BERNE, Ind. — Beer Farms and Cattle Co. in Adams County, Indiana has been in the Beer family since 1891. From vision to details, Max and Karen Beer and their sons Keith and Craig have shaped its future with hard work and family values. Their passion for raising quality dairy cattle is built on a commitment to high standards for their care, leading by example with their employees, using conservation practices to protect the land, and finding fulfillment in relationships within agriculture and their surrounding community.
Last month Max and Karen Beer were recognized as 2020 Indiana Master Farmers.
Purdue University Extension ag educator Brad Kohlhagen nominated them. According to Indiana Prairie Farmer, Kohlhagen described the Beers this way: “The ability of the family to work together, along with their faith in God, has proven to be the reason Beer Farms Inc. has survived, succeeded and continues to grow. They would be considered one of the most proficient livestock farming operations. Whether it is at the local 4-H fair or greeting them at a county ag workshop, the way they conduct business and their work ethic is unmatched.”
As Udder Comfort customers, our visits to their farm over the past five years impress with clean facilities, comfortable cattle, quiet handling and continual monitoring. Equally important, the work ethic. Everyone is always busy!
Always wanting to improve, they keep raising the bar and looking ahead to what’s next for their farm and for the farms around them in their community. That kind of vision has enabled the Beers to fill a niche market they are well suited for.
At Beer Cattle Co., 2500 heifers are typically on feed at all times, as well as steers. They breed in pens of 250, and they calve around 250 dairy heifers every month — getting them started milking three weeks before they go to new homes.
This is one of the most important jobs on a dairy farm, and the Beer family has made it their daily year-round focus, supplying larger dairies with trouble-free two-year-olds in milk.
Keith focuses on the cattle and Craig on the crops, but the brothers each know the other’s work responsibilities and enterprise goals. Their families and their sisters’ families all live within four miles of the farm.
Whether working as a team to cover bunkers after silage is chopped or individually preparing and showing Holstein Baby Beef to multi-year championships at the county fairs and Indiana State Fair, the fifth generation — Max and Karen’s grandchildren — are coming up through the ranks to enjoy farming together, working with cattle and finding satisfaction in starting quality dairy animals that do well in their new homes.
“No place else can you enjoy working with family like on the farm. When these kids grow up, they learn how to work together. There’s a lot of lessons taught here that you can’t teach out of a book,” says Max in a recent video interview by Holstein USA.
“My wife Vanessa and I have known Max and Karen for over 30 years. We met at a time when they were very involved with the registered Holstein business and especially Registered Red and White Holsteins of which Max served on the National board and was a pivotal guiding light for their association,” notes longtime friend and colleague Chuck Worden of Wormont Dairy, Cassville, New York. “We were getting started in marketing genetics, and Max assisted in our endeavors of marketing and leadership.
“Max’s skills as a leader and mentor are as intense as anyone I’ve ever met,” Worden adds. He and Max served on the national Holstein board together, Max is a past president of the U.S. Red and White Cattle Association and Chuck a past president of Holstein USA.. “Max’s decisive manner and attention to detail are second to none, and he motivates and inspires all who come in contact with him in life, business and, of course, family. I’ve personally learned how to be a better husband, father, grandfather, dairyman and leader for my time spent with Max, Karen and their entire family.”
Max is a doer, and quiet actions speak. Doug Leman, Indiana Dairy Producers executive director relates a story a year ago, when a family in another community lost every building on their dairy farm in a tornado, “Max showed up that Sunday night, made some phone calls, and semis started showing up to haul cattle,” Lehman relates. “Max spent the whole night working with them, sorting, separating and finding a home by the next morning for nearly 1,000 cows. I spoke with Max later. His comment was, ‘That’s just what you do.’”
Beer Farm was purchased by Max’s grandfather in 1891, and Max’s father started with the dairy cows. Max has loved cows his entire life. When he was in high school, he took over the milking and management of his father’s 20-cow herd. After his training in the Army Reserves, he and Karen married in 1969 and began building their future on the farm, modernizing the dairy with a milking parlor in the 1970s and adding land and cattle over the years.
Eventually, they shifted from a commercial Holstein dairy to one that supplies other dairies with milking heifers. Through that, their passion for the Holstein cow has continued.
Calves are raised on the farm, and 200 to 250 calve into the milking routine every month. The Beers get them started for the first three weeks of milking before they go to their new homes.
“Our main objective here is to raise good cattle to supply the big dairies, that’s our niche market,” says Max. “Getting them going is a job, and a job that a lot of the bigger dairies don’t want to do, or they aren’t able to raise enough heifers, so we fill in.”
The heifer barn houses 1000 head, and the groups move together from nursery to growers to breeders, to gestation, to pre-fresh. In 2014, they built a new milking parlor and modernized the freestalls, moving to “just in time” calving. This area of the operation includes a veterinary-herdsman office and hospital area for surgeries, embryo transplants and other procedures.
Special newborn nursery rooms are designed for close monitoring and care of calves in their first few hours of life, and they designed a group calf barn for maximum ventilation and light, which is equipped with automated feeders.
The operation has video monitoring throughout the facilities and uses heat-detection activity and rumination monitoring collars.
From newborn calf to milking two-year-old, this is the family’s specialty, and it suits their desire to work with cattle.
“Getting heifers going is a job, and it’s a job that a lot of the bigger dairies don’t want to do, or they aren’t able to raise enough heifers, so we fill in,” Max relates. “Nothing makes us feel better than to get a call from a dairy after getting a load of cattle saying they were really good.”
Along with the technology to monitor through all stages, Max loves driving through the barns checking the cattle himself – something Keith can be found doing early in the morning and late at night while also using the monitoring data available to him on the computer.
“We use the best bulls and breed for good type heifers giving a lot of milk,” Max says simply of their genetic goals in the commercial setting.
“As dairies continue to get more milk per cow, we find ways to supply them with heifers that continue to get more milk. Udder Comfort is part of that,” Keith confirms. “Getting those post-calving udders softer, faster, for more milk is why we use it on all of our heifers before, and mostly after calving.”
In 2015, the Beers did comparisons. “We saw softer, more pliable udders with better flow and a 3 to 4 pound production increase by 14 days in milk,” he explains. “The Udder Comfort Backpack, which operates manually, is great for doing groups of pre-fresh heifers in stalls or headlocks, and the Spray Gun, on compressed air, we like for in the parlor. For us, a combination is idea. We apply Udder Comfort once a day for 2 days before calving and 2x/day for 3 to 5 days after calving.”
Employees are proud to use it, according to Keith. He says it’s like anything else, if they see the value, see how a task makes things better for the cow and for the milking process, they make it a priority.
Through it all, the Beers have been able to create a culture of quality care among their employees who take pride in the milking process knowing that the end-product is quality milk, and also the health, comfort, and quality of the animals in their care.
Talking cattle, there’s a mix of pride and humility. “We try to do our best to produce an animal that will do her best when she leaves here,” Keith affirms.
There’s no secret to that formula, it mostly comes down to attention and details and to humbly enjoy the challenges that come with it.
We appreciate working with the Beers over the past five years, with respect for the values, insights, and quality cattle they have contributed every day for generations.
Congratulations to the Beer family: 2020 Indiana Master Farmers
We are grateful to be a part of their quality management.
— By Sherry Bunting