Mark and Marsha Patterson, Gilman, IA
(M&M Patterson Farms American Blues)
Jacob Patterson and Kristen Beltz, Gilman, IA
(County Line Blues)
American Blue Cattle
About the Operations
M&M Patterson Farms American Blues and County Line Blues are American Blue cattle operations in Gilman, Iowa that feature two generations of cattle breeders.
M&M Patterson Farms American Blues
A Generational Love of Cattle
The Patterson's love of cattle began with Mark's father and Jacob's grandfather, Frank Patterson. Mark followed closely in the farming and livestock raising footsteps of his father. Growing up on the farm found Mark eagerly helping out with chores and following closely behind his dad.
"I used to go into the machine shed and rub grease and dirt on my jeans so I'd would look like my dad," commented Mark. It was Frank who encouraged Mark to develop a small herd with the 4-H heifers he showed at the county fair. Mark Patterson began farming in 1980 after graduating from Ellsworth Community College. He married his wife, Marsha, in 1983. Having grown up on a farm herself, Marsha had no problem jumping in and working together with Mark caring for their small herd and farming the family's acres. Eventually they added two children to their family: Jacob, who farms and raises his own cattle herd alongside Mark and Marsha with his fiancee Kristen Beltz and daughter Amaya, and Erin, a high school junior active in 4-H showing cattle, swine, and meat goats.
But how does an Iowa farm family with a small crossbred cattle herd become interested in the American Blue Breed? The American Blue breed is relatively new to the United States in comparison to many other breeds, but it's gaining popularity, a fact that did not escape the Patterson's notice.
"After watching a TV program about the American Blue Cattle, we really became interested in adding this breed to our cattle herd." said Marsha. "We started researching the breed and finding breeders in the state of Iowa. They are very impressive looking and caught our attention right away." The Pattersons purchased their first American Blue bull in 2007 and immediately began breeding him to their crossbred cows. They were very impressed with the calves that resulted from the match.
"We loved the extra muscling and the docile nature of the calves," said Marsha. "Each year we kept the best heifers as replacements and the steers were raised to sell to our meat customers." Within a few years almost all of their female carried a percentage of American Blue in them.
Last fall, the Pattersons decided to incorporate even more American Blue genetics into their herd with the purchase of one fullblood cow and three fullblood heifers. They also purchased a high percentage heifer from a breeder in Kansas. The Pattersons' favorite time of year is calving season, and this year will be no exception.
"Our favorite part of working with the cattle is in the spring of the year when the babies start hitting the ground," stated Mark. He shares that the arrival of each calf is met with much anticipation. "I love seeing if the breeding match ups of bull to cow produce the exceptional traits we're looking for in our calves."
"We are very anxious to see the babies that these new bloodlines will produce," Marsha commented. The Pattersons have done their homework and are passionate about their herd. "Our beef customers today are looking for a healthier product, and that is what we strive to give them. Blue beef is lower in fat and cholesterol than chicken breast and higher in protein than regular beef or chicken. These calves have a higher feed efficiency and yield a greater percentage of carcass weight in retail product. Our calves routinely dress out at 70-74%."
The Pattersons recently began exhibiting cattle at the National American Blue Show in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is the premier American Blue show in the U.S., and but it offers a unique challenge to families like the Patterons - it takes place right in the middle of fall harvest.
"At first, I was against taking these cattle to a show that was during harvest," admits Marsha. "But it was so much fun watching the cattle that we have raised do so well at the national show." That doesn't mean that making it work is easy. Because the show is during harvest season, the family has to split up to get everything accomplished. This means Mark stays home to continue the harvest while Marsha, Erin, Jacob and Kristen take the cattle to the show. But somehow, they make it work.
"Family is so important to us, and I am so proud of the way we all work together to get this done," said Marsha. Although they could not all be in the same place at the same time, the family found creative ways to stay in touch during the show.
