SOUTH SOLON, Ohio — It’s a big leap from Lake County 4-H’er to full-time cattleman, but J.L. Draganic dove right in. When he joined his aunt and uncle’s farm in southwest Ohio in 2008, he admits, “I didn’t know a lot about cattle.”
“The most education I got on cattle was when we started running cows in 2009.”
Draganic, 33, grew up in Lake County, Ohio, where most of his livestock experience came from the county fair. His grandmother had a small farm and he showed hogs, steers and turkeys for 4-H projects.
“I showed steers because I loved them, and turkeys because they were easy money,” said Draganic. After graduating from Hocking College, Draganic took a job in construction, but he was laid off in the winter of 2008.
Draganic’s uncle and aunt, Gene and Johnita Baumgardner, had recently purchased the Ricketts Farm from Johnita’s parents, in Fayette and Madison counties, near Jeffersonville, Ohio.
The farm had a total of 2,000 acres with 50 acres of good pasture. But they needed another employee. In 2008, Draganic moved to Fayette County to work for his aunt and uncle.
“(J.L.) does an amazing job with the cattle,” said Johnita, of her nephew who is now the herd manager on the farm. “He always wants to learn and continues to learn by attending meetings and talking with other cattlemen.”
Currently, Draganic manages around 40 head of cow-calf pairs that are Angus based with a Simmental influence. They market their cattle through embryo transfers and partner with another local cattle farmer to group together a load of feeder calves to take to market.
One of Draganic’s goals is to expand the herd. “We are hoping to retain females, get them bred, and sell as bred replacements and start a feedlot with the remaining steers to sell as freezer beef directly to consumers,” he said.
Draganic said he is always learning, but he faced one of his biggest challenges last winter. The milder winter weather seemed nice, as Draganic was able to keep the cattle out on pasture a little longer than usual. The problem was, they continued to feed the herd a higher quality feed, which led to overfeeding.
“We lost a couple head and we are still recovering from that,” he said. So, like any good manager, Draganic changed their feed management practices to prevent a situation like that from happening again.
In 2012, the farm received the Ohio Cattlemen’s Environmental Stewardship award and has continued to use best practices to keep cattle out of waterways and do a better job of rotational grazing and pasture management.
Draganic said they currently have eight pastures to rotate the cattle. He tries to maintain grass height around 6 inches to make sure there is an even stand and plenty to graze throughout the year. Draganic has also integrated cover crops into their pastures and cropland to create more forage for the animals and improve soil fertility.
Like most farms in the flat, open land of southwest Ohio, the Ricketts Farm is spread out over miles of land. Draganic said it is five miles from the home farm to the farthest field and six miles from his own home to the pasture where the cattle are kept — which actually sits over the county line in Madison County.
Behind their own home, in South Solon, Draganic and his wife, Jessica, have 80 acres of corn and soybean land, which Draganic hopes to expand. He and his wife also have two young children — daughter, Amelia, 2, and son, John Arthur, 1. It keeps life full and busy for the both of them.
Ohio Beef Expo
Ohio Beef Expo
This will be Draganic’s second year as co-chair for the Ohio Beef Expo with Pam Haley of Wayne County, and he said he is pretty excited for this year’s 30th anniversary events. Trade show spaces are sold out and most of the pen spaces are filled as well, he said.
With a growing interest in the youth shows, the committee had to move some show schedules around this year. “We kept having more kids want to show — which is a good problem to have,” he said.
Draganic said it is surprising, and exciting, to see this much interest in the beef cattle industry, because he knows the hard work that goes into preparing cattle for shows — especially if those youth are showing all around the state. “It’s amazing the amount of kids showing cattle,” he said. “There were over 1,000 head at the breed show last year.”
Having been a part of the expo for several years, Draganic said he can walk through the cattle barns and see breeders who were once showing their cattle as youth, now back at the expo with commercial sale lots and breed pens of their own.
“I really just kind of enjoy the expo as a whole,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to get everyone from the industry together — learning and networking with each other. Draganic has been a member of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association board for three years and has served on the junior show committee for six years.
The week prior to the expo is spent traveling back and forth to Columbus, preparing the grounds, but he doesn’t mind the extra hours. “To me, that’s part of why I am in this business. You get out what you put in,” said Draganic. “Being involved is just as important as putting the cows on grass.”