Ken Ogburn grew up on his family’s farm in Gettysburg, PA, where his father operated a beef feedlot. Following a church mission trip, Ken worked on his uncle’s Lancaster Co. farm hauling hay and straw.
“Then I met Dawn and we got married,” said Ken. “I worked for a beef farmer in York County for two years, then we leased a farm in Maryland and had a cow/calf operation.” When he and Dawn lived in Maryland, they purchased some of his dad’s cows. They raised the calves and prepared them for the feedlot, then sent them back to his dad for finishing.
About seven years ago, the Ogburns had an opportunity to acquire the family farm in Gettysburg. Because the farm didn’t have sufficient pasture for the number of cattle they had in Maryland, the Ogburns sold some of their brood cows and are now focusing on developing their feedlot program.
Since Ken’s father had already been operating a feedlot on the farm, the infrastructure for feeding calves was in place. In addition to having appropriate housing for caring for and feeding calves, Ken appreciates the upright silo his father erected in the ‘70s and said it’s easy to mix a load of feed with the flip of a switch.
Ken has been able to purchase good quality Angus calves from local auctions. He purchases most calves between late autumn and early spring, which is when he has ample time to invest in the selection and purchasing process as well as the calves’ initial introduction to the feedlot.
For Ken, the ideal feedlot-ready calf is a 600-pound Angus or Angus-type calf that isn’t a dairy cross. He’s found he can purchase bull calves for less and castrates them once they adjust to his farm. This past autumn, Ken noticed there were fewer calves at auction and some increased competition among buyers, but he can usually find what will work on his farm.
Since calves come to the farm without a history, Ken watches them closely for signs of illness as they adjust and follows a preventive health program developed by his veterinarian. “We vaccinate when they come off the trailer,” he said. “Working within the program the vet developed has been pretty bulletproof for us.”
The feedlot is set up to handle two groups of 50 calves each. It takes about a month or so to assemble a group of 50 calves, so as Ken adds calves, he watches them closely for signs of illness. If calves do need to be treated for illness, initial signs usually occur within 30 to 75 days. Incoming calves receive free choice hay for about 30 days as they adjust to full feeding.
Ken has found that the most challenging aspect of raising calves is health. “We can be doing everything right and have a good program working with the vet, and there are still a few that we have trouble keeping healthy,” he said, “but we’re doing the best we can.”
Some finished cattle are returned to the sale ring as fat cattle; others are processed for sale directly from the farm. “Our goal is to do as much direct marketing as we can,” said Ken. “It’s a lot of work but it’s the best way to maximize our profits.”
While some cattle producers saw an increase in direct market beef sales during the pandemic, Ken said their direct marketing program started after the height of the pandemic. “It’s something we wanted to do, but until we finally laid the groundwork to get started, COVID had started,” he said. “Now people have more awareness of food sources so we’re benefiting from that.”
Although the Ogburns have been selling beef directly for two years, Dawn said in some respects, selling beef directly still seems like a startup business with a lot of fine points they’ve had to figure out. “I enjoy meeting and talking with customers who visit the farm to purchase beef from our on-farm store,” said Dawn. “We think we have a little more control over the retail business because we aren’t at the mercy of fluctuating [market] cattle prices.”
The Ogburns would like to develop a larger cowherd, but the majority of their acreage is devoted to growing ration ingredients including hay, corn silage, high moisture corn and barley for roasting. With limited pasture space, they strive to maintain a small herd of high-quality brood cows.
The predominately Angus herd is bred with a registered Angus bull purchased from the Penn State bull test program. ““We’re biased toward Angus,” said Ken, adding that they feature all-Angus beef in their retail store. “We try to use a bull for three years and keep the best female offspring.”
Some of the cows calve in mid-May to mid-June, while the rest calve in September and October. Ken prefers to have calves born when the weather is still warm so cows can calve on pasture and calves can gain weight prior to winter.
The Ogburns are thankful for the customers who appreciate Pond Bank beef; however, many people aren’t accustomed to purchasing meat directly from a farm and are unfamiliar with how to break down a whole, half or quarter. “We’ve found loyal customers who buy consistently,” said Ken. “We sell mostly cuts or 10-pound bundles, or people can pick out what they want for a bundle.”
Residents of a local retirement community have become regular customers of Pond Bank beef, and word-of-mouth is helping to bring more customers to the farm.
Dawn said they’d be open to farming more ground in the area but there’s competition for leasing existing nearby ground. For now, operating the feedlot and increasing freezer beef sales is their most profitable option.
“I think there’s potential to feed more calves in the feedlot,” said Ken. “But we can raise a high-quality calf for less than we can buy a high-quality calf, especially from a health standpoint.”
Visit Pond Bank Farm online at pondbankfarm.com.
by Sally Colby