Luke Beam grew up in Lawndale, NC, on his family’s farm, and has been interested in cattle since he was young.
“My parents were dairy farmers,” said Beam. “We had Holsteins with some beef cattle on the side. We bred the Holstein heifers to an Angus bull to increase conception rate and help with calving ease.”
He explained that some of the animals resulting from the Holstein x Angus cross are what started the beef herd he has today.
Since some of the ground on the farm was too steep for dairy cattle grazing, Beam became interested in raising Simmental cattle as a side operation. He recalled learning everything there was to know about raising cattle including routine vaccinations, dehorning and deworming.
“When my dad passed away in 1995, I was 25,” said Beam. “My wife Kathy and I married two months later. At that time, the dairy equipment was about 30 years old and I had a full-time job teaching high school agriculture. My mom decided the best thing was to sell the dairy cattle and equipment.”
This turn of events is what started Beam Family Farm. The farm transitioned to Beam in early 2000, and he chose a Gelbvieh bull to breed the remaining 20 cows on the farm. Although Gelbvieh isn’t a widely used beef breed, as an ag teacher, Beam taught students about different beef breeds and realized the Gelbvieh was a good choice.
“They’re rated number two in just about everything,” said Beam, “and should probably be number one overall. That’s why I picked Gelbvieh.”
Fortunately, Beam knew another ag teacher who had some Gelbvieh cattle with good genetics, and that’s where Beam’s first bull came from. He was pleased with the first Gelbvieh cross calf crop, which he said averaged about 80 pounds at birth.
“My cowherd has changed from Angus x Holstein to 75% Gelbvieh-influenced,” said Beam. “Now we’re using a Balancer bull, which is half Angus and half Gelbvieh. That’s been our bull of choice for about eight years.”
Today, Beam has 60 brood cows on pasture. To continually improve his herd, he keeps an eye on each calf for two years to determine which animals he wants to keep. If heifers have a good disposition and are phenotypically correct with good muscling, they’re retained as herd replacements. Heifers that aren’t up to his standards are grass-finished for direct marketing.
During the growing season, cattle graze on high energy grasses, including crabgrass, which is Beam’s grass of choice. In winter, cattle graze ryegrass and small grain mixtures. This year, since he has access to a bale wrapper, Beam plans to make ryelage for winter feeding. He also makes dry hay on leased acreage.
“Grass finishing isn’t easy,” said Beam. “We need high-energy grasses, and in winter, it’s a challenge to keep cattle on high-energy grass throughout the season.” To ensure nutrient-dense grass that continues to grow throughout the season, Beam follows a fertilization program.
If there’s ample moisture, crabgrass thrives in hot weather and continues to remain nutrient-dense even when temperatures hit 90º or higher. Beam manages the grass to maintain eight inches height. “Once it’s more than a foot tall, the cattle don’t want to eat it,” he said. “There’s too much lignin in it.”
The crabgrass will self-seed and persists from year to year, even with close grazing. Although a good stand of crabgrass helps keep weed pressure down, Beam has to manage weeds such as spiny amaranth and horse nettle.
The grazing area is divided into paddocks for rotational grazing. Permanent wire fence surrounds the perimeter and one-strand electric poly wire divides paddocks. “It has taken a while to get that system to work,” said Beam, “mostly because my fence charger wasn’t hot enough.”
Beam runs his 60 cows in three groups of 20. Two groups calve in spring and the other calves in autumn. Two different Balancer bulls are used for the breeding groups.
Grass finishing takes longer than feedlot finishing, and Beam’s goal is to have 625-lb. carcasses at processing. “That takes about two years total,” he said, “and it takes high power grass to do that.” Calves graze alongside their dams for eight or nine months, which Beam said requires great grass.
Some of Beam’s ryegrass fields have already been grazed twice this season. “If the weather is right, we may graze it one more time,” he said. “Or we might get another grazing after mowing hay from it. Because we had the dairy, we have equipment like a no-till drill and can use no-till farming in pastures.”
In addition to beef, the Beams raise grass-fed veal. Like the other calves, calves for veal remain with their dams on lush grass. The main difference is processing age – veal calves are processed between 400 and 500 pounds.
“They’re well-managed feeder calves,” said Beam, describing the veal calves. “The meat is light and tender, and it cooks beautifully.” In addition to selling cuts, Beam uses veal for added-value products such as chorizo and sausage.
One outlet for Beam Family Farms beef products is local farmers markets. “We sell online, and people can come to the farmers markets to pick it up,” said Beam. “We’re striving to sell half and whole cows – that’s where we want to be in the future. Farmers markets help us stay in touch with the customer base and we employ some high school students to help. They learn people skills and a good work ethic at farmers markets.”
Beam encourages farmers market customers to try several small cuts prior to purchasing bulk beef. “Grass-finished beef is a different dining experience than conventional beef,” he said. “Grazing crabgrass and ryegrass provide a completely different meat than grazing fescue or corn-fed.”
He realizes people have a variety of preferences for beef, but he’s found a loyal following who appreciate the flavor of high-quality grass-fed beef.
In addition to managing the farm, Beam serves 11 counties as a field representative for the North Carolina Farm Bureau.
“Farming is all about working with God and taking what He gives to make it work,” said Beam. “We try to manage our resources to use it to its best.”
Visit Beam Family Farm at beamfamilyfarms.com.
by Sally Colby