Symens Brothers quality Limousin cattle genetics backed by strong family values
Symens Brothers is a fourth generation farm, ranch, and feedlot operation located near, Amherst, SD. Well-known on both a state and national level, the Symens family has made their mark on the beef industry since the operation was established in the early 1900s. Harm Symens moved to South Dakota in 1910 and settled down at the current site of Symens Brothers in 1917, where he built a big family house, a large granary, and one of the largest barns in the area. A son, Wilbert, began farming on the home place in 1942, where he utilized a three-way cross in his cowherd.
A partnership among Irwin, Herman, Paul and John Symens was established in 1966, and a feedlot was added to the business in 1970, which was overseen by Paul. That same year, Limousin cattle were added to the operation, with the first calves born on the ranch in 1971. In 1973, the brothers purchased their first fullblood Limousin bull from Canada, and the rest is history.
2012 marked their 32nd annual bull and female production sale; the first was held at the farm in 1981. Today, the day-to-day operations are run by original partners Paul and John. Herman branched off in 1993 to start his own business, and Irwin is now retired. The next generation, Paul’s son, Warren, and Irwin’s son, Brad, are now playing a larger role in decision-making and management. It’s a family affair, with each member playing their own role.
Brad manages the farming, helps with the feedlot and cow herd. Paul and Warren manage the feedlot. Warren also helps with the cowherd and the farming, while John manages the cowherd.
“It’s truly the efforts of the entire family that makes Symens Brothers succeed,” said Warren. “No single part of the operation can succeed without being a part of a cycle that utilizes all of our talents, from the field, to the pasture, to the feedlot, to the plate.”
Symens brothers has an outstanding reputation for not just quality cattle but strong family values, as well. It’s those two factors that make the Symens Brothers brand, SYES, a trusted source for cattlemen. In addition to the seedstock business, Symens Brothers also operates a feedlot.
“The feedlot operation has grown from simply feeding cattle to feeding cattle with the customer in mind, producing a leaner, more nutritious product that was more efficient and ‘stood out’ from the commercial product,” said Paul. “We sold Limousin beef off the farm in the early 1970s and went from there to selling Limousin beef that was custom-harvested and labeled as ‘Lean Limousin’ to customers on the west coast, to Texas and Michigan. When the commercial kill plants began hot trimming carcasses at the kill plants, we needed to change our operations. At that time, Laura’s Lean Beef (LLB) needed a supply of cattle, and we began feeding for that market. That has been good for us. We have fed for additional niche markets over the years.”
The feedlot has recently undergone the permitting procedure, pushing for some new changes on the facility. Where the old feedlot held 1,200 head at full capacity, the new facility currently holds 1,400 head under two 400 feet by 70 feet hoop structures. The outdoor pens, once renovated, will increase that capacity to 1,700 head.
“The new facility allows us to feed two cycles of cattle each year,” said Warren. “The first cycle begins in late December through February. The second begins in late August through early October. We try to put in cattle that have been backgrounded and are weighing between 700-800 pounds, and bring them to finish ration quickly. Nearly all the cattle we custom feed or buy are natural, meaning they have no implants and have no antibiotics or ionophores. They are marketed mainly through LLB, as well as a few other smaller natural beef companies. Cattle are fed wet corn grown in our fields and stored on-site. Distiller’s grains from area ethanol plants makes up the rest of the concentrate. Ground alfalfa hay, straw, and silage round out the ration. A complete balancer mineral is included in all rations, and a yeast product called MSE from Nature’s Way is also fed. This product increases consumption, as well as efficiency, naturally.”
With the capability to feed nearly 2,500 head of natural Limousin cattle each year, the operation also grows most of its own feed – running nearly 900 acres of corn, 400 acres of soybeans and 250 acres of alfalfa.
“The efficiency of Limousin cattle, combined with the increased efficiency of indoor confinement feeding and products like MSE, have helped us remain profitable in cattle feeding for many years,” said Warren. “Raising cattle for LLB and other natural companies allows us to earn more dollars according to their value, as well as discover the value of different bloodlines within the Limousin breed, as many of the cattle we feed are sired by SYES genetics.”
