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.
WILMONT, Minn. — When brothers Russ and Brian Penning started Summit Lake Livestock about 15 years ago, they did so as a way to get their own start on the larger Penning Farms operation southeast of Wilmont.
The two began by buying day-old Holstein bottle calves and, as the venture grew, they renovated several vacated hog barns on an uncle’s farmsite, added two hoop barns on that same site, and built two more hoop barns on the farm where they grew up.
On the State Cattlemen’s Tour, the Pennings will showcase the hog barns they converted for cattle production.
“The barns were at a stage in their life that they needed everything,” shared Russ. Doing the work mostly on their own, they gutted the buildings, installing new electrical components and custom beams in the floors, as well as replacing the slats. A pair of calf barns feature two different growing systems — one with open pens where calves roam freely; the other with individual calf crates.
“If I had to do it over, I’d do it over in a heartbeat,” Russ said of converting the barns from hogs to cattle production. “This was a way for us to expand into existing facilities we already had. The costs weren’t huge, but the return to the farm is greater.”
The brothers, with help from their families, pail-feed milk replacer to young calves and finish out cattle on a corn silage, high moisture corn diet, as well as some grass hay and straw.
While baby calves come in from dairies around the Midwest, Summit Lake Cattle takes in a load of 230, 200-pound calves each week from Amish farmers in Pennsylvania. With a mix of both steer and heifer calves coming in, Russ said they separate them out and keep pen sizes to about 400 to 500 head. Since they get in twice as many cattle as they need to keep their lots full, they sell 800 head about every eight weeks — mostly to neighboring farmers.
Those kept to finishing weights are marketed primarily to Cargill in Schuyler, Neb., and DemKota in Aberdeen, S.D.
The Summit Lake Livestock site on Cattlemen’s Tour was settled by Russ and Brian’s grandfather following World War II. Their uncle and aunt reside on the site, with the brothers each living on their own farm nearby. They are the second of three generations actively involved in the farming operation today.
Russ and his wife, Melanie, have three children: Rhett, 12, Riese, 11 and Regan, 9. Meanwhile, Brian and his wife, Angela, have five children: Courtney, 21, Morgan, 19, Hunter, 14, Garrett, 13 and Jack, 8.
“All of the kids help in some aspect of the farm,” Russ said. “Brian’s kids help with the bottle chores and little calf chores and in the shop. They’re all getting old enough to help with raking and baling.”