Scholze Family Farms in rural Humbird plans to sell meat through a subscription box method using meat from their own pasture-raised Jersey steers in February, a move it began after announcing it was transitioning its Holstein herd to Jerseys.
The farm is owned by two families, Theo and Sarah Scholze and Will and Becky Scholze, who purchased the farm in 2011 from Marvin and Minnie Scholze, which are Theo and Will Scholze’s parents.
The Scholzes decided to transition to a Jersey herd about a year ago. When they announced the move, they suddenly got a lot of requests for Jersey meat.
“To be honest I hadn’t thought about doing beef until we got on the website saying we were making this conversion and then people started to call and say, ‘Hey, we’d be interested,’” Theo Scholze said.
Theo Scholze said that some people prefer Jersey meat over more traditional beef breeds like Angus.
“The guy that hauls cattle for us raises beef and when he wants one for home, he goes to the neighbor and gets a Jersey animal and takes it in for beef at home,” Theo Scholze said.
Augusta Meats, owned by Ralph Knuth, will be processing the beef for Scholze Family Farms. Knuth said the biggest difference between Jerseys and other beef cattle is that their fat is yellow, which he thinks adds flavor to the meat. He said Jerseys also tend to have other advantages.
“Jerseys they say usually are more tender. It is all in the way they are fed,” Knuth said.
The Scholzes felt further vindication when Theo and Sarah Scholze brought the idea of collecting subscribers and shipping them boxes of meat to her family that lives in Madison, La Crosse and Eau Claire.
“Sarah’s family was really excited about it. They were like, ‘Let us know and we will take this many,’” Theo Scholze said. “I view them as a pretty good microcosm of the consumer in general because of what they do and where they live. If they are that excited about it, there are probably other people that are that excited about it.”
The Scholze’s extended family has become their testers and have provided a lot of ideas including putting recipes in the boxes on how to prepare the meat.
On top of the demand for their Jersey cattle, the Scholzes realized that the subscription box market would be the best way to deliver their product.
“It is a huge trend right now for one thing. There are a ton of companies offering it in various ways. There are even a lot of meat subscription boxes to choose from, but none of them that really are doing exactly what we are doing,” Becky Scholze said.
Theo Scholze thinks the recent increase in subscription services is because people today want things to be easier.
“It is all about convenience. They want products shipped to them. They want us to notify them ahead of time that they are going to be getting a shipment and then be able to opt-out if they need to opt out the day before it is leaving,” Theo Scholze said.
Scholze Family Farms is hoping to reach those consumers that don’t have a lot of freezer space to store meat.
“We still get a lot of feedback from people that were like, ‘We don’t have a chest freezer. We don’t have room for a chest freezer. We live in a condo so we can only take a few pounds at a time.’ It seemed like the feedback was we would like smaller amounts on a regular basis so it is fresh and we don’t have to try to store 400 pounds of beef,” Theo Scholze said.
The Scholze’s plan to have two boxes initially, one focused on families and the other focused on foodies. The family box will be cheaper and feature items like ground beef and roasts. The other box will include the more expensive cuts and will be tailored toward a more expensive market.
“We also want to focus on foodies because right now we are only going to be shipping to Wisconsin, but where we lived in Madison there is a huge foodie scene and local food is a huge thing. So for them, more premium cuts like steaks, tenderloins, roasts, things like that,” Becky Scholze said, adding that people would also have the option to add additional cuts to their box.
The Scholze’s also believe the size of cuts will be a big selling point since Jersey cattle are smaller in size.
“The market would dictate that people are eating less red meat in smaller proportions and demand seems to be there for a higher quality product from a marbling perspective, which the Jersey checks all of the boxes,” Theo Scholze said.
Scholze Family Farms hopes that its fresh-from-the-farm approach will make its product more appealing to consumers.
“I can think of five (meat subscription services) off the top of my head, but they all source their meat from different places and bring it together, so you still have a middle man like you would at a grocery store. For us we don’t have to have a middle man if we can get it started and do it right, we don’t need a middle man because we are the source,” Becky Scholze said.
Reacting to the market
Even though the Scholzes think they have found a good market for their breed, there were several factors in the dairy industry that ultimately pushed them in the direction they are going.
