LOUDONVILLE, Ohio — Shorthorn cattle are a mainstay for Byland Polled Shorthorns of Loudonville, where they’ve roamed the Byers family’s pastures since the 1950s.
The docile temperament, good milking ability and mothering instincts caught the eye of L. Eugene Byers, better known as Gene. He died in 1997, but his two sons, Jeff and Jon Byers, and their mother, Marilyn, have kept the family herd going strong.
Jeff Byers, who also is a full-time veterinarian with Byland Animal Hospital, said breed improvement is one of his favorite things about beef farming.
The Byers sell their cattle on the rail to a local packer in Mansfield. They receive carcass data for the animals they sell, which they use to improve the quality of their cattle.
“It tells us how we’re doing as far as reaching our goals of what we want to produce,” Jeff said. “And then we use it to help select herd bulls … make genetic changes to the herd, if we see we need to improve in one area.”
Jeff handles the vet work and some of the chores, while Jon works full time on the farm. A part-time worker helps with feeding, and making hay during summer.
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Together, they have 136 head of beef cows and heifers, set to calve in the spring and fall. Most of the cattle are finished on the farm, and seedstock is marketed to surrounding states and across the nation.
The Byers will exhibit at this year’s Ohio Beef Expo, March 18-20, at the Expo Center in Columbus. They’ve been a regular at the show, participating 23 of the 24 years it’s been held.
Although they attend other shows, including the North American International Livestock Exhibition in Louisville, Ky., transportation costs and time to prepare often make taking cattle too much, Jeff said.
However, they have brought cattle home from such shows. In January, the Byers partnered with Select Sires to buy a bull at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. The bull’s width and depth of rib is impressive, and he’ll eventually be used on their own herd.
The Byers are fortunate to grow most of their own feed on roughly 750 acres, about 600 of which is family owned. It consists of corn and soybeans, as well as hay and pasture. Forages are a major focus, especially for their breeding stock.
“We’re pretty much a roughage-based operation with our cows, in particular,” Jeff said. “If they can’t hack it and maintain a good body condition on grass and hay, then we don’t want them.”
The cattle are kept outdoors all year, because there are fewer respiratory issues and the environment is generally cleaner, with less manure and ammonia from urine.
“We don’t pamper our cattle,” Jeff said. “We raise them outside in the elements because it’s healthier for one thing.”
And, when the cattle are bought by someone in a colder state, like North Dakota, the brothers have assurance the cattle will be prepared.
“I guess we want them to go somewhere else and be able to perform as well for the next owner, as well as they do for us,” Jeff said.
Jon said his favorite part about beef farming “depends on the day,” which can vary quite a bit on a farm the size of theirs.
His biggest fear is drought. If it gets too dry, the hay and grass won’t grow.
“The big challenge for me is if we have a drought, we are in bad shape,” he said. “We don’t have enough grass as it is. With this number of cows, it can be extremely critical.”
Usually, the cow-heifer herd is 150 head or more, but the Byers sold a few locally this winter. They continue to see a strong demand for Shorthorns, and for beef in general.
Jeff said the price for beef almost has to go up, given the higher cost for grain and overall production.
“Along with those high corn prices, cattle prices have gone up, too,” he said. “They’ve got to. If we can’t make money, we can’t stay in business.”
Jeff recently took a beef carcass quality course at Ohio State University — Beef 509 — and is excited about taking the follow-up course in April — Beef 510.
Both courses focus on live animal evaluation, grid pricing and carcass grading — things that have helped the Byers’ herd improve.
“I love the thrill and excitement of trying to improve the genetics of the herd,” Jeff said. To me, the end product is where it’s at.”