Oakfield cattle breeders honored for environmental stewardship
NEW ORLEANS – A 4-H beef project in the 1960’s led to Jerry Huth’s interest in the Hereford breed. Over the years the Oakfield polled Hereford breeder has established a reputation for genetics and cattle which are productive and profitable in their environments.
Today he works in a partnership with Josh Scharf who first joined the operation as a teenager when he was an employee on the farm and eventually transitioned into ownership through S & H Livestock Enterprises.
Together they have earned a reputation for their environmental and sustainable farming practices.
Earlier this month the partnership of Huth Polled Herefords and S & H Livestock Enterprises was selected as one of seven regional winners of the 2022 Environmental Stewardship Award program. The National Cattlemen’s beef Association (NCBA), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff, made the announcement during the 2023 Cattle Industry Convention and NCBA Trade Show in New Orleans.
“Farming and ranching families across the country continue to incorporate practices that protect and preserve land and water resources for future generations,” said NCBA President Don Schiefelbein. “These regional winners represent the cattle industry’s commitment to environmental stewardship.”
Huth and Scharf were nominated for the award by the Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association.
WCA president Brady Zuck said of the pair, “Jerry and Josh are exceptional examples of a beef cattle operation focusing on long-term sustainability. They have demonstrated an approach for other operations to emulate regarding sustainability of operations, transitioning ownership and securing the viability of the cattle operation and they have focused on managing the land with grazing cattle to improve the environment.”
Together Huth and Scharf graze 150 cows on their 400-acre Oakfield farm. About two-thirds of the farm is in pasture and the remaining crop land is rented out for corn and soybeans and they graze the stubble on that land after grain harvest. The duo pastures cows as long as possible which usually goes into November on stockpiled grass.
When Josh joined the business with his herd of cross bred Angus/Hereford, the two acquired a long-term lease for an additional 130 acres of Department of Natural Resources land that bordered the farm. With help from the NRCS they put in a water and fencing system.
“When we first started grazing it, there were a lot of willows and weeds but now, through our managed grazing, the legumes and grasses are coming through,” Scharf said.
The public-private partnership to graze state land has been beneficial to the sustainability and expansion of the operation while also providing environmental and habitat benefits to public land.
Huth and Scharf ensure pastures maintain good soil health by effectively managing stocking rates and resting pastures. These practices produce nutritious, dense and high-energy vegetation for cattle and reduce erosion and water runoff.
“Our main goal is to maintain and improve the quality of the environment for future generations while producing a quality, profitable product," says Huth. ‘We partner with various organizations to continuously improve our farm and enhance our sustainability efforts.”
Huth says he has always followed what he believes to be sustainable practices but he still continues to learn more every year.
Scharf says they do some frost seeding and clip paddocks after grazing to insure that thistles and other weeds do not get started. They also routinely cut under fences.
The partners plan calving time at the same time of the year to take advantage of the lush spring growth of grass to get the cow back into condition for re-breeding while getting her calf off to a fast start.
They calve on pasture and supplement hay, protein, and mineral until the grass growth can maintain the cow (sometime between May 1 and May 15). After that the only supplement is a high-quality mineral product.
Cows are grazed on a rotational basis, being moved every 1-3 days while resting pastures from 20-30 days after grazing. This allows the grass to establish excellent root structure and enhances soil productivity. This not only provides nutritious feed for the cattle but it maximizes photosynthesis for the sequestering of carbon while encouraging optimal development of various beneficial “critters” that live in the soil.
Scharf markets bull calves as feeder calves while Huth concentrates on marketing the genetics in his herd.
“We sell quite a few bulls every year in several states and we have bulls in AI as studs,” Huth said. “We also sell male sexed embryos every year.”
Together Huth and Scharf make good partners.
“If one of us is gone the other covers," he pointed out.
Josh and his wife Jenny live in nearby Brownsville with their two daughters who are just getting started showing cattle. One of his daughters showed the reserve champion at the Fond du Lac County Fair in 2022.
Huth’s two sons were active in showing cattle in their youth. They still help out on the farm as needed. Michael is a deputy with the Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Office and is also a taxidermist. Karl is interested in farming and works in real estate development.
Scharf says he is grateful for the opportunity to build his livestock business on the Huth farm and looks forward to a long future with the family.
“When I started working at the farm in high school I never thought of it as a career path," he said. "Then after college I worked for a while but when I got married and had children, I had the opportunity to form the partnership with Jerry. It allowed me to quit my job, watch my girls while my wife worked while still developing my business.”