High risk, huge reward
Eli found success in the beef business by taking higher-risk cattle and providing them the nutrition, health care and management they need to perform well after they leave his farm
Eli Sybesma said he has always had a passion for working and raising cattle. Starting small, he’s grown his operation by relying on advice and assistance from his family as well as a customer partnership with MFA.
Juggling family and farming takes a coordinated effort. From left are Jordynne Sybesma holding Weston; her husband, Abe, holding daughter Everlynn; mother Melissa Huff; Eli Sybesma and his wife, Katie, holding their daughter, Berklee; and Wyatt Huff.
MFA Livestock Key Account Manager Brandon Sowers, left, discusses the calves’ gain with the brothers and what the next step should be for them to put on more good weight.
Sowers helps Sybesma put together effective feeding programs and animal health protocols. He’ll even coordinate a veterinarian visit if needed.
On this late June day, Eli and his family are weighing cattle to track their progress. The young producer said he is proud that his low-input system is proving to be successful.
Still in high school, Eli’s youngest brother, Wyatt, left, works on the farm as time allows. He also has a construction job during the summer. The middle brother, Abe, helps with daily operations.
It’s a family affair when it comes to life and work at Sybesma Cattle Company in Cameron, Mo. The operation was established by 26-year-old Eli Sybesma, who counts on his younger brothers, Wyatt Huff, left, and Abe Sybesma, to help with tasks such as weighing and sorting calves.
Sybesma Cattle Company. Eli Sybesma likes the sound of that.
With the support of his family—especially his mother, Melissa— Sybesma followed his passion to start his own beef operation two years ago in Cameron, Mo. Taking small steps into the high-risk cattle market, the 26-year-old is motivated by the encouragement he receives from neighbors, friends, family and his partnership with MFA Livestock Key Account Manager Brandon Sowers.
The eldest of three boys, Sybesma graduated from Cameron High School and ventured out on his own. After a few years of traveling for construction work, he met his wife, Katie, and they decided to settle down closer to home.
“I have always had a passion for raising and feeding cattle,” Sybesma said, “and I knew I wanted to be my own boss.”
After moving near Pattonsburg, Mo., however, Sybesma said his aspirations to make a living in the cattle business were hindered by lack of financial backing, land and cattle. He was not deterred. Sybesma took a job in Kansas City knowing that each day working for someone else was one step closer to having his own business.
Starting small, Sybesma saved enough money to buy a few bred cows and started his operation on 20 acres of rented ground.
“That was the moment I decided I wasn’t going to live without cattle,” he said.
He sold the calves from those first cows, and with that income, purchased more bred cows. After being denied the first time, Sybesma went back to the bank and received a loan to buy more cattle. He retained his second set of calves and decided to background them, while still working his full-time job.
With each step, Sybesma was building confidence and a solid reputation. When owners of a local sale barn asked him if he was interested in buying a few high-risk calves, he was honest and said he didn’t have the cash. But with the success Sybesma was seeing by backgrounding his own cattle, he offered to do the same with these calves. The sale barn owners agreed.
The turning point in his career, Sybesma said, was when he lost a cow and calf during calving season. He was at his full-time job that day and knew that if he was on the farm, he could have saved them both. With his mind made up, he put in his two-weeks’ notice so he could devote his time and energy to the cattle operation.
It was a huge risk and a hard sell to his wife, but he said it was the right decision.
“Even though there was pressure to ensure food was on the table and a roof over our head, Katie knew that this was my dream,” Sybesma explained. “Sometimes, after spending hours on the road and getting home when everyone is asleep, I second-guess my decision. But I know that with each challenge I am learning something new and really doing what I love.”
After the first few months, Sybesma’s family took on important roles in his full-time cattle operation. His brother, Wyatt, 16, helped him build a low-input working system consisting of hot-wire paddocks and dry lots with corral panels on a new farm. As the business grew, his brother, Abe, 22, and his family moved back home to help with the daily operations.
“Abe jumped in headfirst, picking up on all the things that needed to be done,” Sybesma said. “He brings more tools to the table, helping to take the business to the next level.”
He says the strong work ethic of the Sybesma brothers was instilled in them by their mother, who raised the enterprising boys as a single parent.
“After her divorce, my mom moved us closer to her family. She worked nonstop to make sure we were taken care of,” Sybesma said. “Seeing how hard she worked, raising three boys on her own, is what motivates me—really, all of us—to make our business the best it can be.”
A well-known livestock buyer in the area asked Sybesma Cattle Company to custom-feed two loads of cattle. With this great opportunity, Sybesma wanted to get things right. He asked a close friend and mentor, Greg Robinson, to share his knowledge about the best diet and feeds.
“We cared and fed the two loads of calves, and once they gained the proper amount of weight, we hauled and shipped them out,” Sybesma said. “It all went so well, I knew things were coming together.”
After that success, he started taking in more loads of cattle, acquiring more land and building a name for the operation.
“But I don’t pretend to know everything,” Sybesma said. “I started talking with Brandon (Sowers) at MFA in Pattonsburg. We discussed different products and came up with a plan. It just clicked, and things started operating even better.”
Sowers said he learned about Sybesma’s cattle business and knew that the young producer’s values and philosophies aligned with MFA.
“He’s the kind of person we are looking to partner with,” Sowers said. “I introduced myself and discovered more about his operation and goals. I used the expertise of MFA’s veterinarian, Dr. Tony Martin, nutritionist Marc Epp and partner programs with MU to help put plans together to achieve Eli’s goals. He’s the type of person who will continually push to achieve a goal, and once achieved, already has the next one in place.”
Always looking at ways to improve makes Sybesma a “great guy to partner with,” Sowers added. “He is not afraid to look at any avenue to enhance his business, which has allowed me to offer ideas and insight plus bring in other experts to lend their knowledge.”
Sybesma said the collaboration has been a positive move for his growing cattle business.
“With MFA on board, it removed the guesswork when it came to the arrival protocols on what to feed and what to use in the water,” he said. “We have a high success rate with our cattle because Brandon is always making sure we have all the tools needed at the farm and that we are ready to go when new cattle arrive.”
The MFA Health Track and Nutri-Track programs fit nicely into the operation, Sybesma said. On arrival, he uses Shield Liquid and 4G crumbles in an isolation pen to boost the calves’ health. After that, he feeds Cattle Charge with Shield and Rumensin to put as much “good” weight on as possible before they go on to their next stage.
“I am proud of the work we do,” Sybesma said. “We buy a calf that most people think doesn’t have a high chance of living. We bring it here, give it proper care and nutrition, and turn that No. 2 calf into a No. 1 calf. We know that once that calf leaves here, it will perform and do well.”
When asked what sets his high-risk cattle operation apart from others, Sybesma said proudly, “I think our thriving cattle speak for us. Our success rate is second to none. The amount of care that we put into our animals is exceptional. We take every step needed in the process. Yep. Our cattle speak for us.”
Reflecting on the past two years, Sybesma said he could not have made his dream a reality without the help and encouragement of the people around him—even when the going gets tough.
“Taking a step back and looking at what we’ve done with so little proves that you can have a very low-input system with no fancy equipment and make it successful,” Sybesma said. “In this industry there are always rough times and things you can’t control, like the markets and the weather. I always have my people standing there telling me I can make this happen, pushing me just a little bit harder.”
“There are hundreds of people who do what we do,” he added. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re just trying to be the best at it. And I think that we are probably pretty darn close to it—at least in my eyes.”
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