Gentz Cattle Company
More than two decades after threat of disease forced them to sell their entire herd of longhorn cattle, James Gentz Jr. and his father, Jimmy, restored their cattle operation.
Today, the father and son continue to raise registered Texas longhorns on their land near the Gulf Coast. In addition to selling cattle for recreational purposes, James has diversified, processing some of their cattle into beef to be sold at area farmers markets.
“With this meat business,” Gentz said, “I can double the money and sometimes triple the money,” that he would otherwise make selling a roper.
Gentz started small in the meat business, with the help of a USDA Value Added Producer Grant, and has hopes of ongoing growth and expansion as he becomes more established.
“We’ve been cattle people all our lives,” said Gentz, 55, who operates Gentz Cattle Company along with his father, Jimmy, 79, and his wife, Carol.
The Gentzes had a cattle operation in the 1960s with about 200 head of cattle. Theirs was a cow-calf operation, with the calves being sold at local markets. They expanded into the registered Texas longhorn business as a hobby. It eventually grew into far more than a hobby.
But in the early 1970s, their herd was subjected to a mandatory test for brucellosis, which is commonly referred to as Bangs disease. Any cattle that tested positive for the disease had to be sold for slaughter.
“I’m not saying the test was good or bad, but it didn’t work out for us,” Gentz said.
They sold all their cattle and some of their land and began to farm soybeans and grain sorghum. Gentz continues to farm 300 acres of rice; his father is no longer involved in farming crops.
In 1979, however, the Gentz’s decided to revive their cattle operation, and by the mid-1990s had a herd that was similar in size to their herd in the early 1970s. In addition to the 300 acres of rice that Gentz farms, they own and lease an additional 600 acres of pasture.
“We own some of our own land, and when we could find pasture available we would go out and rent the pasture and then we’d increase (our herd),” Gentz said. But land prices have “gone too high” in Texas, he said, making it difficult to make any money from rented land.
Additionally, he has struggled in his efforts to find buyers for the company’s registered Texas longhorns, despite seeking out buyers through expanded advertising efforts throughout Texas. Longhorns, he said, are “a specialty and a novelty,” limiting the number of people who are willing and able to buy the animals.
In 2005, Gentz began to sell some of his calves to be harvested, saying he wanted to increase the value of his animals. A calf sold for recreational purposes, such as for roping, sells for $350. He can earn double or triple that amount by selling the same calf for meat.
After securing an agreement with a USDA-certified processing facility and completing other state and federal requirements, Gentz had some of his cattle processed and began selling meat at area farmers' markets. Business has been good, he said, with Gentz Cattle Company beef selling well among new and repeat customers.
Gentz secured a USDA Value Added Producer Grant in 2007 to pay for the processing of his cattle, travel, advertisements for his products and other office supplies – “anything that did with the advertisements and processing part of the animals,” he said.
As he launched his latest venture, Gentz faced two challenges, which he said proved to be more difficult to overcome than the challenges he had faced in selling his calves.
To sell individual cuts of beef, he needed to find a USDA-approved facility that could process his animals. But finding a facility that was within a reasonable distance of his home was the problem.
“For me, that was a big deal to find a facility close enough that would be profitable enough for me to do,” he said.
Gentz visited three or four processors within a 150-mile radius of his home and finally found one that was able to take his small-scale business, and that wasn’t so far away that the cost of fuel would negate any profit.
Another speed bump, however, developed as he worked with the USDA and the state of Texas to create an approved packaging label that would be affixed to each cut of Gentz Cattle Company meat. It took several weeks of back-and-forth discussions with the state’s USDA inspector before he was able to finalize a label.
“Those, to me, were two of the biggest drawbacks in trying to sell individual packages of this meat,” Gentz said.
Gentz’s meat business is a small operation, but he has specific goals in mind for increasing output and expanding his distribution network beyond farmers' markets.
He has already looked into several specialty food stores about the potential of carrying his product, but questions whether he has the ability to service such a store with his current production levels. “That’s one of the reasons we haven’t really jumped in there and gotten after it that strong,” he said.
Gentz brings about two to four cows to the processing plant at a time to be harvested. He plans to increase his efforts to the point of harvesting two cows weekly, or about 100 cows annually, “and I could increase from there.” His long-term goal is to process 300 cows annually.
Achieving that end, however, would possibly involve an increase in the size of his herd. But it also comes down to the weight of his animals. Not all of the cows in his herd are 100 percent grass fed because he can’t get enough weight on them to market them as such. He supplements with feed and would need to increase the number whose diets are supplemented.
“That would be a challenge,” Gentz said.
About USDA VAPG
VAPG funding has been offered by the USDA periodically since the early 2000s. A new round of funding is anticipated to be announced in the coming months. To be considered value added, projects must show how products are differentiated in specific ways from commodity crops. Typically, projects must also show how they may deliver greater returns to producers.
Independent producers, farmer or rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and producer-owned business ventures, including non-profit organizations, may apply. In previous cycles, applicants were required to be producers of the raw commodity who will maintain ownership of that commodity through the process of creating a value-added product. Grants have been available for planning projects (such as marketing and business plans and feasibility studies) and working capital projects (which might include wages or packaging supplies). (http://www.rd.usda.gov/)