Chris commented that their beef business was first made possible by Wes Ware, an auctioneer with the Winchester Cattle Exchange. Ware's family had once lived in the farmhouse now occupied by the Lotzes' son, and he used to run cattle there. "He has been a wonderful resource," said Chris. "He came by one day and said he wanted to help us because he wanted to see the property kept as a farm." Chris explained that Ware was in a position to notify them when naturally-raised cattle were available at auction.
The Lotzes raise grass-fed, corn finished, Black Angus beef without growth hormones or antibiotics in pastures that are not treated with pesticides. They want to educate consumers to the benefits of eating grass-fed beef and eventually move to purely grass-fed and finished beef.
Chris emphasized that grass-fed cattle are high in omega-3 fatty acids the "good" fatty acids. "Omega-3 fatty acids are why people eat fish," he said, "and I want them to know they can get them from grass-fed beef." He explained that grass-feeding takes longer than conventional methods because cattle grow more slowly. The Lotzes' cattle are only finished on corn for 6-8 weeks and take more than 30 months to finish.
Evie noted that they've learned that there is now a New Zealand breed genetically bred for finishing on grass. They hope to be able to interbreed them with their own herd in the future.
Before they began marketing their beef, they had to decide on their target market. They started with a "focus group" of friends and friends-of-friends in D.C. They decided that they didn't want to present an expensive, gourmet product but rather affordable, healthy meat with prices comparable to those of stores like Whole Foods.
The Lotzes began with 10 head of cattle--five for them and five for their son. Now they have 46, including one bull. In their first year of sales, they felt that selling six or seven could be considered a success. They sold 16 in that first year.
Their beef is processed by a Mennonite butcher in Maugansville. It comes back to the Lotzes cut, frozen, wrapped, and weighed, so all they have to do is price the cuts.
The Lotzes do most of their business directly marketing to consumers through a farmers' market in Purcellville, Virginia. They sell ground beef to local health food stores, including Maggie's, and Healthways, and take pre-orders in winter by phone and e-mail. Evie has improved sales by conducting cooking demonstrations at market. "I created a monster," she laughed. "On weeks I don't do a demonstration, people are disappointed. They say, 'No samples today?'"
Chris recalled what happened when he sold a large quantity of steaks to a restaurant. He had to offer a price break because of the volume. Then, when they went to the farmers' market, they had no steaks for their regular customers and had to send them away disappointed. From that experience, they decided not to sell in volume because they make less money for the same amount of meat. To make up the difference, they would have to increase their herd, which they do not want to do. They can keep things manageable by continuing to sell their steaks at the farmers' market. "We don't want to be driven by our own business," Chris said.
Evie explained that they calculated how many cow-calf pairs their land can support to market size without resorting to use of chemicals. They have eight pastures through which they rotate their cattle. "They eat grass and fertilize the ground," said Evie.
The Lotzes see farmers' markets as growing in importance. Chris joined the Loudoun Cattlemen's Association, where he is on their Direct Marketing Committee. With his background as an economist, he can see the economic benefits of direct marketing to farmers. They may put out a booklet to help farmers.
The Lotzes hope to build a shop on the farm some time in the future.