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By the Numbers | February 2023

by Sarah Hill

Photos courtesy Schiefelbein Farms

Schiefelbein Farms succeeds by doing the math.

When you think of family cattle operations, there are many great examples. Schiefelbein Farms, located in Kimball, Minn., is definitely counted among those excellent examples of a family operation done right.

Raising Good-Tasting Steak

Frank Schiefelbein was a city boy from Minneapolis who wanted to raise beef for a good-tasting steak. In 1955, Frank and his wife, Frosty, bought a small dairy farm property on a lake—180 acres total. He converted that dairy farm into a beef operation, buying 25 Angus heifers from a local breeder named ML Snyder - Snyder’s entire heifer crop.

The next year, Frank bought another 25 Angus heifers from Snyder. In today’s herd, all but 24 of Schiefelbein Farms’ females go back to one of those initial Angus heifers. “He took those females and figured out which one was the best from a mathematical perspective,” Tim Schiefelbein, one of Frank’s nine sons who now works in the operation, said. “He was a math major at the University of St. Thomas, so everything was about math.”

Frank was also one of the first cattle breeders to utilize artificial insemination and embryo transfer when the practices became available in the 1970s. “The whole herd was designed around Dad’s analysis of how to improve it,” Tim said. “He would look for the females that had the best calves and which ones had the best carcass traits, and those were the ones that would be bred every year.” Carcass data is still collected on more than 3,500 head per year through the local Tyson plant, and every registered animal is also DNA tested.

Family Operation

The operation slowly grew into the largest Angus seedstock operation in Minnesota, with Frank selectively growing the operation based on available labor as each of his nine sons joined the operation. The Schiefelbeins held their first seedstock sale in 1971.

“As local farmers would retire and sell their land, they always called Dad,” Tim shared. “He bought out many of the local dairy farms and converted them into a beef pasture system.” The family patriarch passed in November 2022, leaving behind an incredible legacy of family and farming, including a 65-year marriage, 32 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren.

Schiefelbein Farms now encompasses 7,500 acres, renting and/or leasing an additional 2,500 acres. The Angus and Angus-Simmental herd is 1,200 head, and the operation also includes a 5,000-head feedlot where feeder cattle are fed out.

Seven of the brothers are still involved in the operation - one of the brothers, Bill, passed away in 1991. Several of the brothers also have their own sons who are integrating into the operation. Frank III and his two sons, Frank IV and Sam, manage the feeder cattle; Mike markets the grain; Rick, who manages the cow herd and capital purchases; Bob and his son, Austin, manage the day-to-day activities and crop program; Tom and his son, Zach, serve as mechanics and haul corn and wet cake; Don, who currently serves as National Cattlemen’s Beef Association president; Danny; and Tim and his two sons, Travis and Payton. Each brother and son have a specific role within the operation, and some of the brothers also have outside interests, such as a trucking operation or consulting.

Selective Matings for Balance

Frank III and Danny manage AI and embryo transfer for the herd, focusing on balance. Cattle are divided into five groups of about 200 females and CIDRs are used to time calving for mid-January through mid-March. One group of 250 females is implanted with embryos. “If a cow needs improvement in marbling or weaning weights, an individualized mating is selected for that cow,” Tim explained. “They have an Excel spreadsheet of AI sires that help them identify which sires will result in better calves.”

Matings aren’t just determined on paper, though. Danny also visually inspects the cows to help determine sires. “After the cows are inseminated, if they don’t stick, Danny then looks at their EPDs to choose which of the 20 cleanup bulls will be best for that cow,” Tim added. “He follows an eight-week postpartum interval to ensure good conception rates.”

Although females calve in a state-of-the-art, fully heated barn with 30 pens, Tim notes that Mother Nature is the best barn for calving. One set of 200 females calves out in September for their “fall herd”.

Cheap, Abundant Feed

Bob and Tim manage feeding the breeding herd and feeder cattle, with a focus on letting the breeding herd graze as much as possible. The feedlot was started in 2003, and a slat barn was built in 2008 and expanded in 2011 to a 2,500-head capacity.

