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North Dakota ranchers diversify cattle operation by offering home-grown beef

After seeing a demand for home-grown beef in the market and more consumers wanting to know where their food comes from, the Elstons decided to diversify their Angus cattle operation and sell hormone- and antibiotic-free beef products.

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Wesley and Michele Elston have begun offering home-grown beef to consumers. Photo taken March, 22, 2021, Spiritwood, N.D. (Emily Beal / Agweek)

With more and more consumers wanting to know where their food comes from, the Elston family decided it was time to open their ranch directly to the consumer, allowing them to buy home-grown beef, straight from their Spiritwood, N.D., homestead.

“My husband and I decided to take our cattle that we have been raising and we feed our family with it. Our family and friends have been wanting our products, and so we decided to take it from just selling whole animals to selling beef products,” Michele Elston said.

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The Elstons made the decision to offer home-grown beef as a way to diversity their certified angus beef cattle operation. Photo taken March, 22, 2021, Spiritwood, N.D. (Emily Beal / Agweek)

The Elstons had previously been selling quarters, halves and wholes of their homegrown Angus beef, but saw a demand and decided to capitalize on it by offering an array of single meats, so consumers do not have to purchase their beef in bulk. They offer steaks, roasts, hamburgers and more.

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This new venture has been exciting for the Elston family and they look forward to seeing their new business grow. (Contributed photo)

The cattle that the Elstons offer is hormone- and antibiotic-free; that's something their own family enjoys and is something that their consumers take comfort in.

“When we sell our product, we are selling something we are willing to feed to our own family and to our family and friends,” Michele Elston said. “People contact us knowing that we raise the animals. They wanted the product before we could offer it to them.”

The Elstons have a retail sales license that allows them to sell their product within the state of North Dakota. The beef that they market for consumption comes directly from their registered Angus beef herd.

They have been focusing on marketing their product, advertising their home-grown beef around the state on billboards in heavily populated cities, including Fargo.

"They have gotten people talking," Wesley Elston said about the billboards.

The cattle are taken to slaughter around 18-20 months. Wesley Elston believes this allows for their meat to be at the utmost quality.

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The Elstons now offer an array of different types of beef to their customers. Photo taken March, 22, 2021, Spiritwood, N.D. (Emily Beal / Agweek)

“That allows those animals to maximize their marbling and their muscle,” Wesley Elston said. “We sent a group of steers to a slaughter plant and we were graded 30% prime on those steers and the rest were graded choice. So this product is really, really high-quality meat.”

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The Elstons diversified their operation a little over a year ago to offer homegrown beef.

“We decided to get into this market about a year ago. We had discussed it before but never really moved forward. Then when the pandemic happened, we noticed that prices were going up on beef products, and people wanted to know where their beef was coming from,” Michele Elston said.

While they have been enjoying the new venture, there have been some challenges along the way, such as storing their product and getting into the butcher. The Elstons book out their butchering appointments anywhere from a year to 14 months in advance. They believe it is important to have a good relationship with their butcher and strong communication with them.

The Elstons hope to be able to sell in stores in the future. However, you can find their homegrown beef products online at Elstonbeef.com . But for now, they are happy to be offering a product that they feed their own family and that they are proud of.

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The Elstons are certified to sell their product anywhere in the state of North Dakota. Photo taken March, 22, 2021, Spiritwood, N.D. (Emily Beal / Agweek)

“I really stress the home-raised and that part of it should be appealing to people. It comes from the state, it's raised here and you know where it is coming from,” Wesley Elston said.

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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