The initial switch to milking Jersey cattle instead of Holsteins was driven by a change in how their milk was valued and shipped.
“As the dynamic of the milk market has changed, there is more emphasis on components and less emphasis on volume and how we get charged for trucking has changed. If you can have denser milk with lower volume, you are better off,” Theo Scholze said.
The Scholzes also sell their milk into the cheese and butter market, which the Jersey cow is much better suited for because of the higher fat and protein content in the Jersey breed’s milk.
With the change to Jerseys came a problem the Scholze’s initially didn’t have an answer for.
“Our initial thought was if the success or failure of our farm depends on the price of bull calves, we are in trouble. So we kind of just wrote it off as we are just going to get $30 or $40 for our calves and that is what it is going to be,” Theo Scholze said.
Jersey bull calves are worth a lot less in the market because of their small size. Their smaller size makes them less desirable because it is harder to process them when they are a different size than the rest of the animals being processed.
The possibility to make more money per bull calf is what really energized the Scholzes to move forward with their idea.
“At that point I said we can take an animal that we are not really going to be making a lot of money on and if we can value-add to it we can do it in a subscription style, we might be able to take an animal that has minimal value and is a loss and turn it into something that is profitable,” Theo Scholze said. “We probably looked more seriously at this as an option, doing beef with them, than if they would have been worth $350 like a beef calf is.”
The Scholzes are also capitalizing on a trend that a lot of farmers are using to sell direct to the consumer, which in turn is more profitable for the farm.
“For me it is exciting to try something different. In agriculture, it is so commoditized that if you don’t start to look for ways to shorten that chain up and be a little bit more direct, it is tough,” Theo Scholze said. “If you look at how many times food is touched by how many people from farmer to consumer. If I can do my part to shorten that up and make it more efficient, that is just what gets me going.”
Theo said that companies like Amazon are also working to shorten the supply chain so food products have fewer stops, which is more efficient from an environment standpoint and also means more money goes to farmers.
Changing their farming practices
With this recent push to Jerseys, the Scholzes have had to learn a lot of things that make Jerseys unique.
“I was at a Jersey farm and I was like, ‘My god these things are like dogs.’ They were following me around and rubbing up against me,” Theo Scholze said, adding that Holsteins are not that social.
“The farm I was at, he was Holsteins and he sold them all and bought Jerseys. He said at least we were doing it gradually. He said he hated himself the first year and he hated every one of those animals. He said at least you are getting to break yourself in over four generations,” Theo Scholze said.
On top of the many changes the farm is going through in its conversion to Jerseys, the need for bull calves has changed the discussion about genetics as well.
In the dairy industry, artificial insemination is the norm, which means farmers need to buy semen so their cattle can have a calf. Most Jersey farmers buy semen that comes sexed, which means a company has removed the portion of semen that would produce a bull calf. They do this because a male Jersey calf is worth a lot less than a female Jersey calf. This process significantly increases the price for the semen and also has other negative effects on the effectiveness of the semen to get the cow pregnant.
Since the Scholzes want male calves as much as they want female calves, they haven’t had to spend as much on semen.
“We at one time talked about doing a certain percentage sexed, a certain percentage beef. Obviously now conventional (semen) is part of the mix. It helps on cost, it helps on conception rate, it helps on everything,” Theo Scholze said. “I’ll be honest, the conversations we have every month looking at that is, ‘Are we getting enough Jersey cross bull calves?’ It was never a conversation we had even six months ago.”
With the Jersey beef cattle being pasture-raised, the Scholzes are also working on making some of their corn and soybean fields into pasture.
“We are converting our pastures and doing a better job of managing those so they can be pastured when they can. We do work with a nutritionist to make sure they have the minerals and little grain they need so they have a well-balance diet. Winter we are going to figure out as we go. We are going to use some leftovers from the dairy cattle to help get us through the winter because clearly we are not going to graze them in the snow,” Theo Scholze said. “This country is really good at growing corn and beans, so if you can diversify your operation and take some of your land that you can value-add to your Jersey calves, you are better off.”
For more information, visit the Scholze’s website at www.scholzefamilyfarms.com.