by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
Forming and maintaining good relationships with family, customers and neighbors, with respect, integrity, diligence and high standards is what the Trowbridge family is known for — along with, of course, their outstanding, nationally acclaimed Angus cattle.
But, Trowbridge’s don’t only have Black Angus.
“We have Herefords, Red Angus and Black Angus, because we have customers that want those,” said Phil Trowbridge during a recent farm tour of the Ghent, NY farm in Columbia County.
Actually, the farm consists of several smaller properties all within the county.
“We have somewhere in the area of eleven separate farms,” remarked P. J., Phil and Annie’s son, who is a graduate of SUNY Cobleskill and an integral component of the farm.
According to Phil, P.J. is responsible for many progressive — and successful — ideas and farm improvements. “I listened to him and we tried things his way. We’ve made huge changes.”
One idea P.J. successfully implemented was getting rid of machinery and hiring out to get hay and crops harvested. Phil says the farm saves a lot of money by not having the headaches of taking care of machinery.
And working relationships with the folks that do crop work for them is a one-hand-washes-the-other relationship. “If they need our help, we’re here to help them.”
As if on cue, Phil’s phone rings and P.J., on the other end, says he’s off to help get hay in for a neighbor.
P.J. has also been instrumental in formulating feeding programs for the various groups of cattle.
“The youngest calves get the most TLC,” Phil remarked, pointing out that first calf heifers are also a high priority group, receiving special management.
Most feed comes from the rented and leased farmland right in Ghent, surrounding Trowbridge, who says the farm owns less than 100 acres, but manages and maintains about 1,400 —including hay and alfalfa pastures. “We have a lot of good pasture.”
Stewardship of that land is a priority to the family.
Depending on the time of year, the herd size varies. “Before the bull sale, we were around 400 head,” Phil calculated. “We sold 60-some bulls in the sale, but we’re usually in the 300 range, sometimes a little more.”
Phil says the family works really hard on making the farm successful by improving their Angus herd through genomics and specific calf selection. “We can tell right away if a calf should be castrated.”
Trowbridge bulls are known across the nation, with over 70 bulls in the A.I. Stud books.
Although Trowbridge bulls may cost a little more than some commercial bulls, Trowbridge says satisfied customers come back again and again for the quality.
“We see guys, who after the first bull they buy from us, say, ‘Hey, that bull added 50 pounds of weaning weight.’ — which doesn’t sound like a lot until you multiply it by 40 calves in one year, and then you multiply it in three years, and all of a sudden you’ve got three extra tons of calves — and at a buck and a half a pound, you can justify paying a little bit more, real quick!”
Trowbridge admits he is a real believer in the science behind breeding the best cattle possible.
“We do everything here from genomic testing to Johnes testing — we actually try to do everything we can to stay up to speed.”
Phil says genomic testing is now capable of testing and predicting up to 50,000 alleles or markers, including meat tenderness, calf growth, weaning weight, yearling weight, calving ease of cows, milk quality, etc.
“You can go through that whole thing… and it really helps. A lot of people don’t do it, but, I believe in science — we’re real believers in science. So, we try to utilize everything we can. Some of my friends say I’m on the bleeding edge, not the cutting edge. They say I get to the technology too fast, when it’s not perfected. DNA genomics is the perfect example. But, we want to be leaders for our customers. So, I have to be willing to go out and negotiate all of the ups and downs and try to give them the best information we can.”
DNA testing was more than $125/animal when Trowbridge first started using it. Now it’s less than $40/animal. “And now we get about 10 times more data than we got 3 years ago.”
Trowbridge’s buy cows that meet their criteria, including “superior genetics.”
“One phenotype they’ve got to have is good feet. Good legs, big bodies, feminine — you know they need to look like a girl. I tell everybody, I start at the ground, if they don’t have good feet, there’s no reason to look at the rest of them. Then we look at their genomic information, their EPDs —estimated progeny differences, it’s a combination. We look at everything. Some guys just look at the EPDs, or the numbers. Some guys just look at the phenotype or the body, but we look at the total combination.”
Last year a few bulls from around the country were added to the farm genetics.
Assisting customers with marketing benefits everyone, Phil says.
“We help our customers market their cattle and that helps market us,” he explained. “Someone may buy a bull from us because they know we will help try to sell feeder calves for them. We sponsor a sale the first Saturday in December every year, so we pay for the advertising and we go out and talk to potential buyers that we know may want those calves.”
Buyers of feeder calves have had success with high quality carcasses from Trowbridge bulls and look for those genetics.
“That in turn, gets a better price for our customer, who then, in turn, may be able to buy a little better bull next year.”
Phil says developing positive relationships with people makes business successful.
Trowbridges have developed many positive relationships over the years, too numerous to count. Many have grown out of the Internship Program they started 35-years ago, after hiring three college graduates with high honors in livestock management, who never learned to castrate calves.
“I told them that as far as I was concerned they didn’t know how to pour water out of a boot!”
Trowbridge says he complained loudly to the colleges and his older brother, who told him, “If you’re not offering a solution, you’re part of the problem.”
“He was right,” Phil admits. “If I wasn’t going to do something about it, then it was my fault. So, that’s what we did.”
Interns learn everything at Trowbridge’s, castration included.
“From the office to embryo transfer to in vitro fertilization, breeding cows, calving cows, treating calves, cutting hay, weed eating, from lawn mowing to cow showing — everything it takes to run a farm. It’s a big commitment on our part,” said Phil.
The Trowbridge 4-H Livestock Scholarship was dedicated to Annie and Phil for their many years of commitment to the 4-H program.
“We started the livestock club almost 27 years ago for Columbia County,” Phil recalled. “They didn’t have a livestock 4-H group. And almost that long ago we started having a livestock sale for the kids, where they could sell their sheep and their hogs and their steers. And then at the 25th anniversary, 4-H started a Trowbridge Scholarship and now we added to it and that’s where it’s at today.”
Although he acknowledges the ground beef market has been “pretty dramatically” affected by culled dairy cows, Phil believes the beef market is looking up.
“We’re getting people who want a really good eating experience. They’re going to pay a little bit extra for beef and they want to have the real deal. The finished market is as strong as it’s been in the last several months — and it’s going to get better as the grilling season comes upon us. I think the beef industry is on the rise in general. Protein needs around the world are going up everyday. Now we’ve got countries like China and Japan that can afford better protein — and they want it.”
Currently Vice-President of the NY Beef Producers Association, Trowbridge says 7 years ago there were about 170 members, now it’s about 700.
“I think the beef industry is getting stronger all of the time,” he remarked.
Phil looks around the farm and fields spread out before him and comments on their success.
“We’ve been blessed,” he said.
Contact Trowbridge Angus at 518.392.0322 or visit www.trowbridgeangusfarms.com.
Trowbridge Angus Farm’s beef: It’s what’s for dinner!
by Elizabeth A. Tomlin