Angela Bedient grew up raising animals and working for different farmers. She went to school for forestry and still has her hand in that field, but her primary occupation is raising cattle on Bedient Farms in the Finger Lakes area.

Angela’s herd averages around 100 brood cows, but since she is concentrating on developing excellent breeding stock for grass finishing, that number varies. “Sometimes I’ll keep more heifers for replacements,” she said. “I also work with other farmers to source beef for restaurant accounts, which takes some of the pressure off finishing numbers.”

The beef herd is comprised of primarily crossbred cows. “For mother cows, I want good, stocky cows that stay in great condition on grass and produce a lot of milk,” said Angela. “We have some Shorthorn genetics in the cows, and I try to keep that and cross them with Hereford and Angus.”

Angela recently added Murray Gray bulls to the mix, and so far, she likes what they’re producing and will be retaining some of the Murray Gray cross heifers for the herd.

“I’m definitely getting stockiness and hardiness,” said Angela, describing the bulls’ offspring. “They’re doing well on a grass-based diet and they have a decent temperament, which is important. We’ve bred for temperament for rotational grazing – having calm cattle is important to me.”

Bulls are placed with cows in August for May calving. “We try to mimic nature,” said Angela. “I like calving on grass, not on mud. Occasionally I’ll breed heifers for fall calving to help spread out the work.”

Because Angela sells beef directly, she doesn’t mind if the breeding season is somewhat spread out so there aren’t too many finished calves ready for market at the same time.

She grazes cattle on several properties, each of which is different in terrain and water accessibility. “Over the years we’ve improved a lot with good perimeter fencing and gravity fed water so we can do a better job every year,” she said. “I enjoy experimenting with various grazing methods.” This year, the cattle grazed in smaller paddocks, which allowed them to graze more closely.

At one time, Angela fed corn silage to finish calves but now relies solely on dry hay and baleage for winter feed. Hay is made on dedicated fields, rotated with other crops as appropriate.

“We have winter feeding areas with open barns,” said Angela. “I’ve been feeding outside and improving pastures by doing that. I roll out round bales in pastures or distribute sections of large square bales in rows. I’m interested in trying bale grazing in the future – it might give us some time off.”

Calves are weaned in late winter or early spring at around eight to 10 months. By the time grazing season begins, they’re ready to graze.

Connecting the dots with grass-fed beef

Angela and Elam take a break from moving fence. Photo courtesy of Bedient Farms

“I’ve seen big improvements in leaving calves with the mothers and letting them wean themselves, or by using quiet weaning techniques,” said Angela. “Calves become independent and will graze or eat hay on their own, which makes weaning so much easier.”

Bedient Farms is fortunate to work with several processors within a reasonable distance of the farm. Most steers average 700 to 750 lbs. on the rail, while heifers are slightly lighter.

“Farmers are too busy to market or they aren’t quite hitting the right marketing channels,” she said. “People have different needs for family health and they aren’t quite sure where to find the food they want. I like to connect the dots between where food is needed and the growers who are meeting those markets.”

Customers talk with Angela about how they like grass-fed beef, but mention that it sometimes lacks consistency. “It’s important to me that we finish every animal as well as we can – don’t push them,” she said. “There will always be some animals that aren’t the perfect specimen when they’re finished, but we can cut those accordingly. That’s the benefit of doing all the marketing myself – I know which ones are best suited for cuts.”

Angela sells beef to restaurants that are passionate about farm-to-table food. “I like working with chefs who appreciate the difference in our meat quality and our service,” she said. “It diversifies what we’re doing and they help us promote our beef.”

Chefs have commented on the differences they’ve found in preparing high quality meat, and Angela said she often has new customers who have tried Bedient Farms beef at a restaurant.

To add to customers’ meat selections, Angela purchases feeder pigs to finish on the farm. “Pigs are raised inside and outside,” she said. “We always have forage in front of them, either round or square bales, and we finish them slowly on non-GMO feed because that’s what our customer base wants.”

Although she’d like to expand the pork side of the operation, she wants to keep it fairly small and raise weaned litters as groups until they’re finished rather than combining litters for large groups.

Angela has had success with a variety of old swine breeds including Hereford, Berkshire and Old Spots. “They’re all stout and their meat is a little bit darker and nicely marbled,” she said.

Several partner farms raise broilers and turkeys for Bedient Farms. “My goal is to get more small farms that can sustain themselves,” said Angela. “Two of my friends have small farms and we plan poultry for each year.”

She noted the many changes she’s made over the 20 years she’s been farming, from improved fencing and cattle handling facilities to marketing.

“My model from the start has been to pour everything back into the farm,” she said. “We have to have things set up so it’s enjoyable work. I want the farm to be rewarding and enjoyable, pay the bills and it’s safe and fun to work.”

She said another important consideration is her nine-year-old son Elam. She is determined that he grows up with a positive view of farming and is safe working with the herd.

While some consumers aren’t sure about purchasing directly from the farm, Angela has found that many know exactly what they want but are traveling farther than necessary or having products shipped to their home when they could be purchasing it locally.

“We have a great customer base,” said Angela. “They all have different reasons why they want grass-fed beef. Every day [on the farm] is hard, but being able to work with customers and hear how they appreciate what we do is a huge pay-off.”

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by Sally Colby