Timing is everything, but could the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic be the right time to start a new meat business? That’s the question Landus members Brian and Kellie Brenny were debating in the spring of 2020.
“We’d talked for quite awhile about marketing our beef directly to customers,” said Brian Brenny, 43, who farms south of Carroll near Willey. “We knew we had a really good product.”
As they stood around their kitchen island one evening, the Brennys assessed their options for 30 fat cattle that were ready for market. “I knew we couldn’t sell them on the grid,” said Brian, recalling how packing plants suspended operations in late March and April 2020, due to Covid-19.
The couple scheduled space at local meat lockers and decided to try selling their beef directly to consumers through their White Gate Cattle Co. business. Most of those first 30 cattle were sold by the quarter and half, thanks to word-of-mouth marketing and Facebook updates. Within weeks, the White Gate Cattle Co.’s direct marketing business was thriving.
“The Covid-19 pandemic turned out to be a blessing for us, in terms of getting our beef business started,” Kellie said.
The Brennys run an Angus/Simmetal calf-to-finish operation known for producing highly-marbled, juicy beef. Customers can purchase individual cuts and variety boxes from the White Gate Cattle Co., from ribeye steaks and filets to beef roasts to dry-aged ground beef, distinguished by its tenderness and flavor. “A lot of our customers want to know where their food comes from,” Kellie said. “They also want to support local farmers.”
Proving the doubters wrong
The success of this direct marketing venture marks a major milestone not only for the Brenny family, but especially Brian, who didn’t have a clear path to reach his dream of farming.
Brian grew up in Sac City, where his father was an optometrist and his mother was a teacher and principal. While Brian didn’t grow up on a farm, there was something about agriculture that captured his imagination early on. When he was a little boy, he’d run to the end of the lane when he heard tractors going by. By the time he was in elementary school, he earned his first dollar by picking rocks (and getting paid by the rock) on his uncles’ farms.
Things really took off when he joined the Jackson Lads 4-H Club. “I entered the livestock business with a chicken,” said Brian, who expanded his 4-H projects to include rabbits, lambs and pigs. “By high school, I got into the cattle business.”
He credits the Share a Calf program for giving him this opportunity. “A local beef producer would loan you a calf for your 4-H project. Mentors like Brian Blass and the Rubendall family taught me the basics. Lonnie Rubendall let keep my first calf at his farm, and Brian loaned me equipment. Share a Calf was a tremendous program.”
Brenny also got involved in the Young Cattle feeders program, organized by Sac County cattle producers. He was so motivated by all his new knowledge that he talked to the employees at the FC Co-op in Sac City about locking in grain for his two 4-H calves. “It’s funny when you look back on it,” said Brian, a Landus member. “I’m glad they were so patient with me.”
While a few people didn’t encourage Brian’s farming dream, most were supportive, including Dr. Dave Striegel, a large-animal veterinarian in Sac City. “During my senior year of high school, I’d ride with Dr. Striegel every morning through a work-study opportunity,” Brian recalled. “I learned so much from him and met a lot of farmers in the area.”
By the time he was 19, Brian and two high school buddies (Nick Frohardt and Jason Hallberg) started the White Gate Cattle Co. (named after a gate that was a local hunting landmark). Brian also enrolled at Iowa State University, where he competed on the meat judging team and earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science in 2001.
Although he wished he could start farming out of college, Brian worked in finance in the Midwest for five years with Primerica Financial Services. “I always intended to come back and farm, but working in finance taught me to think through the numbers and learn sales and marketing,” he said.
Along the way, he met his future wife, Kellie, a registered nurse, through a blind date. She had grown up on a grain and cattle farm near Willey. By the time the couple married in 2007, Brian finally had the opportunity to farm, thanks to his uncles, Mike and Jerry Hagan, from Bayard. “We traded labor for equipment,” said Brian, who started working with Landus in 2008. “Kudos to them for helping us get started.”
Growing kids, crops and cattle
Today, the Brenny’s are raising crops, cattle and kids (including Ella, 12; Emersyn, 10; Finn, 6; and Ben, 3) on their Carroll County farm. Brenny is also a district sales manager for Kruger Seed. The Brennys are members of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, and their children are active in 4-H. The family works with Landus’ Dedham location for their feed and agronomy needs.
Kellie, who fills in as a nurse at St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll, devotes much of her time to her family and their White Gate Cattle Co. She manages the “meat room” just off the garage, where the family warehouses their home-grown beef and packages orders for shipment. She also shares recipes and facts about beef’s role in a healthy diet on the White Gate Cattle Co.’s Facebook page.
Brian is also passionate about “ag-vocating,” especially after watching a segment on the Today show claiming that ruminants are contributing to climate change. “Agriculture’s story is getting told by the wrong people. Selling beef directly to consumers gives us more opportunities to tell our story.”
The Brennys use cover crops to help protect the soil, emphasize the humane treatment of animals, and show how farmers care about the community. During May Beef Month 2021, they provided White Gate burgers during the Carroll SuperDraft softball games, with all proceeds helping patients at the St. Anthony Regional Cancer Center. “We’re humbled to have had so much help along the way to grow our business, including support from my family and Brian’s family,” Kellie said. “We want to give back.”
The Brennys also market beef genetics through an annual bull sale and heifers by private treaty. Most of their herd is a fall-calving herd, Brian noted. “We love this business and are so blessed to be in Iowa, which has everything you need to raise world-class beef. Our goal is to supply a consistent, high-quality product. It’s so cool that we get to work together as a family to reach this goal.”
If you would like to learn more about White Gate Cattle Co. and the products they offer, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WhiteGateCattleCo.
By: Darcy Maulsby