GOSHEN — Craig and Jessica Blough’s son Theodore is now the fourth generation to be living on the Blough family farm along C.R. 29 north of Goshen and so far, he seems pretty excited about the Angus cattle that share his property.
Craig and Jessica operate Woodsbrook Farm, selling their pasture-fed beef in any quantities to locals.
Yet originally the Blough Farm was a dairy operation.
Craig said his paternal grandparents, Duane and Dorothy, moved to the farm in the early 1950s. The farmhouse was destroyed during the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak and was rebuilt afterwards. His grandparents operated Blough’s Dairy and sold and delivered bottled milk. They then started making hot sandwiches and delivered them along with milk to almost all the large factories in Goshen and Middlebury, according to Craig.
“It was kind of the precursor of factory food trucks and vending machines,” he said.
The milk plant was on Queen Street in Goshen and Craig said people still tell him they remember his grandparents delivering milk to their front doors. He said they stopped selling bottled milk in early 1970s. Craig’s father, David, who was tragically killed in a farming accident in 2016, was more interested in producing beef, so he introduced beef cattle along with the dairy cows.
Craig shared that he and his parents and siblings moved to the farm when he was in fifth grade. Craig is the youngest of the three siblings and was involved in 4-H as were his older siblings. He sold his first cow when he was 7-years-old, and when he was 13, he went with a hired hand to a cattle auction in Michigan because his father was laid up at the time and Craig purchased cattle on his own.
THE NEW FOCUS
With the birth of their son, Theo, the Bloughs decided to stop milking cows and focus on the beef cattle. With the impending arrival of Theo’s birth and the fact that both Craig and Jessica also have full-time jobs, they felt the time was right to switch their focus. So, Craig said they scaled back and selected cattle for genetics and temperament and those suited for pasturing.
Craig said with the dairy operation they had a couple of employees but now they have a couple of farmers who also keep their cattle on the farm and help the Bloughs make hay.
“It gives us a chance to have a vacation,” he said.
His mom, Michelle, has a house on the property as well and is still involved in the long-term decisions. Jessica’s parents, Mike and Rose Groff own and operate Rock Run Ranch where, according to the website, many of Woodsbrook’s cow’s lineages began.
At Woodsbrook Farm the Angus beef cattle are pasture-fed.
“The goal is to have them on pasture for 10-10 1/2 months a year,” Craig said.
The Bloughs believe that having their cattle pasturing is good for the animals and good for the land. They explained it’s better for the cattle to be on grass versus concrete and having the large animals walking and feeding on grass stimulates plant growth and rejuvenates the soil.
The Bloughs are working with Farm Service Agency and have enrolled in its Conservation Stewardship Program. A lot of what they’ve done with their business is in line with that program. They’ve made the change from row crops to pasture and planting more ground cover and a pollinator patch; all ways to make the farm a more sustainable environment.
Craig said there are a lot of wetlands on the property so they’re working with the National Resources Conservation Service — they started working with them when he was in middle school and have fenced off those wetlands so the cattle can’t contaminate them and they allow the herd to flash graze once or twice a year.
Craig said they’re working with NRCS a lot and one project currently being worked on is splitting the pastures into smaller sections and rotating them.
“Eventually we’ll get to 50-60 unique pastures with a mix of cool season grasses and warm season grasses where we can allow the cattle to graze more aggressively and then rotate, allowing time for grass to rejuvenate,” he said.
When asked what makes pasture-farming better, Craig offered this reply.
“I like what it does for our farm and for our animals,” he said. “I like that it gets the animals out and walking and off concrete. Pasture rotation helps with rebuilding the soil. A lot of animal traffic keeps weeds down, so it kills two-three birds with one stone. We’re using our animals to harvest what we’d otherwise mechanically harvest.”
Jessica added to this point.
“It’s better for the environment,” she said.
Grass-fed beef offers a different mineral and nutrient profile but they still “finish the beef with grains we raise and it marbles better and I think gives it a better flavor,” he said.
Craig said they may soon offer a strictly grass-fed option for those who want it. He also said his family sells a lot of beef organs — hearts and livers — for special diets.
“It’s super healthy,” he said.
Jessica pointed out the grains they do feed to their herd are also grown by them.
“Beginning to end, everything is made here in our fields and harvested here,” she said.
Craig said nothing is added to the feed and they adhere to veterinarians’ best practices. Everything in the facility they use to process the beef is USDA inspected on both the butchering and the processing side. He said that adds more to the upfront costs to have it processed that way but allows them to be certified for interstate and intrastate sales. He added that the beef is all vacuum sealed for freezing.
“We eat it too, and we know it’s going to families, so it’s super important and we don’t take that lightly,” Jessica said. “If it’s something we wouldn’t eat or feed it to our loved ones, we wouldn’t sell it.”
A GOOD BALANCE
Woodsbrook Farm sells all cuts of beef — mostly to individuals, families and friends. Craig said the amount of business they currently have and the amount of animals they have is a good balance and they want to keep it steady. Jessica added she envisions growing larger orders like those wanting a quarter or half of a beef animal — those orders are easier and supplies the customer for months.
The Bloughs have a few customers who come from Chicago and pick up a truckload of beef, but they will deliver within a 25-mile radius and about 90% of their business is delivery.
“(It’s) a side of the business we didn’t think of when we made the switch from milking to selling beef,” Jessica said of connecting with people. “We didn’t think the connection would be as big.”
Craig reflected on the personal side of the business.
“It’s been fun!” Craig said. “We’ve met some great people.”
Jessica reiterated this point as well.
“It’s been great to hear how they found us and for them to hear our story and for us to hear theirs,” Jessica said. “We’ve really enjoyed that aspect of the business and we’re pretty social, so we like to connect.”
The Bloughs encourage people to get out and meet local farmers and learn about the food chain. They said there is a lot of disinformation circulating, so if people have questions they should go straight to the source.
“Every farmer we know has the health and well being of animals in their minds,” Craig said.
Jessica agreed that all the farmers they know put blood, sweat and tears and their hearts into their products. Most are multi-generational farmers like the Bloughs, and Craig said it’s difficult and rare to start a farm today, especially if they don’t come from a farm background.
“If you have questions, find a farmer and talk to them,” Jessica said. “Farmers are chatty people and they want to feel heard and validated. Ultimately they do have the best interest of animals and crops, so support local farmers.
“If we don’t have people who care about local farmers, everything will have to be shipped in. We are so fortunate to live in an area where there are so many amazing farmers on family farms.”
Craig noted that geography does factor in.
“Within a 50-mile radius you can buy just about anything you want,” Craig said. “Direct to farm transactions help increase profitability and help farmers so they can get more sustainable.”
Jessica cited another advantage to the switch to beef — the ability to donate to non-profits.
“It’s nice to be able to give back — something that was hard to do with dairy,” she said.
Aside from all the other benefits, returning home after a long day and seeing the cattle in the pasture brings them joy. Toddler Theo has a daily routine of running out to see the cattle.
“There’s something relaxing about coming home and seeing cows in the pasture,” Craig said. “I brought out mineral blocks in late evening and it was just really peaceful.”