“We’ve learned a lot from our customers out West,” Tim said. “We have a lot of river bottoms in our area, so we have good summer pasture.” The spring herd weans their calves in mid-September, right when corn silage is ready. The cattle eat corn silage for two weeks while corn is harvested, allowing the pastures to regenerate. “The sweet corn silage is like Mountain Dew - it’s sugar,” Tim said. “The cows eat a lot, and their bags dry up.”

After harvest, cattle are turned out on cornstalks to graze from October to early November. Cattle are then returned to the pastures for grazing until late December. Streams and creeks usually aren’t frozen yet, so chopping ice isn’t necessary.

Once snowfall begins, cattle are put back out on the plowed cornfields and fed hay. “They’re in their second or third trimester by then, and they eat hay until calving,” Tim shared. “Once they calve, they’re getting silage or alfalfa hay or beet pulp.”

Being based in Minnesota means hard winters and complicated timing for feeding, but Tim says that feed is cheap and abundant. “We don’t have to haul bedding or manure when the cows are out on the cornfields,” he stated. “The cows are spreading the manure for you. Even during calving, manure hauling is at a minimum.”

Building a Customer Base

At weaning, the first group of bulls that are culled are steered and sent to the feedlot. About 100 bulls are separated out for private treaty sales, and about 400 bulls are selected for Schiefelbein Farms’ annual bull sale. The bulls selected for the sale are sent to a bull barn and fed to prepare for the annual sale, held the third Friday in February. This year’s sale will be on February 18, 2023.

“We’ve sold bulls to 22 different states, but many buyers don’t take delivery of the bulls until late April,” Tim said. The 2015 sale grossed more than $3 million, breaking the record for Angus sales in Minnesota. The following year, Schiefelbein Effective was sold to GENEX for $45,000. The bull went on to sell more than 100,000 units.

In 2019, Schiefelbein Showman was sold to Hamilton and Six Mile Ranch in Canada for $125,000. Schiefelbein Untouchable was sold in 2021 to Ranch Covey Hill and MAC Angus, also in Canada, for the same price. However, Schiefelbein G.O.A.T. sold last year for $232,000 to Coles Bend Cattle, TK Angus, and Lyden Alisa Telon Smith.

The bulls sold by private treaty primarily go to buyers in the South and Southwest, who are looking for moderate-sized, younger bulls. “We have a couple of customers in Louisiana that like bigger frame bulls, so we select bulls for them that meet their specific needs,” Tim explained.

Don handles all the operation’s advertising, including publications, social media, and online as well as videos of some of their best bulls. “We insert a brochure in the publications instead of a paper ad,” Tim said. “But the best way to secure customers is to get out and see people.”

Buyers who purchase a bull from Schiefelbein Farms will also receive assistance with marketing their calves from the Schiefelbein brothers, whether those calves are sold to other buyers or return to the Schiefelbein Farms feedlot. Tim is quick to note that many beef operations have customer service that’s second to none, but helping customers market their calves is an advantage for their operation.

Schiefelbein Farms purchases 30,000 customer calves annually. “Frank, Travis, Payton, and I go to our customers’ sales,” Tim said. “It’s a tough business that’s very competitive. And we’re selling to customers that are far away from Minnesota.”

Feeder cattle sold from Schiefelbein Farms are marketed on a value-based grid. The operation negotiated a grid-based fed cattle pricing system with some of the first premiums paid for Certified Angus Beef® carcasses.

Bright Future

While many operations in the agriculture industry are struggling to find labor, Schiefelbein Farms is thriving with sons coming up and filling their fathers’ roles. “They’re being taught by their dad how to handle each aspect of the farm,” Tim said. “When I go to sales, I always look at who writes the letter in the sale catalog. If the kids aren’t coming back, in two to three years, you’ll see a dispersal sale.”

Tim says that the cattle industry is a lifestyle, not just a job, so it’s challenging to make good hires. But when a family member chooses that lifestyle, it’s a different story. “They’re all required to go to college and/or get a job off the farm before they come back,” Tim shared. “That was one of my dad’s rules. They’ve seen the world in some way, and so when they come back, they know what they’re getting into.”

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