Women on the Farm: Breed for Success
Joanie Grimes’ family farm uses specialized breeding to beef up industry
By PAT LAWRENCE
For Joanie Grimes, the question isn’t ‘Where’s the Beef?’ It’s ‘What’s the Beef?’ Her answer is “a genetically superior animal that performs well and looks good!”
Joanie and her husband John operate Maplecrest Farms, a specialized cattle breeding enterprise known in the beef industry as seedstock production. The goal of seedstock production is to make genetic improvements in purebred and registered cattle that benefit not just the ultimate consumers, but every stage of the beef industry.
It’s a remarkably complex, highly technical, extensively documented process and a complicated, demanding business. It’s one of Joanie’s two full time jobs. She also helps farmers implement risk management programs through her crop insurance agency, ICAP. Licensed in seven states, Joanie became an agent in 2000 after the terrible year her co-op group experienced from a major drought. “We found out that farmers didn’t have the right information or the right insurance and were often under-served. The co-op members urged me to get into the business. Now I help clients in Ohio and other states, too.”
Raised on a farm in Clark County, Joanie says her parents concentrated on pigs, but, “I always had a thing for cattle.” She was an Ohio State freshman majoring in Agricultural Economics when she met John, a graduating senior from Brown County. They married in 1986. He went home to the family farm for a few years, also accepting a position as a county extension agent.
Joanie got her degree and started working in the feed division of a local agricultural co-op. “We both worked, but we always farmed on the side. We bought the Hillsboro home and surrounding acreage in 1990 and have been renting and purchasing since then to expand the operation. We hired a herdsman in 2005. Now we run things out of two sites with two full time employees and one part time one.”
Joanie says they dedicate about 200 of their 700 acres to forage production. “We keep around 200 mature cows at all times — black Angus and the black-and-white-faced SimAngus, a composite of Angus and Simmental breeds — but we also work with commercial producers to raise some of our calves. We do a lot of embryo transfer work, putting embryos in other herds, then bringing the calves back at weaning time. They get a premium for their animals and it helps us, so we produce about 325 head per year. Animals aren’t bred until they’re 14 months, then they have 9 months gestation. We turn the entire herd over every four years.”
Genetic improvement is the Maplecrest focus.
As Joanie says, “Our stock goes for breeding, not for steak!” Their cattle are marketed as bulls and replacement females to other seedstock producers and to cow-calf producers. “We’ve teamed up with some very progressive seed stock operations. We ship them bulls, they send us cows. We have a production sale each year and sell about 100 girls, and a bull sale in the spring but we also sell a lot of our calves to buyers in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.”
Improvements in purebred cattle are documented through extensive records maintained by individual ranchers and the breed organizations. Joanie says, “We have an embryologist who removes the embryos, but we do the insemination, the daily shots and set up the protocols ourselves. We do a LOT of DNA testing and have DNA profiles on all our donor cows so we can project their performance.”
Mating decisions involve data like weights, pedigrees and inbreeding coefficients, as well as traits like marbling, milk production, ease of calving and heat tolerance. Angusare rated high in ease of calving and the capacity to retain fat, while Simmental are rated high in body size and muscling.
According to Joanie, genomics – using DNA technology to identify and select cattle that have specific genes for specific traits, not just size and weight but genetic disease resistance or more feed efficiency – is an amazingly promising possibility for breeders. “There isn’t a ‘best’ breed for beef production since climate, production conditions and market requirements are constantly changing. Matching genetic capability with those variables is a challenge but staying on top of everything, from performance to new technology, is the bigger challenge. Successful marketing is critical. Our products include purebred or registered bulls, cows, heifers, semen, and embryos, so we have a lot of different kinds of customers. We’ve exported embryos to Canada, England, even South America”
Joanie says, “It was an economic decision to focus on breeding — we get more for our product-and you have to get big to survive. John does a lot of the genetics and marketing, I’m in production, registration, testing, putting together feed rations, setting up donors and all advertising. It’s teamwork, though we each have our own specialties. With over 100 head, we meet the definition of ‘factory farm’, but Maplecrest is a family farm. Our daughters, Lindsey and Lauren were proud to show cattle while they were growing up. Both our families farmed and my brother farms. The best part is always being able to see what you’ve produced.”
The experiences and commitment of a lifetime in agriculture contribute to Joanie’s success as a crop insurance agent as well. She says, “Basically, it’s insuring growing crops like wheat, corn and soybeans, against nature! But farmers also get protection for production costs, market changes and other things beyond their control.”
Since Joanie and John both work outside the farm, Joanie says, “We get up, take care of the livestock, go to work, come home, take care of the livestock! Mostly, we do the chores, then make a to-do list for the employees before we go to work.” Two Corgi’s, Lexie and Sully, handle security and morale on the farm.
Joanie also loves to cook. “When we remodeled the kitchen a few years ago, I splurged on a commercial stove, which has been great. We keep two freezers full — and there’s plenty of beef.”
Most Maplecrest cattle are numbered, but Joanie says there have been plenty over the years that had names. “She’s retired now, but we still have Connie, the SimAngus who was the Female National Champion in 2007. We still show cattle at livestock shows, for publicity and because we get to see all our friends, and our daughters really enjoyed showing, so they made sure they had contractual arrangements with Dad about the future of their cows!”
Through her work as a cattle breeder and with farmers across the country, Joanie has built a reputation for integrity, honesty and careful stewardship of land and livestock.
For their contributions to the beef industry, Maplecrest Farms received the 2009 Ohio Cattlemen’s Association’s Seedstock Producer of the Year award. Joanie says, “We’re avid supporters of agriculture. We think it’s the basis of the American economy. Farming is a business, but more importantly, it’s a way of life. We do it because we love it. We’re committed to the best care possible for our livestock and the highest quality products for our customers in the beef industry.”
(Pat Lawrence is a contributor to Acres of Southwest Ohio.)