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Finishing beef is a family affair

Gilda V. Bryant for Progressive Cattle Published on 28 September 2021
Freund Family

The JW Freund Farms has been family-owned since the mid-1960s, when Jack Freund and his brother, Chuck, added a feedyard to their farming operation near Lewis, Iowa.

Jack’s sons – John, Doug, Matt and Kevin – learned the cattle feeding business from the ground up. Now the brothers are partners and have specialized in different areas of the feedyard business.

John buys feeder calves and feedstuffs, while Doug handles the crop side, spraying, harvesting and tackles the bookkeeping to boot. Matt is in charge of animal health, and Kevin oversees feeding and feedstuffs management. John’s son, J.P.; and Doug’s son, Adam, also tend to animal health and pen maintenance. Matt’s son, Dan; and Kevin’s sons Frank, Walter and Vincent care for cattle daily and the seasonal planting, spraying and harvesting of corn, soybeans and other crops.

What are the challenges of working with family members? “Not many in my book,” John says, laughing. “It just takes a lot of communication so everyone knows what page we’re on. We spend a lot of time in the office, [planning] what we want to accomplish. Communication and scheduling are critical.”

The 2,500-head-capacity feedyard concentrates on the finishing phase of beef production. John buys calves weighing 600 to 900 pounds. The operation feeds for efficient weight gain, harvesting animals when they reach 1,300 pounds.

They buy mixed calves, although 75% have black Angus genetics. For 30-plus years, the Freunds have purchased preconditioned calves from a family-owned stocker operation in central Missouri. “That family is a lot like ours,” John shares. “They have a calf-buying business and raise cows in their operation, too. We have a couple of buyers, but primarily most of our cattle come from that one family.”

Off to a great start

feed truckObtaining preconditioned calves results in significant advantages. The Freund brothers are confident these animals know how to eat from a bunk, have had their vaccinations, good nutrition and are accustomed to being handled. Having had vaccinations and good nutrition means the calves have a better chance of staying healthy. Since they are accustomed to being around humans, they are not as stressed, which also helps prevent illness. John says, “The preconditioning program gives them a head start in our health program. Starting them on feed correctly is a bonus for us.”

John also buys at-risk calves, making sure that upon arrival at the feedyard they have a clean pen to rest in with dry feed, long-stem hay and water available. He starts their vaccinations and provides TLC with good animal husbandry practices.

Cattle eat a ration formulated for growth

The Freunds’ ration formulation includes wet and dry corn, which they grow on the family farm. They harvest wet corn or high-moisture corn, with moisture levels of 26% to 28%. Although they raise some alfalfa, they buy most of this commodity from local growers. They feed modified distillers grains from local ethanol plants and a commercial pre-mix, which includes mineral and vitamin supplementation to round out their five-step ration system.

Consulting with a beef nutritionist ensures their ration provides the proper amounts of dry matter, minerals, protein and energy for optimum gain, health and productivity while avoiding stomach upsets. “Our veterinarian, Dr. Dan Thompson, and beef nutritionist Joe Peschel from Midwest PMS are irreplaceable in our operation,” John says. “They see things we don’t always see since we’re just one operation. They may have seen issues at other yards and head problems off before they get started.”

Best practices

Passionate about cattle and their role in the feedyard sector of the beef industry, each member of the Freund family is Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified. They feel the BQA best practices program ensures that consumers receive a consistent, high-quality beef product. These principles also provide a common goal for everyone working in the business. Best practices are available for review in the BQA Feedyard Assessment Guide. Doug Freund reports it’s a blueprint for how and when they should provide animal care.

Moving cattle to a new location

For example, the BQA recommends protocols emphasizing proper animal husbandry practices for receiving cattle, low-stress handling methods, testing feed samples, preventing lameness, handling pharmaceuticals and animal safety. The BQA requires dry areas for cattle to rest in, pens with enough space for animal comfort and regular manure removal as part of pen maintenance. To learn more, visit www.bqa.org.

“Whether it’s handling techniques for cattle, managing the vaccines or microbials, the BQA is a good thing for the industry,” John explains. “It’s a good thing for the consumer who [wants to know] we really do care. We do care for the animals because if the animals are comfortable, they do a better job for us.”

Cattle enjoy plenty of space

Cattle stay in covered pens that provide shade, especially important during hot, humid weather. They also have access to open pens but receive rations and water under the shelter. “Anytime we can get the sun off their backs but they still feel a breeze, our animals are more comfortable,” John reports. “The shade seems to equate to an improved average daily gain conversion in the summer than if they are only in outside pens. In January, when the wind is blowing and it’s 10 degrees, it’s a nice place to be, too.”

Challenging yet rewarding

Like most feedyard operators, the Freund family faces obstacles. “There’s always market challenges – events we have no control over,” John argues. “Macroforces push and pull in our industry, whether it comes from fake meat, packing house fires or COVID-19. These are our biggest challenges because we can’t foresee them and have no control over them. The feedyard industry is super efficient. It’s much more efficient than anyone gives us credit for. We produce more beef with fewer pounds [of feed] than we ever have in history, with a smaller effect on the environment. It’s a challenging industry, and rewarding when you have partners to share it with and you all have a common goal. It’s important to keep good people around you can lean on and ask for advice.”

Dedicated to the BQA program and standards, this family works diligently to raise the best animals possible for consumers. John reports their wives do their part too, including bringing meals to the field during harvest and providing moral support. “Honestly, without them, we couldn’t do what we do,” John reveals.

What does this operation mean to the next generation? “They want to be included in everything,” John concludes. “We include them in management decisions so they will know how to make them. We fully expect to have our father’s name on the wall far into the future.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Front row, left to right: Walter, Vince, Frank Freund, Back row, left to right: Dan, Doug, John, Matt, Kevin, J.P., Adam Freund. Photo by LaNette Freund.

PHOTO 2: Kevin Freund drives the feed truck, delivering rations to cattle. Photo by LaNette Freund.

PHOTO 3: Cattle eat a ration formulated for growth and productivity. Photo by Jacquie Freund.

PHOTO 4: Using BQA-approved handling techniques, the Freunds move cattle to a new location. Photo courtesy of JW Freund Farms.

PHOTO 5: Cattle enjoy plenty of space in large pens and have protection from the hot sun and cold weather when they move under the roof. Photo courtesy of JW Freund Farms.

Gilda V. Bryant is a freelancer based in Amarillo, Texas.

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