COSHOCTON, Ohio – A goofy, symbolic exercise at a young farmers’ meeting back in the 1940s made a lasting impression on Coshocton County farmer Blair Porteus.
The activity was called “Bury Mr. Worry” and the young farm group literally buried a stuffed dummy, which represented the things – the worries – beyond human control that nag and distract farm owners.
“You know, that stuck with me,” says Porteus, now 80. “I took that lesson to heart.”
And so, concentrating on what he could control, Porteus built a profitable commercial cattle and grain operation near Coshocton – and instilled the lesson in his sons who joined him in the farm partnership: Brent, 47, and Knox, 45.
Award winner. The family farm received the 2004 Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Commercial Producer of the Year award, sponsored by Farm and Dairy.
The award will be presented Jan. 24 at the association’s annual meeting in Wilmington, Ohio.
Focus on market. The Porteus family farms 1,100 acres of row crops, primarily corn, plus another 250 acres of hay and 450 acres of managed pastures. The land includes a mix of Coshocton County’s hills for grazing and rich bottom ground for row crops.
The heart of the farm is the beef cattle enterprise, which started with the first registered cattle Blair Porteus bought back in 1940-41. Today, the commercial herd of 240 cows is three-fourths Angus-based, with a mix of Gelbvieh, Maine-Anjou, Simmental or Hereford genetics added to target certain traits.
“We’re trying to package moderate-framed, balanced cattle,” said Brent Porteus. “We want to raise the calf efficiently and fit into the higher quality grids.”
Quality grid. Raising and feeding out their own calves, the Porteus family has been able to sell into quality grids at both Smithfield Foods’ Moyer Packing Co. in Souderton, Pa., and at Taylor Packing in Wyalusing, Pa., part of Cargill’s Excel Corporation.
They market at 14 or 15 months, or when the cattle reach a weight to provide a 750- to 900-pound carcass, yield grade 2 with as high a quality grade as they can achieve. Many of the cattle are Certified Angus Beef-eligible.
They manage the cows to calve as 2-year-olds, breeding for maternal instinct and milk traits, as well as growth and carcass traits.
The focus is on consistency that performs well at the feedlot, although Brent Porteus admits the grid demands are a moving target.
“It just depends on what the market wants,” he said, “but that’s where our extra value is right now.”
Shift from large frames. Genetics has always been a hallmark of the Porteus herd.
Blair Porteus was ahead of the industry curve in breeding for larger-framed cattle, traveling to Oklahoma in 1969 or 1970 to buy a bull that fit that plan.
The bulk of the 1970s and ’80s followed that target, with much of the herd’s bloodline carrying the Angus sire Emulus strain. Then, as the management strategy shifted to feeding out a consistent, quality end product, the family focused on a more medium frame animal.
“It’s been an evolution,” the younger Porteus admitted. “You can’t make wholesale changes.”
But the family can look at the carcass data from the packers to see exactly what’s working in their plan and adjust what’s not working. That market feedback gives them a unique perspective.
They’ve been using ID tags for four years and maintain a database on each cow, watching carcass data from offspring to make management decisions.
“We need to try to find ways to be more efficient or to add value,” Brent said.
“Our ability to produce beef is based on what the consumer is willing to pay.”
Forage-based. Because of the farm’s grass resources, a goal is to get cows that “fit” the pasture, Brent Porteus added. They feed hay three to four months out of the year, but the bulk of the ration is grass, although they turn the cattle out on crop residue, too, which included turnips this year.
Cows calve in the spring out on pasture, and after weaning in the fall, calves are grouped by age and sex and pastured until they move into the farm’s feedlot shed for finishing. Heifers are divided into a replacement group and animals going to the feedlot. Currently, they’re feeding out 214 head.
The family has built at least 18 spring developments to provide much-needed water to the pasture system. They’ve also installed heavy-use pads in certain high traffic areas.
The herd is run through a handling facility twice a year. In the spring, animals are bred, wormed and vaccinated; in the fall, they get a vaccination booster at a pregnancy check. A third check is added if needed before calving but, as Brent Porteus adds, “every time you run them through the chute, you add to the cost structure.”
Nonetheless, the family runs a tight herd health ship on their basically closed herd and works to keep death loss at less than 1 percent.
Giving back. Porteus family members are also involved with a long list of ag industry and community events.
Blair Porteus was a member of the first Ohio Beef Council, helped found the local volunteer fire department, and served on the board of the local rural electric co-op for many years.
Brent is a current state trustee with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and sits on the boards of the local school district and Leadership Coshocton program.
He is past president of the Ohio Corn Growers Association and past chairman of the public policy action team for the National Corn Growers Association. He also served on a national committee that reviewed the USDA’s meat packing industry concentration study.
Brent, who holds an ag degree from Ohio State, is also a founding member of Harrison Ethanol, a group that proposed building a “closed loop” ethanol plant and livestock facility near Cadiz.
The entire family is involved in 4-H at the local level.
Looking ahead. The Porteus family is keenly aware of market shifts and that the mover of the market is the consumer.
Brent Porteus looks at the public’s awareness of the livestock industry, and ultimately its acceptance of beef, as the “big issue facing agriculture in this state.”
“At the end of the day, the bottom line is a function of what somebody wants to eat,” Porteus said.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)