When a major segment of your collegiate experience involves a work element, summer break doesn’t necessarily mean much time away from campus. That’s particularly true for students in the Berry College Student Enterprises program.
Kayla Hazlett, a rising sophomore from Woodstock, is the general manager for the Angus Beef enterprise. It’s something she could not have envisioned when she enrolled at Berry a year ago. She had a cat and two guinea pigs back home in Cherokee County and absolutely no experience with cattle whatsoever.
“I have an animal science major so I came here knowing that I wanted to work with animals,” Hazlett said. “I got in with the enterprise, started working and loved it.”
Kevin Renshler, the director of the Center for Student Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development, said students don’t rise to the position of general manager for an enterprise based on age or experience. It’s based on their skills and capacity to lead others.
“She was the right person,” Renshler said of Hazlett. “We kind of removed the title ‘freshman’ and looked at her and her ability to have a positive impact on her enterprise.”
This summer, it’s just Hazlett and one other student involved in the Angus Beef enterprise, but during the recent school year, there were six. Renshler said that number might need to go considerably higher if the business is able to expand.
He and Hazlett are hoping to take advantage of a void in the market for locally raised beef. The Lyons Bridge Farm Angus herd, which provided beef to a number of area restaurants, was sold in mid-May.
Andrew Heaner, owner of Runnin’ Wild Farm in Silver Creek, confirmed that the Lyons Bridge Beef brand is no longer on the market. His farm acquired the whole herd and will incorporate the Cave Spring animals into his stock. Heaner produces calves that are sold off to feed lots for final raising and processing.
Local restaurants, however, may be able to keep their menus unchanged.
“We are going to visit those establishments as soon as possible to see how we can meet their needs,” Renshler said. “We want to find out whether or not we have that opportunity and be positioned so their operations don’t suffer.”
The situation offers a tremendous learning opportunity for the students in the program and Renshler said it could also improve the financial position of the student-run business.
All of the Berry Angus Beef cattle are raised without added hormones or steroids. Hazlett said they try to start the herd at about 50 steers every year. This year’s herd has dwindled to 19 at the beginning of June.
Steers are young neutered males. Neutering has the effect of increasing the quality grading of beef because it lowers the testosterone level in the animal. When testosterone is present, the taste and flavor changes.
Couple that with the fact that the steers are grass-fed and grain-finished, a strategy Berry has used for years. The college has between 500 and 600 acres of fenced pastures and the steers earmarked for the enterprise are separated from the rest of the herd.
“It produces a better cut of meat, better marbling, which is what customers want,” Renshler said. “If you really look at it, I’d offer our cuts of meat up with anybody’s.”
Berry’s Angus herd generally calves in the late fall. Hazlett said the steers are weaned away from the mama cows at about six months and are typically ready for processing by the end of their first year.
Hazlett spends at least an hour a day with the cows, feeding them, moving them from one pasture to another and checking on their overall health.
The Berry Angus product line includes ground beef, chuck roast, short ribs, ribeye steaks and more. It’s sold in the campus retail store The Shipyard and by individual orders for quarter, half or whole animals.
“Six hundred to 700 pounds is the sweet spot (for a whole animal),” Renshler said. “You can have it cut up any way you want it.”
At the store, the ribeyes, brisket and flank steak always sell out quickly, Hazlett noted.
“Mainly the cuts that you don’t get a lot of off a cow,” she explained.
Based on per-dollar sales, though, the ground beef is Berry’s big seller.
“For the price point, you can’t beat it,” Renshler said.
The steers are processed every two weeks. One of Hazlett’s chief concerns now is finding the right processor with the ability to handle the number of cows Berry wants to process at any given time.
The cattle are always processed at a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected facility to ensure a high standard.
By the time the rest of the students return to campus in August, Hazlett will have identified the 50 young steers that will be moved into the program for the 2021-22 school term.
She assured Renshler those young steers will be the most important employees of the enterprise.