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Investment advice for a start-up beef herd

Jentry and Jerrett Flesher have built a successful cow herd that specializes in freezer beef for customers in their Indiana area.

In the cattle business, financial resources are always limited, especially for beginners. The 20-something Flesher brothers, Jerrett and Jentry, of Randolph County, Indiana, have been there, done that, building a successful small cow herd in just five years. We listed five investment alternatives — land, genetics, people/education, machinery, and facilities — and asked for their best advice on how to prioritize scarce dollars.

1. Genetics

The brothers agree this is No. 1. Genetics impacts a herd in many ways, they say. With their emphasis on quality beef for an expanding freezer beef business, it’s a priority that they give better value than grocery store meat. The Fleshers have invested in cows and bulls that deliver high-quality calves to produce tender and flavorful meat. 

Genetics extends to sound production traits, too. “When we shop for bulls, we pay close attention to EPDs [expected progeny difference] for such things as calving ease, udder quality, and feedlot efficiency,” says Jentry. “We select cattle that have a good disposition and are calm. That makes them safer to work around, and calm cattle work better in the feedlot, too.”

Angus cows, he adds, check a lot of the important boxes.

2. People/Education

The brothers are both graduates of Purdue University in agriculture, but their education continues on the farm. Their dad, Joel, who’s been in the cattle business himself, is their mentor. They also established a good relationship with their local veterinarian, Philip Howell, who has his own purebred herd and shares production knowledge beyond his health expertise.

They also tap into knowledge and help from Rollin Jackson, a longtime employee on their dad’s crop farm.

“Don’t be afraid to seek out help and ask questions from a variety of sources,” says Jentry. “Listen to other producers who know cattle.”

The education point goes beyond cow knowledge, Jerrett adds. “The freezer beef business lets us educate our beef customers, too,” he says. “The two questions we get most frequently from customers are, ‘What are you feeding?’ and ‘What kind of care do you give?’ We want to be ahead of them on those concerns.”

3. Facilities

“We were lucky to have a place to start on our dad’s farm, where there have been cattle in the past,” says Jerrett. “We’ve added things like automatic waterers and feed bunks as we could justify it. We invested in a good calving barn and a good working chute. That’s important. When our veterinarian comes, he says he likes our facilities, and he knows we’re ready for him.”

4. Land

The Flesher brothers started their cattle herd on rental pasture on the fringes of their dad’s crop farm. It’s rolling ground with a creek through it and not very suitable for row crops, but it serves the cows well.

“We started with the theory that there is no shame in renting ground,” says Jentry. In fact, he adds, you can sometimes rent pasture ground at a better value than owning it. “Pasture is hard to come by, so we’re always watching for opportunities to become available around us.”

5. Machinery

While some people start with this investment, it’s actually last on the Fleshers’ priority list. Shiny new equipment can sink a farm, they think. It’s not that they are opposed to machinery investment, it’s just that it doesn’t have to be fancy for cattle purposes.

They use older tractors and hay equipment from the 1970s. “We keep them in good running condition, and they serve our needs,” says Jerrett.

Corn silage is the basis of their feedlot rations, and they have a neighbor who custom chops for them. That’s a piece of equipment they don’t need to own.

As they think about it, the brothers agree their most valuable machine is a New Holland skid loader. “We feed silage, scrap cattle lots, and haul manure with it,” says Jerrett. “We can justify upgrading it every few years.

Bonus investment: Marketing/Sales

Jerrett and Jentry think this should be a sixth investment choice for beginning ranchers. “We use social media to tell people about our cattle,” says Jerrett. “We have a farm drone to take videos we post online. We get lots of questions because of that and find some new customers, too. It’s very important for young producers to keep our communities educated about agriculture.”

About the farm

Name: Flesher Farms Freezer Beef
Owners: Jerrett (28) and Jentry (26) Flesher
Location: Randolph County, Indiana
Started: 2016
What They Do: Sell finished cattle and freezer beef from a 45-cow Angus-based herd, with a few purchased calves added to the feedlot.
Advantages: Freezer-ready quarter- and half-carcasses sell for 20¢ per pound premium on a live weight basis.
Where to Find Them: On Facebook, Flesher Farms Freezer Beef
Financial Credit: The brothers both have credit lines with Farm Credit Services and their local bank that they can tap as needed. 
Growth Plans: As land becomes available, they would like to grow to about 75 cows, with ongoing emphasis on quality, not quantity. They recently purchased their first tract of land using the beginning farmer loan program through the FSA.
Off-farm: Jerrett works part-time as an auctioneer and Jentry sells farm insurance, both careers that allow flexibility to manage the cattle herd.
Best advice: The cattle business lends itself to starting small and growing slow, and only as cash flow allows.

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