For Luke Vollborn, the cattle business is a family tradition. But when he left a well-paid, off-the-farm job to farm full time, he knew he’d have to bring his own ideas to make his way in the cattle business.
He grew up learning about cattle from his dad and uncles, who were all involved in the cattle business in Gallia County. Luke continued to help with his family’s farm through his college years, as well as after taking a job at a nearby coal-fired power plant. But in 2018, after working off the farm for 10 years and two months, he knew it was time to try farming full time. “I wasn’t going to leave this Earth knowing I didn’t try,” he says.
Luke grew up helping his dad, Fred Vollborn, who managed Bob Evans’ Hidden Valley Ranch for 35 years. Fred also farmed with his brothers, Ray and Ed, so Luke had a chance to learn from his uncles, too. Ray managed the family farm full time, and Ed worked for Ohio State University Extension as a county agent and grazing program manager.
Luke, 33, who was recently named Young Cattleman of the Year by the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, is the fourth generation in the Vollborn family to be involved with the family farm. In addition to running a cow-calf operation with 150 cows, he has started a cattle backgrounding and marketing business, Next Generation Livestock Marketing. Through that business, he buys and sells cow-calf pairs, putting loads together to fill orders from buyers. He also buys feeder cattle and backgrounds them before assembling 50,000-pound loads. Over the last year, he backgrounded about 1,500 cattle and sent more than 90 loads to buyers in South Dakota.
A scale on the farm certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and the county auditor allows Luke to weigh and buy cattle directly from other farmers — and to sell loads directly as well. He also buys cattle through stockyards. “I get them wherever I can get them bought,” he explains. But, he stresses, he’s always looking for good cattle. “I do not buy junk.”
Cattle health management key
Since he groups cattle from different sources, health management is a priority, he adds. “Within the first 12 hours at my operation, when they come off the truck, they get a round of vaccinations, regardless of their previous history.” He also ear-tags cattle to identify them with his farm, and to allow him to track the cattle back to their source and forward to buyers.
Besides working on the family land, Luke is leasing five additional farms that total around 600 acres. That gives him room to graze various groups of cattle through the growing season, and it also gives him hard pads, where he can move cattle to avoid damaging pastures over the winter. “I don’t like tearing up ground, especially when it’s not my land.”
As he looks to the future, Luke hopes to expand the marketing business throughout the country. He and his wife, Courtney, also want to provide an opportunity in the cattle business for their four children: Bryceton, 9, Colton, 6, Hudson, 3, and Emily, 1. “One of the goals for Next Generation Livestock Marketing and Vollborn Cattle Co. is also to make it sustainable, where not only myself and my wife can raise our kids, but where my kids can raise families and have something when they get out of college,” he explains. “If they decide this is something they want to do, then this operation will be here for them, just like my dad, with his operation for me.”
Cattle offer inspiration
The Ohio Cattlemen’s Association recognized outstanding cattle producers and industry leaders during its recent awards banquet. In addition to the Outstanding Young Cattleman, profiled above, awards included:
Environmental Stewardship. ST Genetics-Ohio Heifer Center, South Charleston, Ohio, was recognized with the Environmental Stewardship award. Under the direction of general manager Paul Detwiler, ST Genetics-Ohio Heifer Center uses an innovative manure drying and recycling system to reuse bedding in its bedded pack facilities. Detwiler describes the farm as “an ordinary dairy doing extraordinary things.”
The farm houses 5,500 cattle and conducts nutrition and genetics research, as well as research on manure management. The goal is to develop ways of processing manure to produce potable water, and to reuse all manure components without any land application. To do that, Detwiler says, “You must forget what you think you know.” He adds, “I don’t know if it’s possible or not, but we have the opportunity, and we’re going to try.”
Commercial Producer. Fred Voge, who farms in Preble County, Ohio, received the Commercial Producer of the Year award. He has worked to improve his cattle facilities, building efficient housing for backgrounding and finishing cattle. The facilities also include manure storage, so he better can manage manure nutrients. Manure provides the basis of the fertility program on his cropland.
One of Voge’s most recent ventures is producing wagyu beef to capture premium markets. His goal, he explains, is to sustain his farm for future generations, protecting the environment while also maintaining profitability.
As he’s worked with other producers, he’s been able to visit backgrounding lots and feedlots around the country, but he speaks highly of those in Ohio. “They can produce a higher-quality product more efficiently than anywhere in the country,” he says.
Seedstock Producer. The Seedstock Producer of the Year award was presented to Pam Haley, who farms with her husband, Mike, near West Salem, Ohio. Besides registered Simmental cattle, the family’s farming operation includes grain crops and a trucking business. They maintain a herd of about 80 cows, and they sell Simmental seedstock through a production sale in Nebraska and also at the Ohio Beef Expo. Some cattle are sold privately as well. Over the years, the family has been fortunate to form friendships with other cattle producers throughout Ohio and across the country. “This business is about relationships,” Pam explains.
Industry Service. Heffelfinger Meats of Jeromesville, Ohio, was recognized with the Industry Service award for its service to the beef industry. The family business started in 1934 and now processes 110 to 130 cattle weekly, as well as 450 to 500 hogs. The majority of the meat is sold wholesale to family-owned mom and pop meat markets, including a growing number of ethnic markets. The Heffelfingers also run their own retail meat market and operate a 350-acre farm, with a small cow-calf herd.
In today’s social media age, livestock harvesting has come under increasing scrutiny and sometimes receives negative publicity, notes company owner Rick Heffelfinger. “What we do is not for everybody.” However, he adds, the 23 family members and employees who work at Heffelfinger Meats consider it a priority to care for animals before harvest with feed, bedding and calm handling.
Industry Excellence. Roger Thompson, a veterinarian from New Albany, Ohio, received the Industry Excellence award for his work on embryo transplants for cattle clients throughout the state. He is a graduate of Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and began his career in Kentucky, before moving to Ohio in 2002. 2019 was his 40th year doing embryo transplants, and he has put 553,000 miles on the 2003 Toyota Tundra he uses as a work truck.