From farm-to-fork, the Symens family is dedicated to the beef industry, and their seedstock operation is respected by commercial and purebred breeders alike.
“Our operation has evolved into the next generation, with many family members involved,” said John. “We have developed using more technology such as EPDs, ultrasound and genomics. When we first learned about Limousin, they were marketed as the ‘carcass breed.’ This caught our attention because we feed our cattle to finish. We strive to keep Limousin muscle in our cattle, based on years of experience in feeding and marketing to end-point, even directly to consumers. Our seedstock operation is geared to the commercial man’s needs to fit the demands of the beef industry.”
“The breed that is efficient in meat production benefits the beef industry as a whole,” added Paul. “During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the thought was that bigger was always better. When we saw Limousin, we thought it had the most to offer the American cattle industry and our production methods across the country. We have tried to produce a product that is seamless from the breeding through the feedlot, to the plate of the consumer. Our experience in all phases of beef production gives us real life experience that is valuable.”
A passion for the Limousin breed is shared by the entire family, and it’s the proven feed efficiency, high red meat yields and superior taste and tenderness that sets the breed apart.
“Limousin are the most efficient at putting on pounds of lean, tender meat, especially in a natural beef system,” added Warren. “Limousin cows are productive females that raise docile calves that are heavily muscled and sell well to ranchers wanting heterosis out of their Angus cows without gaining too many pounds of birthweight and without losing a high percentage of quality grade, as well as to those wanted to sell high percentage Limousin calves for efficient cattle feeding.”
Each year, Symens Brothers markets nearly 90 purebred Limousin bulls and 20 bred and open heifers in their annual production sale, which is held the last Thursday in February at the ranch. The family also markets cattle through consignment sales including NWSS, Black Hills Stock Show and the Sioux Falls Farm Show. Their calving season runs March-May, and many of the herdsires at SYES are proven trait leaders. SYES User Friendly is one of the most widely-used in the breed. SYES User Friendly is a calving-ease bull, loaded with performance, muscle and the homozygous polled trait. Popular among purebred breeders, User Friendly had the fourth-most registries in the breed. Semen is available through Limi-Gene or Grassroots Genetics for $30 per unit.
From a state-of-the-art feeding facility to reputable Limousin genetics, Symens Brothers are certainly making their mark on the beef industry. They are leaders among their contemporaries, as well. John serves on the South Dakota Beef Breeds Council and the U.S. Meat Export Federation. John is a past director for the South Dakota Limousin Association (SDLA), and Warren currently serves on the SDLA board of directors, as well as on the national level for the National American Limousin Foundation (NALF). Warren is blazing a trail as a young cattleman and participated in the inaugural class of the NALF Emerging Leaders Academy. Symens Brothers was also named Commercial Promoters of the Year by NALF.
Of course, the family hopes to continue to raise Limousin cattle and beef for the years to come, and sustainability is a huge focus.
“Our goals are to turn more of the daily operations and control over to the next generation,” said Paul. “We strive to always keep up with current new ways and research into the advances of science. The changes and opportunities in genetics of crop production and livestock production are moving faster than ever before, and we need to keep up.”
John echoes Paul’s sentiments and says his goals for the future are simple: “To provide a sustainable way of life in agriculture for generations to come.”
“I think what makes our program great is the focus on the end product, a great piece of beef,” said Warren. “We have to focus on the entire animal to do that, and multi-trait selection is something we use to achieve our goal of raising a complete animal. We raise bulls that produce offspring that will gain very efficiently without the use of implants and ionophores, ending in a tender, flavorful product. We achieve that without chasing quality grade by feeding too high of a concentrated ration of high priced grain. Our goals for the future are the constant and consistent improvement of the beef animal, through increased efficiency and data capture at all levels.”
Symens Brothers is a family-owned operation paving the way in quality seedstock genetics, efficient feeder cattle and a tender, natural beef product for consumers. For more information on SYES genetics, feedlot opportunities and great-tasting Limouisn beef, check out: http://www.symensbrothers.com.
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Calves on the ground eventually mean dollars in the pocket and steaks in the meat case. It’s the basics of the beef industry.