Editor's note: This is part of a series of eight features on Minnesota cattle operations that will be part of the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association 2021 Summer Beef Tour and Trade Show, scheduled for July 13. For more information on the tour, visit https://www.mnsca.org.

LUVERNE, Minn. — Brothers Grant and Eric Binford began farming together when they were in junior high, getting their start with a few cows and some pigs and working alongside their dad.

“We used dad’s equipment and provided labor to him,” shared Grant, “but we were never part of his operation.”

When the elder Binfords, Lowell and his wife, Mary Beth, retired in the 1990s, Grant and Eric took over the home farm and expanded both the cattle and hog operations. They remained in hogs until seven years ago, and now focus on corn production and cattle — Holstein and western (native) breeds.

“Eric takes care of crop production and the book work, and my role is running the feedlot and managing the labor,” Grant shared.

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Grant Binford stands outside one of the cattle barns on his family's farm. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)
Grant Binford stands outside one of the cattle barns on his family's farm. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)
Their cattle feedlot includes several monoslope bedding barns, the first of which was built in 2000, just before they began feeding out Holstein calves.

“That’s where a lot of our growth was at,” Grant said. “We purchased 350- to 500-pound Holsteins and raised them to finish weight.”

As the brothers continued to map out a plan for growth, they had to decide between more barns or a lagoon once they reached 1,000 animal units. They opted for barns and, in the span of a decade, they increased capacity to 3,000 head.

In 2012, the Binfords built their first slatted barn, adding a second slat barn three years later to expand their operation by another 3,500 head of cattle. Both barns feature rubber mats, which reduce injuries compared to being on concrete.

Today, their Holsteins come primarily from the Texas panhandle and New Mexico, and are marketed to plants in Green Bay, Wisconsin, while their traditional beef breeds come from the Dakotas and Montana.

Grant said they chose Holsteins as a way to leverage the extra investment in their buildings, as the price for feeders was more attractive at the time their buildings were constructed.

Holsteins were the cattle breed of choice for the Binfords in the early 2000s, and now they raise a mix of both Holsteins and native cattle. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)
Holsteins were the cattle breed of choice for the Binfords in the early 2000s, and now they raise a mix of both Holsteins and native cattle. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)
Holsteins are less able to handle weather stress, so they benefit by being under roof, he said. The buildings also give the Binfords an advantage in manure handling.

“Labor is a challenge,” Grant said. “We typically employ four full-time and one part-time (people).”

The Binfords and their hired help do everything from cattle feeding and manure hauling to planting, baling and harvest.

With so much manual labor occupying their time, the Binfords appreciate some of the technology available to them as producers. Four years ago the brothers incorporated cattle management software (Performance Beef, developed by Performance Livestock Analytics) on their farm, and tag most of the cattle that come into their operation. Last year they expanded to incorporate the new health features, using electronic ID tags on most of the cattle that come into their operation.

During the course of an animal’s time at the Binford farm (approximately 400 days), their tag may be read up to five or six times. Each reading gives the Binfords valuable information about the animal’s rate of gain and can also be used as a tool to manage health.

“The analytics have saved a lot of time for us on entering data,” Grant said. “From a cost standpoint for the farmer-feeder, I love the system. It gives us a lot of data that we’re missing.

“Most of us don’t have dedicated people in the office,” he added. “The last thing you want to do is come in at night and enter data.”

With the technology, the Binfords find more time to spend with their families. Grant and his wife, Rebecca, have three children: Levi, 14, Lane, 11, and Katelyn, 7, while Eric and his wife, Shari, have four children: Matthew, 18, Kierra, 15, Caleb, 12 and Shaylee, 9.

“At this stage of the game, who knows (if they’ll take over the operation),” Grant said. “We’d like to have at least a percentage of them come back and join the operation.”