"I was receiving updates and pictures from the show via text message while I was in the combine," said Mark. He admits he could hardly contain his enthusiasm upon hearing that daughter Erin had won the showmanship class. And the wins just kept coming. His favorite heifer won her class and went on to win Reserve Grand Champion High Percentage Female. His steer was named Reserve Grand Champion Market Steer.
Erin, 17, enjoys showing their cattle at the Poweshiek County Fair and spent quite a bit of time in the winner's circle this year, bringing home Champion American Blue Heifer, Grand Champion Carcass Beef, and Reserve Champion Production Market Beef honors.
"I am now hooked," Marsha readily admits. "Last year I was there to keep things organized and running smoothly for the kids, but this year I am looking forward to showing one of the heifers myself." The Pattersons plan to show in Tulsa this fall as well. Undoubtedly, social media will again play a role in keeping the family connected.
Sources: http://www.belgianblue.org/history.html, http://www.americanbluecattle.org/history.php
County Line Blues
The Next Generation
Mark and Marsha's son, Jacob Patterson of County Line Blues, began building his American Blue herd in the summer of 2014 when he purchased two full-blood American Blue bottle calves.
Jacob, like his father before him, has been around livestock his whole life and personally takes care of his cattle every day, working hard to be sure they are safe and healthy. Managing the herd is a family affair. Jacob and his fiancé, Kristen, chore together every morning. Although Kristen did not come from a farming background, she loves living on the farm and helping care for the livestock with him.
"My parents have been a crucial source of support and knowledge for getting the business off the ground and offering their assistance in any way they can," acknowledges Jacob. And in watching how things were progressing with their American Blues, he made the decision to invest in the breed himself.
"What I like about American Blues is that they are docile in temperament and have a shorter gestation period," Jacob said. He was also drawn to their ability to produce lean meat. "They have significantly leaner meat while still rivaling the flavor and tenderness of fattier meat, and they have a very high hanging carcass yield."
Not only that, he said, but the breed is impressive to look at. "They are a visually stunning breed because of their unique muscling. They naturally have more muscle fibers, but they are thinner fibers, providing a lean, tender meat."
"The main goal of our operation is developing high-quality breeding stock," explains Jacob. He, along with his fiancee Kristen Beltz and her daughter Amaya, strives to breed for high-quality, low birth-weight bulls and heifers to reduce unnecessary stress on the calves and mothers." Patterson stated that one of their main priorities is treating their animals with respect in a nurturing environment. From the day they are born, each animal is treated like valuable members of the Patterson family. family. "We strategize as much as possible to ensure each heifer or cow is bred to a bull that will not give her a bigger calf than her body can handle."
Every day on the farm is different, and Patterson enjoys each stage of the herd's development. "The days leading up to the birth of a calf are always so exciting and suspenseful!" he said. "It's also fun to learn the different personalities each cow, calf, or bull have. The docile nature of our animals allows us to have a close relationship with them which is a very rewarding feeling."
"We breed to produce bulls that any cattle operation can purchase and bring into their bloodlines to create better quality market steers," he said. "We would like to see our breed utilized more in the meat industry. The Blues are a cost effective way to naturally lower fat content, higher yield percentages, and a flavorful addition to the other breeds already popular on the market.
One can tell that this isn't just about market value, however. You can sense the pride and amusement as Patterson shares stories of happenings around the farm. One of his favorite stories involves the day their young bull, Buford, escaped from the pasture he'd recently been moved to. Jacob, who hauls loads for the trucking branch of M&M Farms, was away on a transport. When Kristen went out to do chores, she discovered a large hole in the wire fence - and no bull in the pasture. Shortly after Marsha came out to help look for him, the neighbor called wondering if they were missing a bull. They found Buford in the neighbor’s backyard using a pine tree as a scratching post. Marsha put a makeshift halter on him and led him out of the yard. He went willingly back to his home. Needless to say, the pasture received a new electric fencer that day.
Patterson states that their biggest cheerleaders have been the families, the American Blue Cattle Association, and each other.
"There isn’t a single one of them that wouldn’t drop what they’re doing to help you, whether it is lending a hand, giving advice, or just a little input," he said. "We are surrounded by people who want us to succeed."