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published: July 13th 2017
by: Martha Hollida Garrett
source: Southern Livestock Special Edition

Productive, successful and sustainable

By Martha Hollida Garrett

J&B Farms is in the business of feeding people. Headquartered in Hondo, Texas the 10,000 plus acre farm is home to a growing beef operation, year round vegetable growing division, and commodity crop operation where they produce corn, wheat, milo and cotton. The three entities have proven to be compatible, productive and successful together, and by most definitions would be considered a sustainable agricultural operation.

David Jones, owner and manager, represents the third generation of his family involved in South Texas agriculture. After college, Jones armed with a degree in agribusiness, joined his parents in the farming of commodity crops. Their first expansion occurred shortly after with added acreage for vegetable production at the commercial level. Then later, a cow-calf segment, followed by a stocker operation would be added to J&B Farms to take advantage of the year round feed supply from the vegetable waste. The cattle division is operated under the name Jones Cattle Co.

“When I returned from college, we were raising corn, cotton and wheat,” Jones explained. “We decided to diversify and take advantage of our location in the Winter Garden Area of the state. We now grow over 10,0000 acres of produce in Hondo and Pearsall, and we have added a Panhandle division in Spearman that produces for us in the hot summer months.”

Because of their location, they are able to grow vegetables year round. The lineup includes sweet corn, green beans, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage and okra. They market their vegetables to all the major grocery store chains found in the local area. Today, J&B Farms is recognized as a major supplier to consumers across Texas and bordering states. They have a number of packing sheds at each location, primarily for their vegetables, but also for produce from a few outside growers.

“In the produce business, almost half of all your product is rejected or not acceptable by the grocery chains,” Jones said. “For example, if a squash has a scratch on it, we can’t ship it. If a green bean is broken, then it can’t be used. Any blemish, scratch or bruise on any produce is not marketable to the mainstream consumer today. People, who did not grow up on a farm, do not realize that while the product may not be perfect in appearance it is still okay. This leads to a lot of what we term as vegetable waste due to the strict requirements.”

Jones shared that the term, “sustainable” is not just a production agriculture term, but also a term used in the retail-marketing end of the grocery chains. Grocers promote how their growers take care of the land, and how they utilize practices that are sound, efficient and environmental friendly. This approach, as well as wanting to be able to capture some value from the waste, led Jones to expand the family business two more times.

“We realized we had a very useful waste product and a strong source of nutrition for cattle in the rejected produce,” he said. “It made sense from many viewpoints to utilize it.”

In 2012, a cow-calf operation was started to make use of the useful vegetable waste, followed by the stocker operation. Today, Jones Cattle Co. has the capacity to run 2,000 stockers at one time, while also caring for a herd of 800 Hereford and 150 Brahman momma cows. The two herds, even though many of the females are registered seedstock, are managed as a commercial cow-calf operation, producing F1 Brahman x Hereford calves, predominantly.

“My grandfather ran Hereford cows crossed with Brahman bulls and my wife’s family raised Herefords, so that was what led to decide on Hereford,” explained Jones. “Our location is a prime market for the F1 female and the steer counterparts are placed in our stocker operation and marketed to feedlots for Sam Kane beef.”

Since vegetables are grown and harvested year round, there’s almost a continuous supply of feed from the unmarketable vegetables. Jones and Bill Howell, the cattle division manager, work closely with a nutritionist to continually make sure the daily requirements of the cattle are met through the unmarketable vegetable waste and their forage program.

“We have 700 acres of irrigated Tifton 85 Bermuda grass that is used for grazing by the cows and stockers,” said Howell, who joined the operation in early 2016. “Almost daily, we have access to two to three semi-trailer loads of vegetable waste that we are able to spread on the ground in lines for consumption.”

Some of the field corn is also used as a feed source for the cattle, but mainly for the stockers. Some of the Bermuda grass is also converted to silage and hay to have in the rare periods of no vegetables or grass.

“Our cattle are fed what is produced here on the farm,” shared Howell.

Jones added that this is a very strong public relations point for them in the grocery chains, as it shows they are making an effort to be sustainable. Today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from, the people who grew it, as well as their management practices. In return, the grocery chains want to provide that information to their consumers.

The stocker operation is managed so that calves are kept from 60-120 days, depending on weight and market conditions. They purchase about half the calves annually from cattlemen in Florida and Mexico and the other half from local cattlemen. All the steer calves and lower-end heifer calves are placed in the stocker division, too. The calves are marketed either to nearby feedlots for Kane Beef in Corpus Christi, or to feedlots owned by Friona Industries in the Texas Panhandle.

“We want our stockers to gain at 2.5 lbs. per day on the vegetables and forage, and they routinely hit that goal,” said Howell.

The cow-calf operation is entering its fifth year. Hereford genetics were purchased from the Dudley Brothers in Texas, the Hoffman Ranch in Nebraska and Colyer Herefords in Idaho. The Brahman genetics were acquired from the Schneider Ranch in Boerne, Texas, and the V8 Ranch and J.D. Hudgins in Hungerford, Texas.

The 800 head of Hereford cows are bred to Brahman bulls, with a select group of cows bred to Hereford bulls for replacements. The Hereford heifers are bred to Gardiner Angus bulls for their first calf and then placed into the F1 producing program. The 150 Brahman cows are bred to Hereford bulls for F1s, also. And again Brahman bulls are bred to some Brahman cows for replacements.

Jones Cattle Co. maintains spring and fall calving herds with a 90-day calving season. Their spring calves arrive between February and April with the fall calves arriving in September through November. Up until this year, all natural breeding had been used in the cow-calf operation. However, this year they incorporated a limited AI breeding season, as 75 Hereford females were bred with heifer-sexed semen from a V8 bull.

They are diligent in maintaining a complete health program on all cattle. The 2016 fall calves saw the heifers weighing 555 lbs. on the average, while the steers tipped the scales at a 580 lbs. average and were weaned at five to seven months of age.

Many would consider the Jones Cattle Co. cow-calf program in its infancy, but it is making a name for itself quickly. Their F1 heifers are marketed by private treaty and through select commercial replacement female sales. Their entry at the 2017 San Antonio Stock Show Replacement Female Sale earned the first place certified F1 bred female title.
The operation markets about 350 heifers annually and some are sold as opens and some as bred females. The bred heifers are mated to Gardiner Angus bulls to calve at 24-26 months of age.

“We have repeat customers, which is always gratifying as it says our cattle worked for our customers,” shared Howell. “We also have a strong demand for our heifers and have a waiting list of buyers. We have experienced success at San Antonio and some other sales and have found that has increased the interest in all our heifers. In the future we plan to increase our participation in these types of select sales.”

Jones also credits their participation in these special sales for building demand. “It really is a great way to get your name out and promote your cattle,” Jones said, “plus these sales establish a value for your cattle that helps market them at home.”

Jones, along with his wife, Ginger, and daughters, Elizabeth and Hannah are helping to continue the family operation into the future. They are doing it through diverse entities that are compatible, productive long-term, and successful in terms of their bottom line and in the quest to be sustainable.

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