By Jessie Topp-Becker, The Ledger Managing Editor
American Aberdeens’ efficiency, high-quality beef appeal to producers and consumers alike.
With American Aberdeen, quality and efficiency are king. And while large-scale breeders benefit from the breed’s ability to lower input costs and stocking rates, and to moderate cow size on their operations, small-acreage producers frequently take advantage of the breed’s suite of traits as well.
All producers desire to raise efficient cattle as a way to reduce costs and increase profitability. Producers who utilize American Aberdeen cattle have the ability to stock more cattle on the same forage base. For example, a ranch that produces enough forage to feed 71 head of 1,400-pound cows could run 100 head of 1,000-pound cows on the same number of acres. More cows on the same number of acres means more profit, and a solid bottom line is critical to an operation’s continued success, regardless of size.
In recent years, some producers have started branching into niche markets, seeking to meet consumer demand for high-quality, family-raised beef. Known for its high-quality beef, the breed is an ideal fit for producers seeking to break into these markets.
American Aberdeen possess excellent beef characteristics of taste, texture and tenderness as well as exceptional ribeye area per hundred pounds of body weight, which translate to very high-yielding, high-quality, high-value beef carcasses. American Aberdeen beef checks all the boxes for consumers seeking high-quality beef that is raised in an efficient, environmentally friendly manner.
Combined with the ability to stock more cows on fewer acres and the high-quality beef the breed produces, many small-acreage producers are turning to American Aberdeen cattle as a solution to meet consumer demand by branching into the retail beef market.
One of the allures of American Aberdeen-cross cattle is that they are extremely well suited to grass-fed beef production as they are easy fleshing and will finish on a high roughage ration, producing high-value carcasses with minimum input costs. That, along with the breed’s excellent beef characteristics, are what attracted Dustin and Erin Bender to the breed.
First-generation cattle producers, Dustin and Erin Bender are all about the beef – farm-raised, grass-fed and finished, locally processed beef. The Lexington, Ohio, couple may be new to the cattle industry, but they are making great strides in beef production using quality American Aberdeen genetics.
“We knew from the beginning we wanted to raise grass-fed beef, and that was in the early 2000s when it was still a pretty novel concept among most producers,” Dustin says.
While the couple started their operation with registered Angus females, the American Aberdeen breed began to stand out as they researched options to increase beef productivity on limited land resources. They began introducing American Aberdeen genetics in 2013 and have since grown their herd to more than 30 fullblood American Aberdeen, purebred Angus and American Aberdeen-Angus crossbred females.
“All the things we love about the Angus breed – the quality, the yield, the value – we could get with the American Aberdeens in a smaller, more compact package,” Dustin says.
The Benders background and finish their yearlings with a combination of grass, hay, baleage, alfalfa pellets and mineral supplements. The grass-fed finishing process can take 20-28 months, and the cattle are processed 25 miles away at E.R. Boliantz Co., a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-inspected facility.
With a warehousing license, the Bender family stores all of the beef at their farm and sells everything from whole sides to individual cuts.
The Benders have had great success selling their beef locally through word-of-mouth and recently started attending the Westerville Saturday Farmers Market on the campus of Otterbein University. They follow USDA grass-fed standards to produce high-quality beef for their niche market and appreciate the Aberdeen genetics they use to do it.
“Through intentional changes in our American Aberdeen carcass trait genetics and our nutritional inputs, we’ve been able to produce Yield Grade 1 and 2, Prime Grade, grass-fed and finished beef,” Erin says.
More than 2,000 miles away in Hayden, Idaho, Idaho Livestock has also branched into the retail beef market. Founded in 2008, Idaho Livestock specializes in raising top-of-the-line fullblood, Moderator® and Moderator Plus® American Aberdeen cattle. Frank Tomlinson and his wife, Carma, started the operation and were attracted to the breed for its efficiency in producing quality beef. Frank passed away in 2012, but his dream has been carried on by his son, John, and ranch managers, Jay and Diana Lillelfloren.
Since starting the ranch more than a decade ago, they have purchased more land.
“We continued to buy more acreage around the ranch so we could grow the herd,” John says.
The herd started with 10 fullblood American Aberdeen heifers and has grown to include more than 50 head. A primary reason for adding additional acreage was to raise more steers to retain and finish, as their locally sold, natural-beef business was growing. They raise a select number of steers to retain and finish at the ranch. The natural-raised beef is sold private treaty year-round, and individual retail cuts are sold at their local Kootenai County Farmers Market from May through October.
They get the beef processed at a USDA-certified packer, which allows them to sell their beef at the farmers market. Over the years, they’ve grown large enough to have their own beef label. They sell ground beef, roast, steaks, beef smokies, hamburger patties and beef sticks. In order to transport their beef products to the farmers market, they have a larger freezer mounted on a trailer so they can sell beef right out of the cooler.
The smaller carcass size of American Aberdeen cattle appeals to Idaho Livestock because it allows for better portion control, with uniform shape and size of the retail beef cuts. They are proud that a majority of their customers become repeat consumers who won’t buy beef anywhere else after experiencing the great-tasting American Aberdeen beef they raise.
Whether small-acreage breeders, like the Benders, or producers looking to diversify their operation, like Idaho Livestock, American Aberdeens’ suite of traits places breeders in a unique position where they have the opportunity to raise more high-quality beef on fewer acres, all while being profitable in the process and providing consumers with high-quality, tasty beef.