By Hannah Thompson, OCJ staff writer
Three and a half years ago, Brad Berry made a decision that changed the course of the future for his family’s Fairfield County beef farm.
“I worked in a factory and farmed at the same time. I always had a dream of being a full time farmer, and when that job finally ended I decided to give it a try,” Berry said.
Berry also opted to change the nature of the operation, shifting to a grazing-based system. The Berry family now uses their 64-acre home operation to feed their cattle through rotational grazing, while also renting an additional 250 acres to grow corn, beans, wheat, hay and straw. The farm is a cow-calf operation with a feedlot to raise the calves to market. The family is this year’s Beef Environmental Stewardship Award Winner, presented by the Ohio Livestock Coalition and the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association.
The farm already has a rich history, as over the past 200 years nine generations of the Berry family have called the bicentennial farm home. To ensure his operation’s continued success, Berry has participated in the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association’s Beef Quality Assurance and Livestock Environmental Assurance programs. Berry sought to ensure the continuation of that legacy by continually evolving the operation to be profitable as well as sustainable.
To implement the new grazing system, Berry talked with other grazing-based producers, attended a grazing school, and worked closely with the Fairfield Extension Office and the Fairfield County Soil and Water Conservation District.
“I started out with an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) project,” Berry said. “We buried 2,500 feet of waterline from the well all out through the fields. Then we took land that was crop ground and put it into grass and split it all up into 19 paddocks.”
Rotational grazing allowed Berry to produce more head per acre, he said. This year, he switched to a mob grazing system, referring to high-intensity short duration grazing on a small area of pasture. This allowed the family to rotate the cattle even more and utilize the grass even more efficiently.
Berry credits the mob grazing system with helping his operation succeed despite the hot, dry summer. Because the cattle were not coming back to the same paddock to graze for 50 to 70 days and the grass wasn’t being eaten down to the ground, the sun wasn’t beating down on the soil, allowing the grass to respond better when it did rain.
“If it had been eaten down to nothing, then we really would have needed a lot more rain to get it back,” Berry said. “Everything is expensive this year, so if we can keep it growing than we will be more profitable. So far, we haven’t had to feed any hay.“
In addition to allowing his operation to be more profitable and sustainable, Berry also enjoys the outdoor aspect of maintaining the system. Much to his children’s chagrin, Berry does not own a four-wheeler and chooses to walk the pastures on foot.
“I put in a lot of miles every day, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Berry said. “When I was in the factory, I would always pass by the windows and doors wanting to be outside. If I went on vacation and it was raining, I would come back to work. I really enjoy being outside.”
In addition to implementing the rotational grazing system, Berry has changed the operation by beginning a direct marketing business. With assistance from the Fairfield County Extension Office, the farm became involved with the Ohio Signature Beef program in 2005. Ohio Signature Beef is an all-natural no hormone or antibiotic use certification program, marketed through Whole Foods stores. Berry is also exploring raising and direct marketing chickens, turkeys, hogs and sheep. Berry raises non-GMO corn to help with marketing to his direct beef customers.
“I thought through direct marketing we could control our markets a little better,” Berry said, explaining what interested him in direct marketing. “That’s what I thought would be best to make a living on a smaller farm.”
The Berry family also produces an Ohio Heritage Line of snack sticks, summer sausage and jerky as a sideline business on the farm. The products are mainly sold as fundraising projects through 4-H and FFA groups, and are also available in Whole Foods. Berry tries to use all Ohio-made products and Ohio processing facilities in the production of the Ohio Heritage Line in order to promote as many Ohio businesses as possible.
With all of the various activities and projects going on, Berry needs the help of his six children, Kayleigh, Emily, Daniel, Alaina, Isaac and Annalese. The family has exhibited cattle at the Fairfield County Fair for the past 15 years and the children remain involved in the operation.
“When it’s time to work with the animals, to vaccinate or treat, they are all there and like to be involved,” Berry said. “Somebody does the weights on the scales, somebody is
running the head gate, someone is opening and shutting gates…We just work it as a family, and everyone has found their niche.”
These future generations were part of Berry’s motivation to enter his farm into a farmland preservation program.
“If it’s been in this family for this long, I’d like to keep it that way. I just wanted to make sure that it would be here for the next generation. Not all of my kids will be farmers, but I’m hoping at least one will,” Berry said.
Berry also believes that his sound environmental practices will help his farm remain profitable and sustainable into the future. His current grazing practices allow him to make efficient use of natural resources such as water and the pasture land, decreasing dependence on increasingly expensive inputs, Berry said.
“My philosophy is we’re taking care of the livestock the way they ought to be taken care of,” Berry said. “I’m not only doing well for the environment and keeping the farm there for the next generation, but I’m also trying to make the most money. I hope that I’ll succeed in working toward that goal.”