A Farmers’ Network Offers Sound Business Advice–and Community

As a third generation farmer, Jake Beeler inherited a deep appreciation for the land as well as animals from his grandparents and parents. Beeler began his management of Big Acres Farm in western Wisconsin at the age of just 16. Today, Big Acres is a successful 100% natural Black Angus business that Beeler is able to run with his wife, Natasha along with their 6 children, with assistance and support from his parents and farmhands. However, managing a small family-owned cattle farm hasn’t always been easy for them.

After the stock market plummeted in 2008 the family was forced to sell the majority of their cattle, and then completely shut down. Beeler was able to take over the business on a full-time basis however he had to find a balance between the humane and sustainable methods he was taught when he was a kid, with health concerns and the increasing costs of feed, equipment and labour.

“We worked with feed nutritionists who were pushing their agenda and we believed in them because they appeared like they had a good grasp of their subject. But, in the end it appears that they had no understanding. They would promote on their medicated foods, or push the product they wanted to sell for sale, as a message,” says Beeler.

It was not until the Beelers began collaboration together with Niman Ranch in 2010 that everything began to fall into the right spot. Niman Ranch is a network comprised of over 600 small and mid-sized ranchers and farmers throughout the United States that adhere to the highest standards of sustainable and ethical farming practices. When Beeler first heard about the Niman Ranch, he said it was too amazing to be real. The parents of his told him there had to be something to it: “In the cattle industry, it’s not that good,” he recalls they said.

However, with promises of high-end price and a sure market for their meat, the Beelers decided to try Niman the chance. Since then, Big Acres has grown from a mere 20 cattle herders to over 500 in two different locations.

“Before that, when the temperature could change from 10 under to 40 degree in the next day, we’d always have sick cattle. If we didn’t have the animals treated immediately and they would die,” says Beeler. “Ever since I switched over to [Niman Ranch’s] style of feeding, I might lose maybe one or two per year…There are times when I might not even have a loss.” In traditional cattle farming, Beeler believes that the loss of 5 percent of herd due to health issues is a common occurrence.

Niman’s field team interacts directly with farmers in order to eliminate misleading marketing messages in the world of animal health. “They’ll tell you the truth of it and then they break it down more,” explaining why certain practices are beneficial for animals and the environment, says Beeler. For instance, giving the cattle a space to play outdoors can reduce stress levels, which will reduce the chance of contracting diseases and viruses.

“A lot of these [meat buyers], their biggest goal is to buy at the cheapest level they can and then make that extra premium themselves,” Beeler explains. Beeler. “Niman actually will pay the rancher or farmer for the product they are worth. They want us to achieve the same as their own company and their suppliers as well…the final thing they would like to see happen is doors shut.”

Based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, farmers are twice more likely than those working in other professions to commit suicide. Many of Beeler’s colleagues have been divorced or committed suicide as a result of the financial pressures as well as corporate consolidation and rural development. Some have quit farming, and their property was sold to developers. For those who are still employed, Beeler says that working as a part-time job from the farm is not uncommon.

The decision to join Niman Ranch is allowing Beeler to remain at the farm all day long. Beeler is part of a community which supports him with not just on-farm advice but also through personal relationships, which is an invaluable advantage to his business and family.

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