When you grow up on a farm that is located in the suburbs of a fast-growing metropolitan area, it's pretty hard to expect to take over the family farm.
Rick Mindemann grew up on a small dairy and crop farm in Sussex, west of Milwaukee. At a young age, his family sold the cows and rented out the land, but he always dreamed of being back on the farm.
"As a kid, my only livestock experience included raising and butchering geese and ducks with my grandmother for sale and managing and caring for my pony," he said.
He never dreamed he would someday be back on the farm, but in 1990, he and Leslie decided to move with their three young children to Sullivan where they started a cow-calf operation and crops to feed their livestock. Their children grew up sharing their interest in farming.
Raising beef cattle versus dairy, Rick said, seemed like a better fit for their lifestyle at the time since both of them were working away from the farm full time. As time went on, they were able to focus all their attention on the farm, and now Rick and Leslie work full time on the farm.
Andy also works full time at the farm, specializing in herd health, breeding and embryo transfer. He manages the day-to-day chores that the mother cows and calves require, in addition to helping with crop production. Andy and his wife, Leah, also own cows in the herd and are involved with the cattle selection.
Another son, Aric, and his family have branched into Angus-crossbred cattle with an emphasis on show cattle. In addition to his full-time job, he manages a portion of the crop production business.
The Mindemann's son Jason adds his talents through graphic design, keeping the family business looking good. He also helps on the farm as needed.
The family decided to focus their business on raising Angus cattle. "Angus have superior intramuscular fat," Rick said. "That's where meat tenderness comes from. They have an awesome marketing program."
The family established its business with a cow-calf program that focuses on genetic qualities to raise bulls and heifers that will be attractive to other cattle producers.
"Maintaining a 'registered' herd ensures the blood lines are true Angus," Rick said. "From the original 25 registered Angus bred heifers, the learning curve has been wide and strong. There is many a tale to tell as any novice can attest to, but it's been filled with a love for the livestock and the land."
The farm currently has about 90 mother cows with calves; 15-20 yearling heifers to keep or sell as replacement females; 15-20 yearling bulls that they keep on the farm next door that they also own; and a few steers in the feedlot.
Some of their cows are 15 years or older, but many are young. "We're always cycling new genetics and replacing older cows with young ones in order to bring in new and better genetics," Andy said.
They begin calving January 1 and are finished by mid-March. Calving takes place in the insulated lower portion of the older barn on the farm. The same barn is used for keeping show animals cool in the summer.
"We breed for a small 70-pound calf," Andy said. "It's easier on the cow, and we rarely need to assist. We have cameras in the barn so we can monitor the barn wherever we are via the internet."
Their cows have a good mothering ability, so calves grow quickly. As soon as the calf is sucking and doing well, they put mother and calf outside. There are shelters for wind breaks scattered around the pasture, but beef cattle do well outside all winter.
"Early calving allows us to get the bulls out to a commercial setting earlier," Rick said.
Early calving also allows them to get their meat out to the markets in time for early summer grilling season. Calves that don't meet their standards for future production are kept or sold as feeders.
"We select our bulls on the traits we feel are best for our customers," Andy said. "Reproduction is important, and functionality, as well as soundness in feet and legs and mothering ability.
"We are almost 100 percent artificial insemination."
They do sexed semen and embryo transfer work, targeting a specific female with traits that are desirable to their customers.
"One cow may be the foundation of a lot of what we do," he added.
The Mindemanns strive for consistency in the animals they produce, and Andy pointed out that bulls are constantly tested for deformities in the breed, and those with deformities are weeded out of the pool.
"Invitro gives us consistency," he said. "By this program, one cow can have 10 calves with the help of surrogate mothers. Of our 100 cows, only about 20 have their own calves.
"The genetics you see in the cattle on the feedlots out West produce the majority of the meat, but they come from families like we have here."
Leslie added that they do raise a few for meat each year. "We raise 10-15 steers each year to sell locally as freezer beef in halves, quarters or twenty-pound small beef bundles."
The family also raises some cattle for showing. For show cattle, they breed for a higher frame score. For animals that will be for a feed lot, customers want animals that will be efficient.
"We average a carcass weight of 800 pounds," Andy said. "That would shut us out of the CAB program, but for the most part, we aren't marketing meat. We are marketing genetics, and our customers want efficiency."
Leslie served on the Angus board when the certified Angus beef program was developed. She understands the branding concept and said it is important that carcass weights be uniform in order to supply what the markets are looking for. Buyers for restaurants and retail want consistency.
And most importantly, the family obviously enjoys what they are doing.
"We take pride in what we do," Andy said. "We get compliments on our animals, and that's rewarding."
In addition to beef, the Mindemanns plant and harvest 1,900 acres of field corn, soybeans, wheat, oats and hay. They market some of it and use some for their livestock.
They wrap hay in plastic at 50 percent moisture to preserve the quality. Cows are fed strictly a forage diet with minerals, and they don't see any grain.
Young stock eat out of creep feeders with supplemental grain at two months, and heifers get grain because they are still growing.
After May 1, the animals are grazed with supplemental feed.
The family also owns a ranch in Montana where a friend of theirs raises a commercial herd of cattle.