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Farm family achieves meat marketing dream

The Zobel family markets pork and beef directly to local customers.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

October 28, 2022

6 Min Read
Larry and Tami Zobel of Bancroft, Neb.,
FULFILLING A DREAM: Larry and Tami Zobel of Bancroft, Neb., had long thought about marketing and selling meat from their cattle and hog herds directly to consumers. That dream was accelerated to fruition when COVID-19 changed the meat processing world. Now they continue to expand this enterprise with a new office and on-farm retail space. Photos by Kevin Schulz

Livestock production has been the backbone of Zobel Family Farms for six generations, and Larry and Tami Zobel are planning on continuing that history.

Zobel Family Farms is comprised of a cattle feedlot, wean-to-finish hog barns and about 3,000 crop acres, and it has three generations working the enterprise south of Bancroft in Cuming County in northeastern Nebraska.

While the Zobels have expanded their operation as their family has grown, they have recently expanded what their farm offers, building on a longtime dream of selling homegrown beef and pork cuts directly to consumers.

Fulfilling the dream

“We had talked about it for about 10 years,” Larry says, “but when you have kids in school, we just felt there wasn’t time to do it. I felt that was maybe a direction that would serve the family and the industry itself.”

Tami and Larry’s three children — Morgan, Mitchell and Madison — are each involved in some capacity with the operation, which was part of the long-term plan, “but only if they wanted to,” Larry says.

“It definitely was always their choice,” Tami adds. Morgan’s husband, Jesse Jacobsen, also works in the family operation.

The direct-to-consumer push came when COVID-19 hit. “COVID was our push to jump into it,” Tami says. Larry quickly adds, “Had we not gotten pushed, it might not have happened.”

But it did happen, and now the Zobels are meeting customers’ demands for farm-sourced beef and pork, getting the word out about their products through farmers markets and by selling directly to consumers.

hogs

THIS LITTLE PIGGY: These finishing hogs are just part of the larger livestock operation on Zobel Family Farms, and a few of them make it into their expanding direct-market pork and beef meat business.

Larry, the veteran cattleman, has developed an eye for selecting animals that will provide the customer with Choice or even Prime beef cuts, resulting in a satisfying dining experience.

“Some people may have never had the opportunity to even eat Prime,” Larry says. “ They thought it was out of their price range, but by knocking out the middleman here, they’re able to get into a better quality of meat at a lesser price point.”

The Zobels credit cattlemen they have worked with over the past 20 years or so, and the genetic programs from those ranches, on providing good stock to the Zobel feedlot. Larry and Jesse have their own cow-calf herd, and some of those steers have been used for the Zobel meat business.

While the Zobel 2,000-head feedlot is made up of mixed breeds, “we feed them all,” Larry says, “but primarily black Angus and that’s what we push into the meat business,” which constitutes about one-one-hundredth of the Zobel beef production.

He adds that it’s probably less than that on the pork side of the farming equation, where they focus on Duroc-sired and either Large White or Landrace sows. Three finishing hog barns housing a total of about 6,000 hogs are located north of the beef feedlot.

Larry is a majority owner of a sow unit near York, Neb., which supplies all of the hogs that end up on the Zobel farm.

Market beginnings

“We had customers that would buy say a quarter or a half of beef before this all started, just people we knew,” Tami says, “and now we’re serving many hundreds of people.”

The majority of those customers are now served through farmers markets that the family attends, including three each week in Omaha and once a week in West Point from May to October.

This exposure has been beneficial, as they have built a clientele of repeat customers looking for the Zobel Family Farms’ freezer trailer each week. Just as customers anticipate Zobels coming to the farmers markets, the Zobels have learned which cuts sell better at each of the markets.

Filets and bacon are always big sellers, and roast and rib-eyes were popular this past summer. “Everyone’s looking for steaks,” Tami says. “Our beef brats and hot dogs are usually popular, too.”

As are briskets and ribs for smokers, Larry adds. “Our customers are amazed in the difference of our ground beef compared to what they get in grocery stores.”

Larry and Tami Zobel in front of their office on their farm.

RIGHT WAY: Larry and Tami Zobel are operating a sixth-generation hog, cattle and crop business. In 2013, Zobel Family Farms received the Environmental Stewardship Award from the Nebraska Pork Producers Association, as well as the Cuming County Cultivator of the Earth Award in 2015.

The Zobels work with a number of different processors and will see if they are able to fill varied customer requests such as for cottage bacon, and in some markets beef tongue is popular. “We actually have waiting lists for tongue, filets, bacon, rib-eyes and jerky,” Tami says.

Can’t make it to a farmers market, or can’t wait for the 2023 farmers market season? Zobel customers can order their favorite beef and pork cuts online. They do weekly deliveries in eastern Nebraska, as well as shipping across the continental U.S.

New storefront

In addition to the website and farmers markets, Zobels have built a new office and retail space on the homesite, where customers can buy their favorite cuts, just a short distance from where the animals are raised.

Additional freezer space in the new facility will allow Zobels to increase the number of head processed. They currently process five to 10 cattle and six to 10 hogs each month.

“I have a lot more processing dates for next year booked,” Tami says, “so we can keep up with the demand of our customers to purchase our beef and pork.”

Cattle on the Zobel farm

CATTLE BACKGROUND: About 1 out of every 100 of the Zobel cattle finds its way into the family’s meat business. By attending farmers markets in Omaha and West Point, the family has been able to engage and attract new loyal customers for their meat products.

With the new freezer space completed, “we’re going to have a lot more inventory so we’re going to be able to expand to who we can service,” Tami says, possibly even getting into providing restaurants with cuts. “But we just didn’t have the inventory or the space, or the processing capacity of what they would need for that consistency.”

In addition to helping out on the meat side of the business, Madison is also tasked with boosting Zobel Family Farms’ social media content to help tell the story of the farm, as well as agriculture in general.

Telling agriculture’s story is a side benefit of the Zobel meat business, especially when consumers come to the farm store and see where their beef and pork has been raised.

Learn more at zobelfamilyfarms.com.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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