Larry and Brook White have found a demand for their grass-finished Angus beef products
When Larry and Brook White moved to the Ozarks from Nebraska, they intended to start a traditional cow/calf operation on their Richland, Mo., farm, but they soon discovered a growing market for grass-finished beef and the couple now delivers beef straight to customers with their White Angus Ranch brand.
“We’ve had cattle all along, but when we relocated to Missouri in 2010 we just started off selling beef to friends and they really enjoyed it, and since Brook has a marketing background, we thought we would see what we could do with this and it just took off from there,” Larry said.
The Whites currently have about 200 momma cows, with about half of their calf crop going into their grass-finished beef program, and the other half sold as feeder cattle.
“Having both markets tends to help with cash flow,” Larry said. “We’ve seen our grass-finished business grow every year. This is our fifth year and we have doubled every year since we started, and if we double again this year, it will really keep us from selling anything on the feeder market.”
The Whites fill up freezers in their customized trailers and attend at two farmers markets a week, one in Camdenton, Mo., and the other in Sedalia, Mo., and ship processed beef products across the county. They also deliver within a 50-mile radius.
“There are a lot of people who have food allergies who can’t eat the corn and grains, so they go to grass-finished beef,” Brook, who had no farming experience before she and Larry got together, said. “My background is in food marketing and I’m always game to try anything at least once. When he said he wanted to move and raise cattle, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ There is an opportunity here to sell this beef. We started getting calls asking if we had this or that and it’s just grown from there.”
“Here in Missouri, there’s not the availability of grain like there is in Nebraska, so grass-fed and finished was a new direction for us,” Larry said.
Finished animals are transported to a federally inspected processor in Hermann, Mo., every three weeks, two or three calves at a time.
Larry said Angus are more “natural” to the area, which allows for a natural growing environment and naturally-marbled meat.
They also prefer the moderate frame of the Angus breed because calves tend to finish in a shorter time period. Cattle in the beef program are typically ready for slaughter between 20 and 24 months of age; at about 900 pounds.
In addition to steaks, roasts and ground beef, the White Angus label can be found on all-beef hot dogs and franks, sliced pastrami or corned beef, brats and beef sticks.
“I like to say we have everything from tongue to tail,” Brook said.
The Whites utilize natural cover in their breeding program, with both spring and fall calving seasons.
“Having that set calving season lets us keep our groups a little more consistent and not trying to throw a lot of odds and ends together,” Larry said. “Having the two season also allows us to take a female that failed to conceive in the spring into the fall herd and give her one more shot.”
Calves are vaccinated at about 30 days of age, then again a month before weaning. No other vaccinations are given to calves in their beef program. If treatment with antibiotics is needed, the calf is rotated to the feeder calf group.
Moving cattle from Nebraska to Missouri did present a few challenges for the Whites. It took about 24 months for the cattle to become acclimated to the the Ozarks – and to fescue.
“Endophyte has been our biggest problem. What we have gotten into is adding red clover every three to four years, and in May we do a massive seed head clip,” Larry explained, adding that pastures are also clipped in the fall, if needed. “In Nebraska, we had brome pastures all summer, corn stocks all winter and brome hay. Fescue is a great thing, but it’s a whole new game.”
The couple also purchased 50 Angus cows that were on the farm they bought.
“They made ours look pretty tough for a while,” Larry said of the Missouri cattle. “We took (the northern cattle) off of pastures in the fall and brought them down here. They were fine in the winter, but that first summer; they went down hill.”
“It was a learning experience,” Brook added.
Extensive renovations were needed at the couple’s 390-acre property to get the cattle operation rolling. They created a rotational system of 14 paddocks that are rotated every two weeks. Each pasture is allowed four weeks of rest. They have also been cutting their own hay, but plan on buying hay in the future so they can utilize all of their paddocks in the rotational system for grazing.
“Right now, about 290 acres of our farm are open and we have about 80 acres of open land we rent, so we are at our maximum,” Larry said.
The couple has a closed herd, opting to retain their females instead of buying replacement heifers.
“When we cut our replacement heifers from our yearlings, anything that doesn’t make the cut goes into the beef program,” Larry said. “It really works very well for us.”
The couple like their heifers a little more mature before they calve.
“We don’t breed them until they are 18 to 24 months old, and that makes them 30 to 36 months before they calve,“ Larry said. “We grow our heifers a little slower, but I think it helps us with calving ease and the maturity of the animal.”
Brook added that they have better conception rates in first- and second-calf heifers because of their overall maturity.
As for the future, Larry and Brook say they plan to continue offering their White Angus grass-finished beef, but they don’t want their cattle operation to get much larger.
“We don’t want to be the biggest; we want to be the best,” Larry said. “We’re continuing to refine our products and get that diversity of products that appeal to more people. We just want to do it right and continue doing what we’re doing. If we can get to the point where we are selling 100 percent of our products we raise, then we don’t need to get any bigger.”