Calving is a twice-a-year event for Henry Beel and his brothers Adam and Frank, who have a cow-calf operation 10 miles southwest of Johnstown in north central Nebraska. Their father started the practice so the sons who now operate as Beel Brothers LLC have been doing it all their lives.
“It helps us spread out the bull expense and we are able to have a different market also,” Henry Beel explains. “And it helps us make better use of our time” to have calves born in September and October as well as March and April.
Fall calving is easier, Henry says, for both the animals and the rancher. The cows are checked once a day and weather isn’t usually a problem.
Spring calving is much more hands-on. “They (cows) have got to be closer to the corral because if you get a late spring snow storm, we have to protect the calves. We’re out there 24 hours a day watching the cows and calves, to make sure the calves get up and get their first milk and make sure they don’t get too cold.
“It means basically being with the cow when she calves to make sure that calf is going to live,
whether it means taking them inside the barn or getting them some milk from a bottle to get them started so they have healthy lives.”
It’s hard work but Henry likes it: “I enjoy being there to tag the calves (when they’re born) and watch each calf grow through their life cycle.”
The Beel Brothers age- and source-verify their Black Angus-cross calves. They either retain ownership of the calves when they go to the feedlot or sell them locally at the sale born.
Henry’s grandfather started the family operation when he leased 3,000 acres in 1936. Other parcels of land were purchased and added over the years, including sub-irrigated meadows and hay ground. Today Beel Brothers supports the three brothers and their families, and their mother, Becky Schelm and her husband.
The Beels typically put up 5,000 1,375-pound round bales of hay, but not this year. With only four inches of rain since May 1, they topped out at 3,700 bales. “We’re going to have to rely on our 2011 carryover bales,” Henry says, to get through the winter.
Henry and his wife Mary have been married for 13 years. They were classmates in high school and after Mary left for college, her father – who delivered fuel to the Beels – made sure the two young people knew what the other was up to.
Henry and Mary have three children. Henry K is 11; he’s a sixth grader and in his third year of 4-H. Hannah, 5, is in kindergarten and involved in 4-H Clover Kids and dance. Holden is 4 and goes to pre-school. They all attend Ainsworth Community Schools, 22 miles away from the ranch. The Beels often make the trip to town twice a day, for example when Henry coaches Henry K’s flag football team.
Many ranching families move to town to be closer to their children’s schools, but the Beels won’t be one of them. “I don’t ever want to move to town. When people do that, their kids aren’t involved in the ranch after high school,” he says. “So we’ll put in the driving.”
That’s fine with Henry K. He helps gather up the cows on horseback, puts out salt for them, can run the tractor and rake hay. He wants to be a cow-calf man.
“I tell him that’s fine, but you’re going to college first,” his Dad says.
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