AMBOY, Minn. – Diversification is often the key to a successful operation. Additionally, farmers have learned to evolve their practices and operations with the times. For the Fox family and Fox Premium Beef, their operation started out in beef, transitioned to dairy, then to a combination of the two, with an environmental and consumer focused mentality.
“Historically, we were a beef producing feedlot, then, evolving with the times and economics, we moved into dairy cattle, so primarily our herd is dairy cattle and we feed heifer replacements,” said Karen Fox of Fox Premium Beef.
Daniel and Janel Fox started the beef feedlot and row crop operation in 1960. Later their sons, Luke and Jon joined the operation, then Karen, Luke’s wife, became involved.
Karen and Luke have four children, Landon, Hayden, Adriana, Brinnya, and Sloane. The oldest two, Landon and Hayden, are very involved in both the livestock portion and the row crop side of the Fox farm.
The Foxes feed about 2,000 head of dairy replacement heifers. The heifers are brought onto the farm at around 350 pounds. They are raised and bred at the feedlot before going back to the dairy farm at about four or five months into being bred.
It used to be that the heifers would stay at the feedlot for the majority of their gestation period, going back to the dairy just in time to calve.
“The data is supporting that the earlier we get them back the better, so we moved to six months for more transition time, then five, and now we’re approaching that four months bred to give them that transition at the dairy,” Karen said.
Early on, the Foxes supplied dairy replacements for farms in South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Around 2007 was when they were really diversified with their customers.
Then the dairy industry took a hit around 2008 and the Foxes started raising heifers for just one dairy farm.
“They all go home to Wisconsin,” she said. “We've been raising for this dairy for about 20 years.”
In more recent years, the Foxes added beef back to their operation – a cow/calf to finish operation with about 250 purebred Black Angus cow/calf pairs.
Finished cattle are processed by local meat markets and the Foxes market the beef directly to the consumer.
“We really focus on slowly growing without hormones or antibiotics,” she said. “It ensures that tender steak and high quality beef.”
Along with the cattle, the Foxes run around 1,000 acres of row crop. This allows them to raise a lot of the feedstuff the cattle receive. The operation is not grass fed, but forages and ruffages are a big part of the diet, along with other, more diversified feed products.
“Producing our own feed is nice – we have control of it, we know where it's coming from and exactly what it is,” said Karen.
Alfalfa was the first feed crop they started to raise. Later, they got into earlage when the local canning plants started to close and sweet corn silage was no longer available.
“We raised some sorghum grass and it's been an awesome new addition,” she said. “We try to be as Earth-conscious as possible.”
With the direct marketing, the Foxes have to be prepared to explain everything they are feeding and doing with their cattle. They are talking with potential customers every day.
“We went back into the beef sector and decided to really try to capture market and meet the needs of the consumers,” she said. “People are looking to buy local and want to know where their food's coming from.”