A fourth generation farmer, Wisconsin beef producer Gregg May says the key to operating a successful beef business is producing a high quality product in a sustainable manner.
As one of 14,000 family farms raising beef cattle in Wisconsin, May runs a diversified operation that includes producing feeder calves, show heifers, breeding bulls and an impressive line of genetics. He, his wife, Angela, and their four children are the faces behind Fernvale Farm, a 350-acre homestead nestled in the rolling hills of southwest Wisconsin near Mineral Point.
May, President Elect for the Wisconsin Beef Council, is an effective spokesperson for a growing group of Wisconsin beef producers who are adapting their operations to meet the changing needs of their customers. With a herd of 150 registered Angus cows, the Mays take pride in preserving, conserving and restoring their farm land and natural resources with the goal of leaving the environment in better shape for the next generation. For May, like all American cattle farmers and ranchers, the land is not just where he raises cattle; it's where he's raised his family.
"The Angus cattle came to the farm with my dad back in 1953," May said. "Before then, we were a Milking Shorthorn dairy farm. I guess I'm lucky in that I knew from the time I was young that I wanted to be a beef producer. I've got the world's greatest job – I've always got something to do, I enjoy the land, the work, and the cattle."
May has worked decades to ensure every penny he makes on the family farm begins with the land and the cattle. He carefully manages his acres, knowing that grazing cattle stabilizes the soil and promotes growth of beneficial grasses, while protecting against soil erosion. In fact, grazing animals more than doubles the area than can be used to produce food, since 85 percent of U.S. grazing lands are unsuitable for producing crops. He implements rotational grazing into all aspects of his operation, even wintering beef cattle on a 30-acre partially-wooded lot, where he "stockpiles" grass all year to feed the cattle during winter months.
The Mays have also been proactive in water conservation efforts, as they appreciate that water is a source for everyone on their land – including their cattle, wildlife and the family. All of the farm's cattle watering units are energy-free, using geo-thermal technology.
"The key to any business, and especially the beef business, is to try to stay abreast of the ways we can continue to produce a product in the most efficient and sustainable manner possible, while at the same time, knowing what trends are shaping up on the consumer end. We know we're doing a good job when our customers are happy and become repeat buyers. That's when we know we're doing something right," May says.
Like most every farmer, May hopes another generation will someday take over the family farm. "I truly believe I'm just here borrowing the land and it's my job to leave it better than when I found it. That's what my dad did. This way of life has been good to us and I want to make sure it's good to the family who follows us."
For more information about Wisconsin beef, visit www.beeftips.com. Have a question about Wisconsin's beef industry? Click on "Email an Expert" and send in your question. A member of the Wisconsin Beef Council will research the answer and get right back to you.