Panel, family farm highlight importance of Wisconsin beef industry

Jan Shepel
Marda Angus has 220 head of purebred Angus cows on their farm near Lodi. Once the calving is complete, these cows and calves are moved to various grasslands near the farm. State officials celebrated May Beef Month at the farm May 5.

LODI – To celebrate May Beef Month, the Wisconsin Beef Council, Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection organized an event at Marda Angus Farm, outside of Lodi, to talk about the importance of the state’s beef industry to local economies.

Marda Angus, operated by the Quam family, was started in 1898 and Terry Quam is the fourth generation to continue the farm. His 90-year-old mother Marjorie is active on the farm every day as is Terry’s wife Ardel, who is the farm’s bookkeeper.

Their son Cody is the farm’s purebred manager; daughter Bailey handles their social media. Each has a spouse – Cody’s wife Tracy and Bailey’s husband David – can be found on the farm daily taking on various roles. Another son Brady and his wife Carrie also help out on the family farm.

The sixth generation is now starting to be involved with Levi, 1, and baby Sterling being raised on the farm.

Terry’s sister Susan Quam works for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association but still has a vested interest in the farm. The farming operation is of the utmost importance to the whole family, Terry said. “We may disagree and the neighbors may hear us, but family is everything to us.”

Terry Quam is the current operator of Marda Angus, with his wife Ardel. Their kids – the fifth generation – are actively involved as is Terry’s Mom who works on the farm every day. He says beef has a great story to tell of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

He said he views his position as the current caretaker of the farm, taking over from the generations before him and keeping it going with the expectation that his children will continue its legacy.

The Marda Angus herd includes 220 purebred Angus cows. The Quams sell about 50 bulls and 50 females each year, with the majority of the bulls going to Montana. The bulls go to the Midland, Montana test station where they undergo feed efficiency testing. Quam said their animals also undergo genomic testing. The ranchers they are aiming for out West wouldn’t consider animals unless they come with certain tests and meet certain requirements.

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The family still has two cow lines that go back to some of the foundational Angus at the farm – back to 1942. That’s when Arthur Quam bought an Angus heifer as a 4-H project for his son David. Before the family delved into beef cattle, it was a dairy farm in the early decades.

Each fall the Quams have a production event to sell females from their herd.

Quam said his father and grandfather liked feeding cattle and sent a lot of fed cattle to the Chicago stockyards back in the day. They also worked extensively with the local Lodi Sausage Company – also a multi-generational family business. The Quams still have a working relationship with Mike Clark and Lodi Sausage, a state-inspected butcher shop and meat market that was established in 1939.

Wisconsin’s Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Randy Romanski said he was happy to be at the Quams’ farm to celebrate May Beef Month and to make note of how important the beef and livestock sector is to the state’s economy.

Meat processors play a critical role in the state’s economy, he added, and earlier in the day he and Gov. Tony Evers announced the 2022 meat processor grant program recipients. A total of $200,000 was available – allocated in the state budget – for this year’s grants, with a maximum of $50,000 allowed for each project.  Recipients were selected through a competitive review process and are required to provide a match of 100 percent.

(Initially Evers had asked for a $2 million investment in this grant fund but the amount was ultimately cut as it went through the budget process.) For this year’s grant round, DATCP received 100 applications for more than $4.4 million in grant requests. Wisconsin has 500 meat processors across the state, Romanski said.

The grant program is intended to help meat processors increase throughput. Bottlenecks became a huge problem during the worst of the pandemic with quarantines and lockdowns. People wanted to make sure they had meat in their freezers and swamped local meat markets. Even now, Clark said his slaughtering and processing schedule is full for the next two years, like that of most other local meat markets.

“We have been very busy the last two years,” Clark said. “Local foods have been very important to people.”

Meat talent development assistance

In addition to the meat processor grants announced May 5, Evers also recently announced to up $5 million in meat talent development assistance funded through the federal American Rescue Plan. Romanski said the meat processors he has talked to all say they need more people to operate efficiently. This funding will be used to help provide financial support to students in Wisconsin meat processing training programs and support program development as well as connecting the meat processing industry with potential employees.

Tammy Vaassen, executive director, and Kaitlyn Riley, director of communications for Wisconsin Beef Council (WBC), the organization that handles the one-dollar-per-head Beef Checkoff dollars in the state, introduced a video WBC produced called “Wisconsin Way.” (Half of producers’ checkoff dollars remain in the state for local beef promotion while the other half is used by the Cattlemen’s Beef Board to fund national projects.)

Kaitlyn Riley

The Wisconsin-produced video highlighted the way beef is raised in the state, showcasing conservation methods used by state beef producers. “We are very proud of that video,” Riley said.

Brady Zuck, with Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, said his family runs a cow/calf operation in Ladysmith. Wisconsin is a leader in growth of beef cattle, he said, while other regions are shrinking. Wisconsin currently has 295,000 head of beef cows and 270,000 head of fed cattle, he added.

The Zuck operation utilizes rotational grazing, estrus synchronization and low-stress weaning to improve efficiency, profitability and sustainability.

Quam added that there are 31 million beef cows in the United States and that is down 2 percent from 2020. But he added that even with lower cattle numbers more pounds of beef are produced than ever before. “That’s a sustainability story,” he added.

Vaassen said WBC helps grow demand for beef, including educating consumers on the nutritional value of beef so that when they are making their grocery choices they think of beef. The organization also works with retailers, restaurants and plants like Lodi Sausage, increasingly telling the story of the sustainability of the beef industry within Wisconsin and across the United States.

The calf crop at Marda Angus includes elite groups of bulls that end up getting tested in Montana and serving as herd bulls out West. They also hold a production sale for females each fall at their Lodi area farm.

Working from behind this year

Quam said that this spring’s weather has taken farmers from a two-month window to a one-month window to get all the work done. “We went into the winter short on moisture but this rain has been a double-edged sword. We like the moisture but we are ready to get going,” he said.

Zuck agreed. “It’s been a challenging spring. It’s usually 70 degrees and sunny but it’s still wet and cold up north,” where his cows are currently calving. “What always amazes me is the optimism of farmers in the state. To me that’s very impressive.”

When all of the Marda cows go out on pastures, in various locations in the area, “that is the greatest day,” Quam said with a smile. The land used for pasturing cows near Lodi and in the Cazenovia area is mostly land that is not suitable for row-crop production, he said, and that is another part of the sustainability story of beef.

“Cows will eat grass on land that cannot be farmed.”

The Quam family has also been working with Lodi Canning Company “forever”, he said. The family has always grown peas and sweet corn for their local canning company and he says “they are a big part of our operation.” After sweet corn is harvested as a cash crop for the farm, the Quams are able to harvest the stalks from that field to use as a high-moisture feed. “We cannot afford to waste anything,” he adds.

“Then we apply manure around August 1, which is a very safe time to apply manure environmentally. Then we plant three bushels of oats per acre. We’ve been planting cover crops for 35 years.

“By November 1 when the oats is about two-and-a-half feet tall we mow it and harvest it and then we have a third crop to feed the cows,” he adds.

The canning factory, which is only about a mile away from the farm, allows the Quams to bring home sweet corn silage on a daily basis to feed the cows. The canning company also has 80 acres of grassland that is irrigated with wastewater from the canning plant that is available to harvest to feed the bulls, he said.

“We looked at relocating our cows to Nebraska or Montana but it all boils down to all those options we have here that they don’t have. Companies like that make a big difference.”