When Edsel Belyew, of Large Sandy, Tenn., retired in 2011, he deliberate to spend his golden years looking and fishing.
His spouse, Jan, had different plans.
Jan, who had lately retired herself, wished to buy 5 cows and a bull. Her objective wasn’t essentially to start out a booming cattle operation, however to beat a worry.
“When I was younger, I was scared to death of cattle,” Jan mentioned.
Despite the fact that she is an avid horsewoman who recollects usually taking part in calf pennings within the Nineteen Nineties, “being on a 1,600-pound horse makes a big difference,” she admits. “I thought if I could raise some cattle up from calves, maybe I wouldn’t be afraid of them.”
Jan researched a number of breeds, looking for essentially the most docile choice for her new enterprise. She settled on Red Poll, a heritage breed identified for his or her quiet, calm nature, calving ease and glorious mothering skills. They may additionally tolerate the warmth and humidity of western Tennessee summers. The Red Poll breed appeared like an ideal match.
She simply needed to persuade her husband, Edsel, who initially resisted the thought. Edsel grew up on a beef cattle farm and remembered the onerous work. They have been speculated to be having fun with a lifetime of leisure, in spite of everything. However Jan was persistent.
Flash ahead to at the moment and Jan has conquered her worry, strolling amongst her cows as in the event that they have been pets. Edsel ultimately had sufficient looking and fishing, too. Their herd, which began with 5 cows and a bull 10 years in the past, swelled to a peak dimension of 135 final summer season.
In a short while, the couple, together with their youngsters, have constructed an operation that’s broadly revered amongst fellow ranchers. Their rotational grazing methods earned the Belyews a spot on the Worldwide Red Poll Tour in 2017. Edsell is now the vice president of the American Red Poll Affiliation. And in 2020, the Tennessee Cattleman’s Affiliation named him Excellent Cow/Calf Producer for the state.
“It’s a lot of time and it’s a lot of work, but we love it,” Edsel mentioned.
What was speculated to be a retirement pet challenge has changed into a second profession. Whereas Edsel and Jan are starting to downsize, decreasing their herd to 50 mama cows with three herd bulls, their youngsters, Ryan Belyew and Christy Hodge, are rising their very own Red Poll herds.
“It’s been a learning process to get to where we are,” Jan mentioned, “and we’re still trying to be better. Getting into Red Poll cattle was a great decision.”
The Belyews are one in every of solely a handful of Red Poll breeders in Tennessee, a state the place Angus cattle dominate. However Edsel and Jan are massive advocates for the various constructive traits of the Red Poll breed, significantly their docility.
“A lot of times it’s just the two of us working them so calm cattle are a top priority,” Edsel mentioned. “They are extremely docile, but they’re also such a hardy breed.”
The Red Poll was developed in England within the early 1800s. A cross between a Norfolk, a beef breed, and the Suffolk, a polled dairy breed, the Red Poll was used as a dual-purpose breed identified for each prime quality beef and glorious milk manufacturing.
Red Poll cattle have been first imported to America within the Eighteen Eighties. Over the previous 50 years, American breeders have emphasised the meat traits of the Red Poll. The American Red Poll Affiliation says the breed is famend for tender, well-marbled beef and high-yielding carcasses. Red Polls are additionally mentioned to be feed-efficient, with the power to complete to Alternative on grass.
Whereas Red Poll herds are uncommon within the Midsouth, Edsel says he has seen curiosity develop, significantly within the final yr.
“We’ve really seen demand go up lately,” he mentioned. “People call us from all over the country looking for Red Poll cattle. I think as we’re seeing demand for grass-fed beef grow, farmers are looking to breeds like Red Poll that do well on grass.”
The Belyews don’t feed a variety of grain, relying closely on grass, transferring cattle as wanted to benefit from rising forage. One factor that makes the Belyew operation distinctive is the best way they transfer cattle throughout their 5 farms.
Each Edsel and Jan had land come to them from their respective households. At their house in Large Sandy there are round 25 acres of pasture that was a part of the farm the place Edsel grew up. Forty miles to the south in Holladay, Tenn., Jan had a 150-acre timber farm which additionally featured about 15 acres of pasture.
Because the herd grew, the Belyews knew they wanted extra pasture, however of their a part of the world, land usually goes in small tracts. They leased a 40-acre pasture and acquired one other 40-acres that overlooks the Tennessee River. Just lately they bought an extra 90-acre farm close to their house. As they pieced collectively the acreage they wanted, the Belyews got here up with a novel system of managing the 5 farms that make up the operation.
“I call it the merry-go-round,” Jan laughs.
The Belyews deliver cows to calve on the farm close to their home the place they are often carefully monitored. They name it the nursery. When the calves are weaned, the cows return to one in every of three farms every with a unique herd bull, whereas the calves are moved to the Lick Creek farm close to the Tennessee River, which Edsel says has a number of the finest pasture. The calves (each heifers and steers) keep at this heifer growth middle till they’re able to be bought or the females are able to be bred as alternative heifers on the farm.
“Land is often the biggest obstacle for those who want to get into farming,” Edsel mentioned. “I think we’ve been able to put together what was available and make it work, which is what most people who are just getting into farming will probably have to do.”
The Belyews don’t use an outlined calving season, so many of the yr there are teams of cattle out with the bulls and rotating via the calving farm. As soon as cows change into pregnant, they are often moved as essential to handle forage. The system requires impeccable recordkeeping and group. That’s Jan’s division. She tracks breeding and calving for every cow. She additionally retains a each day journal to assist her preserve observe of calving, cattle actions, purchases, gross sales and vet visits.
“It’s a little crazy constantly moving the cattle, but it works for us,” Jan mentioned. “However, you need calm cattle to make a system like this work. That’s another reason the Red Poll are a good fit.”
The Belyews promote principally open heifers. They don’t wish to get into the bull enterprise, as a result of as Jan mentioned, even the light bulls “tear everything up.” After they first began it was difficult discovering consumers as native farmers weren’t accustomed to the breed. Luckily, social media has allowed them to attach with a wider viewers they usually now promote heifers to ranchers throughout the nation. They’ve had no bother discovering consumers currently. Actually, they usually must refer potential consumers to different breeders.
“Facebook has been great for us,” Jan mentioned. “We started a Belyew Red Poll Facebook page and began posting photos of our cattle. We don’t post prices, just photos. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who get on Facebook to look for cattle and find us that way.”
The Belyews haven’t executed a variety of direct promoting to customers, though daughter Christy, who has labored as a caterer and has expertise in meals service plans to start advertising locally-grown beef. As curiosity in lean, locally-sourced beef grows, the Belyews see plenty of alternatives for the long run.
“This has become a family project and we love working together,” Jan mentioned.