by Jon M. Casey
For Victor and Gina Woskob, converting an existing, dormant dairy facility into a thriving beef feedlot seemed like the ideal way to grow their family’s Countryside Farm near Port Matilda, PA. Having moved back to central Pennsylvania from Boynton Beach, FL, where they owned and operated a site contracting business, the Woskobs purchased this farm in December 2012. Since then, they have been fulfilling their dream of returning to farming after their time in the South.
The Woskob’s first project was the completion of Gina’s Countryside Equestrian Center, a business that has met early success. Once the center was operational, the Woskobs turned their attention to renovating the former dairy operation. Along with the help of the Center for Beef Excellence, they are turning the facilities into what will soon become a cattle feedlot with an ongoing capacity of approximately 300 head. On Friday, May 23, a group of cattle industry professionals met at Countryside Farm to observe their progress in this conversion project.
As Victor welcomed the group, he told of how in his youth, he worked on this very farm, along with this neighbor who milked cows in the tie stall barn he is currently renovating. He said he helped milk the cows and he worked in the fields, so he is familiar with this 65-acre farm. Today, he and Gina farm more than 300 acres of rented and purchased land, supporting the horse and beef operation. He said this opportunity to feed beef cattle continues to fulfill his life-long dream, and he’s looking forward to this fall when he anticipates filling their renovated facility with cattle. For now, the 10 or so head he currently has will suffice as he works to finish the remodeling.
Glenn Binkley, president of the Pennsylvania Center for Beef Excellence, said the joint effort between the Woskobs and the Center for Beef Excellence is a collaboration to help build the beef industry in the state. During this upgrade, the Woskobs will document their progress as a way to encourage others who might consider converting an existing dairy operation into a beef finishing facility. He said increased transportation costs have reduced the number of fed cattle coming into Pennsylvania for processing from western states. The ability of local producers to provide local packing companies with live beef cattle is still present because of the availability of feed throughout the state. With the addition of facilities like this one, those that can be converted to beef feedlots, cattle numbers can begin to rebound. Binkley said despite cattle numbers decreasing for the aforementioned reasons, with this new resource for feedlot cattle in Pennsylvania, packers will be able to increase their fed beef numbers instead of relying upon the dairy industry for cull cows and dairy beef.
Binkley added that the growth of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania has been a new revenue source for dairy producers. Ironically, this new income has affected how they are planning their future in dairying. In some cases, this change has created idle land and empty facilities. The potential for converting these resources is now a way to improve the cattle supply for Pennsylvania’s beef industry. This also will help retain farms as farms instead of other development. Dairy-to-beef conversion projects like the Woskob’s, can provide new resources for interested producers.
Elliot Keller, JBS Souderton Plant Manager agreed. He said his plant alone is capable of processing more than 2,100 head of beef cattle per day. Over the past 10 years, they have seen a 50 percent decline in fed beef. As a result, they make up those cattle numbers with dairy cattle. He said the return to fed beef cattle would improve the output of higher quality cuts of meat.
Currently, his plant produces approximately 2.9 million pounds of ground beef per week, with 1.3 million pounds of boxed beef going out of the plant each week as well. With the addition of facilities like those of the Woskob’s, quality cuts will increase in number. Accordingly, JBS donated $4,000 to the Center for Beef Excellence to help fund this pilot project.
Executive Vice President, Pennsylvania Center for Beef Excellence Ann Nogan said the center is planning to revisit the Woskob farm in the fall, once the facility has been completed and filled with cattle. She said the date and time would be announced as the time draws nearer. For more information about the facility conversion program, contact the CBE at 717-705-1689.
Woskob’s Countryside Farm conversion project is under way
by Jon M. Casey