Meet Robert Hess -- First Generation Beef Producer
Robert Hess, a first generation farmer, owns Bow Creek Farm & Cattle Co. in Hershey, PA. Hess operates approximately 550 acres consisting of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay fields. Currently, he owns 20 registered Red Angus cows and has recently expanded his business through direct marketing his beef locally, to Harvest Restaurant at the Hotel Hershey.
Cattle born on the farm and those imported, are fed out as a part of his natural feeding program without the use of implants or fed antibiotics. All cattle are USDA Genetic, Source & Age Verified feeders, as well as registered in the Red Angus Feeder Calf Certification Program. Bow Creek Farm & Cattle Co. is also considered a PA Preferred Certified Producer.
Hess began farming in 1994 by only growing hay. Over time, his farm and business grew as he acquired more land. Cattle began to play a larger role in the operation when he purchased five Registered Red Angus cows and a bull in 2005. Over the past three years Hess has eliminated the use of a bull and relies on the technologies of Artificial Insemination and Embryo Transfer.
Growing up outside of agriculture did not stop Hess from pursuing his passion. As a young adult Hess worked on farming operations and found he really enjoyed it. As a graduate from Penn State University, with a degree in Business Management, Hess went to work in construction, land development and currently has his real estate license. In these previous jobs, he realized he truly loved working outside, away from many of the stresses created in these work environments. The farm began as a side job and blossomed into a career from there, Hess comments, “I’ve always liked the outdoors. It’s never a bad day when you’re outside by yourself,” going on to say, “farming is challenging but there’s always an opportunity if you look for it and think outside the box.”
Ensuring cattle are healthy and productive is something Hess thinks about day in and day out. His day begins by trying his best to keep a consistent routine knowing it’s important to observe cattle daily at the same time. This allows him to notice behavior changes at any given time. While working cattle, Hess is sure to utilize proper handling methods, head gates, chutes etc., to reduce stress on the cattle and himself. In order to manage the herd efficiently, Hess makes use of cattle management software. The system keeps records on everything from breeding, birth, vaccinations, weaning, pregnancy checks and veterinary visits.
Hess takes great care of his land as he does his animals by utilizing various conservation practices such as no-till planting for his crops. A nutrient management plan is also being developed to match the needs and resources of his crop fields. Cattle on pasture are placed in a rotational grazing pattern as to not over utilize the grasses. Along with pasture ground, cattle are fed forages and feed produced on the farm.
Feeding quality forages is also an important practice on Bow Creek Farm. Hess consults a nutritionist regularly to keep aligned with their ration and mineral program, knowing cattle perform best when given optimal nutrition. Although good health starts with nutrition, proper vaccination protocols also protects the herd as Hess does not depend on antibiotics to keep animals healthy. Realizing the release of new USDA and FDA reports illustrating the need to reduce animal antibiotic dependency, Hess believes it is imperative for the cattle industry to keep up with the changing times. With vaccines constantly changing, “we need to continually educate ourselves on the subject,” Hess states. This involves cattlemen educating one another on the subject to benefit the industry.
With some of these changes, Hess is aware of the challenges ahead and has some strong beliefs to combat these issues. Hess believes other industries, such a Pork, Poultry and imported Fish are much more integrated than beef, creating some gaps of efficiency throughout the industry. This is the reason it may be hard to make upgrades and changes with all beef producers.
Hess also realizes the beef industry is not exempt from government regulation on numerous fronts; EPA, USDA, FDA, etc. He believes it is imperative for cattlemen to invest, even a small portion, in lobbying groups to keep our farms farmer-owned. Sooner or later bio-security will also play a larger role in cattle operations and among producers with such a segmented industry. This idea also leads to his belief of EID becoming increasingly popular among producers.
With all these challenges ahead, Hess continues to see the positives of raising cattle and desires for consumers to know his passion for the industry. Robert, his wife Amy, son Levi and daughter Anna chose Red Angus because they believe they are the most progressive breed offering the best overall package in modern beef production. These cattle have excellent calving ease creating less stress on cows, calves and farmer. Hess is proud to state that the “overwhelming majority of our finished cattle grade choice and prime!”