it," he says. "I don't have that problem. I enjoy my work so much."

Alsum's love of agriculture and work ethic shaped his options starting at age 12. That's when his parents quit dairying and Alsum found himself out of a milking job. He offered his services to neighboring dairy farmers and was soon back at work.

"I'd work for an hour or two and earn $25," he says. "At 12 years old, I couldn't get a job any better paying than that!"

At 15, empty buildings on his parents' farmstead prompted him to raise cattle. After his parents gave him the green light, he bought day-old dairy heifers, two at a time, raising them to breeding age for resale. He soon found people wanted to buy heifers in groups of 6 or 8.

That insight led to the birth of Ben's Bovine Beauties, an order-buying business for cattle. He began by buying dairy heifers to add to his home-raised ones. He then offered the dairy heifers for sale in groups. He expanded the business by filling larger orders for dairy heifers, eventually expanding into beef cattle.

Brokering in hay sales spun naturally from his cattle trade. He found that farmers selling cattle often have hay to sell, and people buying cattle often need hay.

"Cattle and hay go hand-in-hand," he says. "When I started buying and selling cattle, people also began asking about hay sales, so I began buying and selling hay."

Alsum's enterprising ideas led to the start of his own beef herd of 85 cows, which he pastures on 250 acres of rented grassland. He finishes the steers in a feedlot on his farm, along with some 30 head of Holstein steers bought as bull calves.

Offering custom-combining and custom-baling services spun easily from his observance of seasonal labor shortages on nearby farms.

He credits family lineage for a predisposition for salesmanship and farming. His maternal grandfather, Ray Paul, was a car salesman, while his paternal grandfather, Ken Alsum, was a dairy farmer.

"I'm going to be farming for the rest of my life," he says.

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