Jessica Stolen-Jacobson Editor [email protected]
Randy Knutson has worked alongside his father Lowell since he was 14, helping out part-time on the family farm raising cattle. The farm, purchased in 1960, is where Randy now works full-time raising cattle with the help of his brother and a neighbor. It wasn’t what Randy had always thought he would do. Lowell bought the farm in 1960 and raised beef cattle until he was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. Doctors told Lowell he could no longer work outdoors, so Randy stepped in to take the reins. Shortly before Lowell passed away in October 2014, he asked Randy if he would continue tending the cattle, but Randy still wasn’t sure. Until one day, as he stood in one of the cattle lots in a snowstorm, looking over the cattle cage, he realized that continuing the family tradition was what he would. “The snow was rising above the cattle bunk where the cattle always stand to eat. He was buried in the snow. I was sitting there thinking, and I grabbed my cell phone and called my banker and told him I was going to buy 75 head of cattle,” he says. “There was a long hesitation and then he said, you know what happens when you start this? I said, yeah, you don’t stop. My dad worked his whole life for this setup, and I just couldn’t leave it empty. I couldn’t do it.
Since then, Randy has been raising cattle to the same standards that Lowell enforces, despite the volatile state of the beef cattle market. Randy follows the standards of how Lowell fed cattle, sticking to the basics. “They are fed corn silage, corn and hay, and a protein pellet. That’s it. Some of them go out on grass during the summer, but when they get grass they also get corn and silage on top of that,” he says. “I feed my cattle like my father taught me to feed my cattle.” Additionally, Randy stays away from growth stimulants and growth hormones, which are used in some commercial beef cattle. This could be attributed to the good reviews he gets for the flavor of the meat, but Randy also says it has a lot to do with how the cows are treated. “I like them to be comfortable. My girlfriend, Mary, says I love my cattle and I’m not happy until my cattle are happy,” he says. not in the mud. I like to keep them dry. I like to keep lying on them. When they’re happy, they do better, like anything else.
Randy also stresses that he values buying his cattle locally, trying to stay mostly within a 20-mile radius of Montevideo so the cattle never see a barn for sale and never have the stress of being loaded into a tractor-trailer. “When they go to the butcher, I transport them myself,” he says. “It makes a difference – the way the animals are treated.” Randy has worked exclusively by selling the meat in wedges to private individuals who buy the meat and then collect the finished product from one of the local butchers Randy books with regularly, or from a butcher of their choice if they choose. prefer to book themselves. He recently began delving into the world of meat retail, testing the waters by opening a dialogue with Java River after noticing the restaurant was serving Moon Creek Ranch beef. Due to the retirement of the ranch owners, Java River was left without a local beef supplier. Randy initiated the conversation as he visited the restaurant for coffee and breakfast one morning and said the owners of Java River were excited about the prospect.
To sell local beef to a restaurant, the meat must be processed differently, through a USDA inspection and grading facility. Randy worked with a facility in Grove City to accomplish what needs to be done to sell the beef in a retail setting and called the meat “quality beef” in reference to the fact that the meat is raised naturally, but not labeled “Natural”. “I don’t raise enough cattle to have a meat market, so the main idea is that I will retail a bit, and people will try the meat and want to buy more of it by my middle ground,” he says. The first retail meat was delivered to Java River recently, and last week the restaurant launched the new local beef offering to great reviews. “Mary told me I had to find a way to advertise a little better. People don’t always think of buying meat directly from a farmer. They go to the grocery store and they pay the middleman, and they pay the packer, they pay everyone else. In rural Minnesota, especially, as it is now with the few remaining cattle feeders, it makes a big difference for us when we sell it direct from the farm,” says Randy.
The work also comes with rewards, and for Randy, that mostly comes in the form of feedback from the people buying the meat. “It’s fun to hear people talk about it,” he says, telling the story of a customer who approached him at a basketball game to tell him that the meat she bought him was the best she had ever had. “To hear this stuff. I like. It’s worth it.
Of course, in addition to the volatile beef cattle market, there are also the challenges associated with being tied to a herd that you can’t leave for long. “You know, I never thought about feeder cattle, really. I thought my dad had rocks in his head to feed the cattle because it ties you up. You have to be there every day twice a day to feed them every day, and there are only a limited number of people you can do this or trust to do it for you. says Randy. It is because he has the help of his brother and a trusted neighbor that he can take time off, as well as the system he has put in place of having the majority of the cattle to be slaughtered d ‘by the end of December, which makes time in January and February with a small herd to be able to plan a vacation. “One thing dad told me shortly before he died was to remember to have fun. I think that was something he kinda regretted,” Randy says.
Randy knows he couldn’t do this without the help of his neighbor Kevin. “I couldn’t do it without his help. Every time we load cattle, every time I have a problem, every time I need more than my two hands, I have it. It’s vital,” says Randy. Randy’s mother, Bev Knutson, also works with the company, tending to the books, calling customers and following up on payments. “She’s a very important part of my job,” says Randy.
As he moves into the next phase of beef cattle production by establishing his retail business, Randy also knows his decision to take over the family business was a good one. “There are still things I don’t know, but I know enough. I’m happy with this move and it’s been quite successful so far, even when some of the other markets were down,” he says. Quality beef from Knutson Farms is currently on the menu at Java River, and Randy notes that he will work with the restaurant to ensure beef is on the menu for any specials happening for summer events in the yard and more.