Grass-fed beef a product of five different breeds
Jerry Januschka cut his teeth on a farm just one-half mile south of his current location northeast of Little Falls, on a dairy and hog farm. After graduating from Little Falls High School and North Dakota State University, he taught agriculture education for one year in Melrose and two years in Pierz.
He and his wife, Jackie, were living with their three daughters on five acres in the country. They started raising 100 chickens.
The farm crisis of the early 1980s hit about the time Januschka was looking for a job in the agriculture industry. Instead, he started working in financial services.
A move brought the family a few miles closer to Januschka’s parents, so he could help his dad farm.
“Our farm was originally 124 acres ,” he said. “Later on we bought 134 acres of what had been part of my grandparents’ home farm, which we had been renting.”
A farm next door came up for sale, and the Januschkas bought all 280 acres. Then they purchased the remaining 26 acres of his grandparents’ farm from a cousin.
Their operation also includes parts of a farm near Freedhem, where they graze and finish steers.
“We are pretty close to 690 acres,” he said.
While doing estate planning in the mid-1990s, Jerry was referred to a retired doctor who wanted to guarantee that her farm would remain organic after her death.
“When I asked her why, she explained that she had been in obstetrics and moved into environmental medicine,” he said. “She told me that with all the chemicals we are exposed to, ‘What’s coming down the pike is not pretty.’”
That was the piece of information that finally convinced Januschka to transition the farm to organic production. It was fully converted by 2000, when Gene Thompson began working for him.
The farm produces corn, soybeans, barley and camelina (an ancient oil crop first used by the Egyptians.) The non-genetically modified soybeans are grown with no-till methods such as flame weeding, a tine weeder and a rotary hoe. Soybean fields are prepared the fall before when rye is planted there.
“We plant soybeans into the rye, and the mat of rye keeps weeds down,” Januschka said.
Things didn’t turn out perfectly the first time, but Januschka said, “It takes experience; keep trying. We don’t care what the neighbors think; they already thought we were wacky. The biggest compliment is having neighbors come to ask what we’re doing.”
Januschka also breeds and raises beef cattle. “Grass-fed beef is high in Omega-3s, among other things,” he said. “We saw the benefits and started raising five Angus cows and four calves on green grass.”
“The hamburger was very lean and the roasts had good flavor, but the steaks were too tough,” said Januschka. “When we looked into it, we realized that we were taking animals bred to finish on corn.”
While reading an issue of “Grass Farmer” magazine, he read about Teddy Gentry (of the band “Alabama”), who had bred cattle for the tenderness of their meat.
“I called his ranch, and then went down to Alabama with Gene to find out more,” said Januschka. “Teddy had done a lot of research, and convinced me to take home some of his South Poll cattle.”
Januschka brought home two bulls and three heifers that were a combination of Red Angus and Senepol crossed again with a cross of the Barzona and Hereford breeds. The new breed is called South Poll and they are heat-tolerant.
“They had never been this far north before, so we brought them up in March, giving them time to acclimate before the next winter,” said Januschka. “They handle winter well, with no difference between them and the animals that were already here.”
Januschka met one of Gentry’s farmhands in Illinois the following spring in 2002 to pick up 18 more heifers.
In about 2006, Januschka met a New Hampshire farm consultant at a Thousand Hills Cattle Company grower conference. He learned about North Devon cattle from the consultant, a breed which does well on grass.
Januschka liked the fact that the North Devons were an original grass-based breed. He crossed some South Polls with North Devons but it was a disaster. “Our calving numbers dropped,” he said.
Giving it time, Januschka found that although the original North Devon bulls did not breed well, their offspring are breeding well.
“Our meat quality has changed dramatically since the first year,” he said. “The biggest thing is the tenderness of the meat.”
Januschka’s meat is processed by Thielen Meats in Pierz, Riverside Meats near Swanville and McDonald’s Meats in Clear Lake. The farm also produces pork and chicken.
Farmers in southern Minnesota and near Moorhead buy Januschka’s cattle to finish them on grass and sell directly to their customers. Many people buy animals directly from Januschka.
“The fun part for me is the challenge and the learning,” Januschka said. “We all learned the hard way. People going at it now will find organic farming easier.”
For more information, call Januschka at (320) 630-4156.