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At Deana Jak Herefords, a 4-H project became a business

Jenna Hurty Published on 12 November 2014
Austin, Andre and Ethan Howe

For most people, 4-H is a fun activity during childhood and through high school. For Austin Howe and his five younger siblings, it has turned into much more than that.

Their project, Hereford cattle, not only took over their family’s 12-acre farm, forcing them to buy a second farm, it is now a full-time job for the two oldest, Austin and Andre. The rest of their siblings are still actively involved, as well, when they aren’t in school.

The name Deana Jak is an acronym which their mother, Jenny, originated. She wanted something that would represent the family since they’re all involved in the enterprise.

The “D” is for their father, Doug, and the four following letters are the first letters of the boys’ names – Ethan, Austin, Nigel and Andre. Jak is arranged in the same manner with the “J” representing their mother, Jenny, and the other two letters representing the girls – Aleesha and Kaia.

When the family first bought the farm in 2005, they hired a farm manager to oversee the operation. At the time, none of the children were old enough to run the farm, and this second farm was in New Enterprise, Pennsylvania, which was three hours away from their home farm in Wagontown, Pennsylvania.

When he graduated high school five years ago, Austin moved to the farm and began to take a more active role in its daily operation.

“This has just been a whirlwind awesome experience for me over the past few years,” says Austin. “I mean I was pretty much fresh out of high school when I first started taking real responsibilities at the farm, even though there was a manager here.”

Within the next few years, his younger brother Andre joined him on the farm and the two of them took over managing the operation.

The farm is a little more than 300 acres on which they run about 120 purebred Hereford cow-calf pairs. All of the cows are on pasture. Using a rotational grazing system, they are able to feed their cattle solely on pasture 10 months out of the year.

During part of the winter and for a few weeks every summer when pasture re-growth slows down, they will supplement feed with corn silage, haylage and timothy hay. Due to the short duration they feed these supplements, it works better for them to buy these supplements rather than raise it themselves and sacrifice valuable pasture.

Austin explained that rather than learn pasture management on their own through trial and error, they talked to other producers in the area to see what worked for them. From there they devised a plan and began a rotational grazing system. Their cattle are divided into three groups based on age, breeding and calving time.

These groups are rotated between eight pastures of 30 to 40 acres each and will stay in a pasture anywhere from 15 to 30 days depending on the time of year and the forage growth. The four bulls they keep on the farm are supplement-fed since there isn’t enough pasture acreage to pasture-feed them as well.

From the time they began showing cattle in the late ’90s, quality was a main focus. Over the years, that goal has not wavered, leading them into the world of A.I., flushing and in vitro fertilization (IVF).

These techniques have enabled the Howes to genetically improve their herd so they breed quality animals that will not only do well in a show ring but will also make excellent breeding stock for a producer.

In order to diversify the Hereford gene pool, the Howes try to keep a balance between breeding to bulls people have heard of without breeding to the popular bulls everyone else is using.

To help accomplish this, they own bulls in Canada and Australia in addition to the three breeding bulls they keep on their farm. The fourth bull on the farm is a “gomer” bull used for heat detection.

Over the years, the Howes have selected for animals with more moderate frames in order to increase the feed efficiency of the animal.

Many of the production sale buyers are looking for heifers or cow-calf pairs. To meet these demands, they use sexed semen and IVF to achieve a calf ratio of around 75 percent female and 25 percent male.

The bulls are pulled off pasture after weaning due to the limited pasture space. Until they are around 1,200 pounds, the bulls receive 6 pounds of a 14 percent protein, 3 percent fat and 14 percent fiber grain in addition to 30 pounds of corn silage and 20 pounds of haylage. They are then sold between 15 and 18 months.

Show cattle are also pulled off pasture shortly before leaving for a show to get them adjusted to being in a show situation. During this time, these cattle are given a textured feed and hay diet. Doing this also gives them a little extra show “shine” for the event.

In addition to their busy show schedule, the Howes also host two production sales each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. At 150 to 300 buyers, the fall sale is by far the bigger one.

The Howes alone provide 25 to 35 lots for the sale, but other local producers contribute cattle as well, bringing the total to between 50 and 55 lots. Most of them are weaned heifer calves or cow-calf pairs, but the Howes will throw in a couple of bulls as well, since producers like to see bulls in the fall.

Although the sale has grown since it started four years ago, the Howes still emphasize quality over quantity and are somewhat selective about which producers may bring animals. In past years, they have managed the sales themselves but will hire a sales manager for future sales.

Since Deana Jak cattle have won shows all over the Northeast and as far west as Kansas, it’s no wonder they have shipped cattle to 13 different states including Colorado.

They have also sent embryos as far away as Australia and South Africa. With these accomplishments already under their belts, its no surprise that Austin, his parents and his siblings look forward to growing their business and to the future of Deana Jak Farm.  FG

Austin, Andre and Ethan Howe prepare show cattle for a national competition as part of their marketing strategy. Photo by Jenna Hurty.