Steelhammer Family Enjoys "Fulfilling" Life on Farm in Rochester
In the modern age of huge commercial farms and mass-produced food,
Mark and Luanne Steelhammer's family-run beef and Christmas tree
farms are becoming a rarity.
But there's a benefit to staying
small, they said.
"There's not many agricultural
industries that you can go and cut an individual agricultural
product and it goes into one family home," said Mark Steelhammer,
speaking in particular about the family's tree enterprise.
However, the statement also applies
to Steelhammer Family Farms, a newer project in which they raise
grass-fed beef, sold almost exclusively to individual
"I think it's very fulfilling for
me," Mark said. "I enjoy what I do. It's not the money."
Fall is a busy time on the farm.
This week, the Steelhammers harvested part of their herd of Angus,
Charolais, Simmental and Hereford-mix cattle. In about a month,
they'll start cutting down trees for the Christmas crop.
The Steelhammers got into the
Christmas tree farm business in 1979 before branching out into home
rentals and a storage facility in Rochester.
Luanne Steelhammer said her husband
had family with a tree farm and thought it sounded like a good
Today, they have 300 acres of
"I thought it'd be easy money, which
it wasn't," Mark said. "It's real labor-intensive."
While a year-round job, the
Christmas tree season kicks off in early November. The
Steelhammers' son takes trees down to San Francisco to sell at lots
each year, but the rest are shipped all over the country, as far as
The Steelhammers' son and daughter
are both involved in the family business. While Mark spends much of
his time in the fields, Luanne concentrates on running the
financial side of the operation.
They grow noble, grand, Fraser,
Nordmann and Douglas fir, but the noble and Nordmann varieties are
becoming the most popular, they said.
They expanded again to include hay
production and grass-fed beef cattle in 2005 and now maintain a
herd of about 80 mother cows and their offspring spread out between
fields on another roughly 200 acres of land in the Rochester
"I grew up on a dairy farm and I
like cattle," said Mark, who participated in 4-H and FFA as a kid.
"I always liked the cattle but I didn't want to milk them every
night and morning."
The Steelhammers decided to have
grass-fed cattle, thinking that it's a more sustainable and natural
way to raise the animals.
"Cattle were never meant to eat
grain," Mark said. "They're a foraging animal."
However, most commercially raised
cattle are now fed corn and other grains.
Luanne Steelhammer noted that
grass-fed beef is considered by many to be healthier than grain-fed
"There's definitely a difference in
taste," she said.
The Steelhammers' cattle spend about
a year longer on their farm before being "harvested" than their
grain-fed counterparts, meaning they spend two or three years in
They also occasionally sell "feeder"
cattle, 7-to-9-month-old calves, to larger farms where they will be
fed grain before being slaughtered.
Beef from the Rochester farm isn't
available in stores - they sell quarter, half or whole animals to
individual buyers. After the animal is slaughtered, it goes to a
custom butcher who cuts the meat to the buyer's individual
"They can get what they like,"
Luanne said. She said it can be more cost-effective for a family
with enough storage for the meat.
Buyers can also get the bones when
they buy a quarter, half, or whole cow, allowing them to make their
own stock, she said.
On Friday, Mark Steelhammer talked
to his cattle as he fed them their breakfast of hay.
"He spends a lot of time out here
with them," Luanne said.
At first, the couple named their
cows, but it became too difficult not to get attached, she
"There's nothing like February when
these calves start coming," Mark said.
About the Business: Steelhammer Family Farms,
• Owned by Mark and Luanne Steelhammer
• Located in Rochester
• 360-273-7216 or 360-280-3633
Read the artcile in The Chronicle
Written by Natalie Johnson
Friday, October 06, 2017