JEROMESVILLE, Ohio — If there is one thing Jeff and Lou Ellen Harr have learned in the cattle industry, it’s this: “To make it in agriculture, you have to be diversified.”
The Harrs raise around 250 head of Hereford cattle near Jeromesville, in Ashland County, just south of U.S. route 30.
Lou Ellen’s love for the red and white cow started in southern Missouri, where she grew up working on a commercial Hereford operation. After college, she moved to the East Coast to manage a commercial Hereford operation in Richmond, Virginia, for five years before deciding to head back home to Missouri.
Some friends recommended she look into an opening at Big T Ranch in Jeromesville, Ohio, managing the farm’s show cattle. So she stopped in on her way home and decided to take the job in 1988, and stay in Ohio.
Jeff, who grew up on a small beef operation in Portage County, married Lou Ellen three years before Big T Ranch dispersed in 1996. They bought the farmhouse, land and barns in a public auction.
Along with raising seedstock cattle and showing in state and national shows, the Harrs began managing donor cattle — doing embryo transfer and flushing several cows a year — and Lou Ellen started a custom fitting business with their daughter, Keayla, at major cattle shows. We were doing, “anything to make a buck,” said Lou Ellen.
The Harrs worked as brokers, buying cattle from other farmers and helping people get their cattle and places ready for big sales, before starting their own production sale in 2005 as a customer appreciation sale. The sale is hosted at the farm every other year, and last fall, the Harrs’ top-selling lot went for $11,000.
Over the past few years, Lou Ellen said they have moved away from custom fitting and showing — since their daughter went away to Kansas State University to study animal sciences — and focused more on custom management.
“We got more into custom raising beef heifers as a means of survival,” said Jeff. They custom feed around 100 head. The heifers come to J&L Cattle as weaned heifers, when the Harrs collect yearling weights, ultrasound and breed the heifers — mostly bred through artificial insemination (AI).
Heifers return to their owners in late spring or early summer as bred heifers. The Harrs have customers in Ohio, West Virginia and Tennessee.
Over the last five years, Jeff has held a job off the farm working for E.R. Boliantz Company, a beef packing company in Ashland, Ohio, where they have learned a lot more about consumer demand.
“Even though we are a seedstock operation, seeing what the cattle look like on the rail has helped shaped us,” said Lou Ellen. “First and foremost, (the cattle) need to look good.”
Lou Ellen said, while they sell a lot of 4-H show heifers, they have also developed a decent bull market. And with their custom management operation, she said, they have to find that happy medium to balance all the services they provide.
The same goes for their focus on genetics. “You want to make a nice show heifer and you want to have that nice carcass bull,” said Lou Ellen. But at the end of the day, they want to provide customers with good working cattle.
Fertility is key
Fertility is probably their number one priority, said Lou Ellen. “The cow needs to calve every year and settle AI early on.” The Harrs also focus on cows that are “easy keeping” and low maintenance, and can handle the ever-changing Ohio weather.
Lately, the Harrs have been putting more focus on carcass, ribeye and muscular fat, and also collect carcass data and do genetic testing. “We use EPDs, but we try not to single trait select,” said Lou Ellen. “We like to get a balance and stay away from the extremes.”
They AI once in the early season and then send the heifers out to the bull for clean up, explained Jeff. They want cows to be bred in the early season and calving to be done in April before cropping, he said, adding they expect to calve around 75-90 head in the spring.
The Harrs raise around 350 acres of corn and hay, which all goes to feeding the herd. “We raise all of our own feed except for supplemental protein,” said Lou Ellen, which they have been able to cut back by growing higher quality hay.
They also rent pasture land along state Route 89, from U.S. Route 30 to state Route 95. “Our feeding routine consists of five farm stops,” said Jeff.
Love of cows
At the end of the day, with the ever-changing farm economy and cattle industry, Lou Ellen said, “You’ve got to have a love for it.”
“We feel really blessed to get up every day and get to do what we love to do,” she said. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to get to where they are today, but the Harrs feel their willingness to try new things has kept them afloat.
“Things have been good for us. The cows have been good to us. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the cows,” said Lou Ellen.
The Harrs will accept their award for Seedstock Producer of the Year during the annual Ohio Cattlemen’s Association banquet Jan. 20.
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