To help improve their bottom line, Josh and Lawanna Salmon began direct beef sales. Pictured with the couple are their children Cheyenne, Kaitlin and Justin.  Submitted Photo.
To help improve their bottom line, Josh and Lawanna Salmon began direct beef sales. Pictured with the couple are their children Cheyenne, Kaitlin and Justin. Submitted Photo.

Josh and Lawanna Salmon say adding beef sales raised the value of their calves 

APPLETON CITY, MO. – Through the St. Clair County Cattlemen’s Association, longtime cattle producers Josh and Lawanna Salmon have been helping to supply local-raised beef to the school districts In St. Clair County, but when COVID hit, they looked at building their own beef market. 

“In May of 2020, when the cattle market was going down, he wasn’t coming in the house very happy,” Lawanna, who is a 23-year-employee in Education currently with the Lakeland R-3 School District, said. She and Josh are also both members of the St. Clair County Cattlemen’s Board, with Lawanna serving as board secretary and Josh currently serving as a state director. “We were going to have to figure out what to do to make the farm go. That’s when we decided to go with the farm-fresh beef. We currently help with the Mo Beef program, and I was the one organizing between the Cattlemen, the schools and the processor. We decided since we already had a relationship with the processor to get beef to the schools, so we were able to get appointments for ourselves.”

They had a beef processed and packaged for sale to see how things would go and go it did.

“We started putting the word out that we were going to do this. I literally picked that beef up, drove to the school, I had told people what the drop-off time would be, and it looked like people going through McDonald’s,” Lawanna said. “We did only hamburger meat that time, and people pulled up to the back of our truck, told us how many pounds they wanted, we gave them their packages of hamburger, they paid us and drove off.”

They were convinced to start the beef sales after that first day.

“It’s added value to our animals,” Josh said. “We are getting more than market price for our cattle.”

They now offer farm-raised beef directly to customers through the Greater Polk County Farmers Market, as well as at regional delivery locations. In May 2021, the family also started their brand of beef sticks, which are now carried in 60 locations. 

Salmon beef is a part of Salmon Enterprises, LLC., which began in 2015 as a distributor for Old West Feed Company’s cafeteria-style, free-choice mineral. 

The Salmons own and rent a little more than 800 acres where they run their 250-head cow/calf operation of primally Angus and Angus-influenced females bred by Red Angus and Angus bulls selected for growth. While they still sell most of their cattle at the stockyards, the beef program has allowed them to add value to animals that may not bring a high price at the yards by placing them into the beef program. 

“If we have an open cow or when we wean calves and have something like a short tail, frozen ears or a bad eye are kept. They are perfectly healthy, but they will get discounted at the sale barn,” Lawanna said. 

Open cows are used for their beef stick program.

“At the sale barn, an open cow will maybe bring $500, so by doing the beef sticks, we can triple that,” Josh said. “We are just trying to find a way to boost our income. We should have done this way sooner. We had tossed around the idea of selling frozen beef in years past, but we were looking at it the wrong way. Instead of trying to sell a half, a whole beef, or a quarter to people who may only have a freezer on top of their refrigerator, we can sell them 5 pounds of hamburger, or 5 pounds of hamburger and a roast. It helps them, and it helps us.”

At this time, no wholes, halves or quarters are offered to customers.

Josh Salmon's customers get more meat for their money with the frozen beef than if he sells a lightweight animal. At this time no whole, halves, or quarters are offered to customers. Submitted Photo.
Submitted Photo

“They will actually get more meat for their money with the frozen beef than if we sell them a lightweight animal because they are paying for bone and everything else,” Lawanna said. 

Josh said Lawanna is “a heck of a salesman.”

“We load her truck up every Saturday morning, and I think there is no way she’s going to sell it all, but she does,” he said. 

Two calves are processed each month for the frozen cuts, and two animals are going into the snack sticks monthly, and Josh said there is room for growth.

“We have the room to feed them,” he said. 

Calves going to the beef program are processed at about 1,200 to 1,300 pounds and are typically 18 to 20 months of age. Because the bulk of the herd is fall calving, the Salmons select calves of various sizes at weaning to filter calves through their processing schedule. 

“When you have a smaller, younger calf, he is going to get docked at the sale,” Josh said. “We have a 70-day calving window, so those younger calves will be smaller, and we can move them to the beef side.”

Cheyenne, Kaitlin and JustinFall calves are weaned in June or July, will typically remain on grass and are hand-fed a cracked corn ration twice a day.

“Right now, they are in the lot, but have access to hay and that cracked corn ration, which they get about 18 to 20 pounds of a day,” Josh explained. 

Animals placed into the beef stick program are not offered any grain. 

“We keep them on grass,” Josh explained. “You don’t want to get those animals too fat.” 

The key to any cattle operation is healthy cattle, which is why the Salmons follow a vaccination schedule. They also believe their cafeteria-style minerals help keep their cattle herd in good health. Josh said the herd is currently receiving nine minerals, two vitamins and salt, and cattle can pick and choose what they want. 

“We went from 80-percent conception rates to 96 percent, and we have had some perfect years,” he explained. “Last year was a good test. We had three herds on this mineral for several years, and they were at 96 percent conception,” Josh explained. “We had a herd of cows we bought, the same kind of cows we had that had not been on the mineral. After about a year, that conception rate was at 89 percent. The hair coat is better, the cows look better, the black cows are black and the red cows are red. Before the mineral, we had that brownish dead hair on our cows, but we don’t have that anymore.”

Cattle also move through a rotational grazing system.

“My dad started rotational grazing when I was a kid because he wanted to try it,” Josh said. “We put a drinker in the middle of 40 acres and divided it up into 10-acre paddocks. I was 10 or 12 years old, and I thought that was the worst idea ever because my job in the summer was to mow pastures, and I did that with a 7-foot sickle mower. I thought it was terrible because I was going to have four pastures and not just one big one to mow. He said if it worked, I wasn’t going to be mowing pastures as much, but I didn’t see it that way. After trying that first 40 acres, he divided up all his land. When I started doing my own thing, I divided my land into 10-acre paddocks with a drinker in the middle. I’m still not feeding hay this year because I have stockpiled grass. If it snows and they can’t graze, I will give them hay for a couple of days, then the snow melts, and they go back to grazing.”

Josh added every year is different, as is every paddock, and the spreading of chicken litter has helped his forages remain productive.

“I try not to bale any of our paddocks,” Josh said. “We try to bale hay on ground that’s not ours or buy it because I would rather graze it.” 

Because of his vaccination schedule, breeding program and grazing system, Josh said his cows and calves should have what is needed to thrive with limited inputs.

“I don’t coddle them,” he said. “My cows are on grass, and I don’t creep feed; my calves are expected to grow on milk and grass. I have picked my bulls for growth because I still sell most of my calves at the sale barn. In the future, I may select more bulls for carcass, but right now, I need them to grow.”

Heifers are seldom retained from the Salmon herd. If replacement animals are needed, Josh prefers to buy groups of young cows that have already calved. 

“I can buy a cow that will have a calf that fall, where when you save a heifer, she’s 2 before she has a calf, then you are looking at another year before you can sell that calf, then you have to get her to breed back. The bottom line is that you can buy a 4-year-old cow cheaper than it costs to keep a heifer.” 

As the Salmon family, which also includes son Justin, and daughters Cheyenne and Kaitlin, move through 2022, they are hopeful to see continued growth on the farm because Lawanna has big plans for the future.

“I have nine years until I can retire, so it has to be up and running by then,” she said with a laugh. “Our last child will leave the house the same year I will retire, so I have to have something to do.”


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