Rob and Amy Hess know today’s beef prices—as good as they are—won’t last forever. They also know they needed to create a unique niche for their 30-cow herd, or it would be little more than a hobby spidering out of control.
The Hesses, owners of Bow Creek Farm and Cattle Co., Hershey, Penn., were already using AI, embryo transfer and EPD selection to breed top-end Red Angus. But they needed an edge that would set them apart and command premium prices.
“We wanted to create a brand so that our beef was not a commodity,” Rob says. “We wanted to be something other producers were not or could not be.”
In 2011, they contacted the chef at the famous Hershey Hotel. Luckily, he had been looking for locally-produced beef and was keenly interested.
Bow Creek beef is now featured on Hershey Hotel’s Harvest Restaurant menu. The hotel takes up to four head weekly during the summer tourist months and five or six head at Christmas. Uniquely, the hotel buys whole carcasses, not just select cuts.
The Hesses also sell to private parties in 1⁄8 shares. Currently, these packages include about 50 lb. of meat for $439.
Calves are fed grass hay until they reach market weight at about 18 months. No silage is fed. “We’ve been getting good results with grading and flavor with just the grass hay,” Rob says.
For the final 30 days before slaughter, however, cattle receive 20 lb. to 25 lb. steamed, rolled corn to ensure they grade Prime or Choice. “We market them as natural-fed, with no antibiotics or implants,” Rob says.
The Hesses also participate in the Red Angus Feeder Calf Certification USDA Program (FCCP). For the past three years, the Hesses have bought additional FCCP calves from other sources to fill orders they can’t meet with their own herd numbers. They are currently building their herd to meet the demand.
The Hesses farm about 600 acres, with about 200 acres in grass hay and alfalfa and the balance in corn and soybeans.
They believe other small herds could follow their lead. “This is an opportunity to make more money and create something of value,” Rob says.