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 Aberdeen genetics, extensive record keeping and an open mind.
“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. “We relied heavily on the help of our local Ohio State Extension agent, researchers at The Ohio State University and our own intuition to develop our program, and we’re proud of the product we are able to deliver to our customers.”
The Benders both grew up in rural Ohio but had never owned cattle before purchasing their 68-acre, Civil War-era farmstead. With a strong appreciation for agriculture and rural living, they knew they wanted to raise their children – Amelia and Mathias – on a farm. In 2006, they established C.A.B.B. Farms, an acronym derived from their grandparents’ last names – Caruso, Ault, Borland and Bender – that pays homage to the heritage and values instilled in them through their families.
“Being sustainable has always been the driver in our operation, and it’s important to us that our children understand how and why we feed our cattle the way we do,” Erin says. “It stems back generations in our family; Dustin’s grandmother was growing food organically in the ‘60s and ‘70s before that was even a known concept.”
While the couple started with registered Angus females, the Aberdeen breed began to stand out as they researched options to increase beef productivity on the limited land resources available. The smaller structure of Aberdeen cattle was also appealing to the Benders, whose young children are starting to show some of the animals raised on the farm.
“Both of our children have a herd that we add to each year, and they are learning to make management decisions for the animals they own,” Dustin says. “Our hope is that we can teach them about beef production through showing while also investing in their future.”
The couple began introducing Aberdeen genetics with the purchase of a set of cows in 2013. Their herd has since grown to more than 30 fullblood Aberdeen, purebred Angus and Aberdeen-Angus crossbred females. They use a combination of fullblood Aberdeen bulls and artificial insemination.
“All the things we love about the Angus breed – the quality, the yield, the value – we could get with the Aberdeens in a smaller, more compact package, both for showing and for beef production,” Dustin says.
The Benders intend to make the most of their land and their cattle with sustainable animal nutrition and management practices. Using an intensive rotational grazing program on 16 acres of native bluestem, timothy and fescue grasses, the family moves two separate herds of cow-calf pairs through 32 half-acre cells during the spring and summer. Red and white clover has also been planted in the cells for added protein consumption, and in the colder months, cattle are fed hay and mineral supplements. Dustin and Erin have a 38-acre hay meadow and purchase hay they custom bale for other local farmers to provide roughage for their cattle.
The Benders also 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 to 28 months, and the cattle are then processed just 25 miles down the road at E.R. Boliantz Co. The family-owned processing facility is inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and each carcass receives a Quality and Yield Grade.
With a warehousing license, the Bender family stores all of the beef at their farm and sells everything from whole sides to individual cuts. They also use the storage opportunity to make detailed records about each carcass – including the number and weight of individual cuts – to track performance among the different bloodlines in their herd.
“Our goal has always been to produce the best beef possible, and having carcass data from each animal helps tremendously in our breeding and management decisions,” Erin says. “Through intentional changes in our 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.”
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.
By Macey Mueller, Freelance Writer
First published in The Ledger – Spring 2019 issue