Story and photos by Bruce Schultz
MILTON – Max Bacque takes a minimalist approach with his grass-fed herd of Angus cattle.
“Regenerative agriculture is what I’m down to,” he said. “Getting the soil, animals and grass to the point where we don’t need any inputs.”
Instead of spraying buttercups and other weeds with herbicides, Bacque prefers mowing. He doesn’t use fertilizer, and his cattle are raised hormone-free.
Max said this system has several advantages. “It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the animal. But it’s also cheaper.”
His priority is what many consumers want to hear these days.
“It all comes down to animal welfare,” Max said. “If the animals are being treated well, I’m OK with it.”
Max said he would like to increase his herd size gradually. “I’ll never be trying to get to the 1,000-head scenario.”
Beef from cattle raised locally draws sales, Max said, especially when he has a chance to talk with potential customers and explain his approach to animal husbandry. “That is far more valuable than the buzz words “grass fed.”
He said he stopped using fertilizer and other chemicals on the farm about 5 years ago. “It was almost like the system had become dependent on that input. Now it’s getting stronger every year. It’s an ongoing science experiment that never stops, and I think that’s why I enjoy it so much.”
Max had been in the solar energy business before he started raising cattle but that endeavor changed after tax incentives were reduced. He graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with a degree in renewable resources and later returned to ULL to study biology.
Max uses 36 acres for grazing the herd of 26. (The 27th was on its way at press time.) The cattle usually determine the grazing rotation for his paddocks, he said. He will put them on ryegrass in the winter for about an hour a day. For the other paddocks, he moves them as the grass gets lower. “As grass gets more prolific, I can leave them longer.”
Grass fed beef is more expensive because it takes longer to raise an animal to marketable size without using corn. Max’s calves are slaughtered at 24-30 months, at roughly twice the age of grain-fed calves.
Max uses Bahia, bermudagrass with sorghum sudangrass and brown millet. The Bacque operation also has enough pasture to grow hay for the herd.
The herd’s 10-year-old bull, Hamburger, is a dependable producer, Max said.
The bull was a gift from now-deceased attorney Minos Simon and was raised as a pet. When he was temporarily brought back to the Simon farm, he kept busting out of fences, but Max said Hamburger is a gentle giant back on the Bacque property. “He’s so gentle.”
Many cattle operations have limited breeding seasons, and bulls are kept apart from females the rest of the year. But Max prefers to leave Hamburger with the herd year round.
“There really is a social hierarchy,” Max said. “I feel like they all get along better if they grow up together.”
He doesn’t castrate his young bull calves. That means he has to watch over his herd to make sure none of the young studs are starting to challenge Hamburger.
By avoiding castration, he doesn’t have to use hormone supplements that would enable steers to continue quick weight gains.
Max said he had crop of calves die one year, and a vet determined nutritional deficiency was the problem. He was allowing cows to wean their calves and that meant that a cow would give birth and the previous calf would get to a mother’s colostrum before the newborn could nurse on the important nourishment. And the colostrum would be of low quality, lacking complete disease immunity for young calves.
Stan Dutile, LSU AgCenter county agent in Lafayette Parish, said it’s advisable to wean a calf at about 7 months. “That gives that cow several months to regain her body condition.”
The Bacque cattle are processed at the Eunice Superette to slaughter, flash freeze and package the beef. Max said it’s one of the few facilities that handles grass-fed beef.
There is talk of new facilities planned for the area, including a processor in Vermilion Parish for cull cattle that are usually sold at sale barns and end up as ground meat, Stan said.
Max currently sells his products, Boeuf de Bacque, at the Handy Stop in Lafayette, 444 Jefferson St.
Before the pandemic, he sold his beef at several places, including the Biergarten, a local art gallery and the Lafayette Farmer’s Market.
He delivers for established customers. “They have a standing order. Every month or so, I deliver straight to their houses.”
A lot of his sales depend on word-of-mouth and social media. “It’s part of the fun of this whole thing.”
His Facebook page, Bacque Farms, has contact information, recipes and ordering details.
As things start to relax with COVID, Max is ready to resume full-scale business.
“I am excited to get back into it. Selling the meat is the easiest part of this.”
Selling local grass-fed beef takes some of the uncertainty out of the equation. Selling cattle at the sale barn and to stockyards leaves a producer subject to the whimsy of the beef market that can take dips and dives.
Max’s father, Dr. Frank Bacque, started raising cattle on the family property back in 1985 after he returned from Germany where he was an army doctor at Nuremberg.
The land, 360 acres that straddle the Vermilion-Lafayette Parish line, has been in the family since his grandfather, Frank Bacque, bought it in 1929.
The senior Frank Bacque was a county agent in Lafayette Parish and a teacher.
Dr. Bacque has fond memories of the farm.
“We used to come out here as little kids with my grandfather. When my Dad had it, we had to work. It’s still a helluva a lot of work, but it’s fun.”
Frank Bacque, Odon Bacque, sold Encyclopedia Britannica and Great Books of the Western World.
“He was the No. 1 salesman in the United States, Frank said.”
When he was growing up, Frank said he thought he might become a mechanic, but his grandfather steered him to medicine. Frank became a urologist after attending LSU Medical School. His residency was at Baylor University.
He worked as an Army doctor for 3 years, returning to Lafayette in 1980 to start his practice that he continues on St. Landry Street across from the old Lourdes hospital site.
Frank said working on the farm is his way of getting away from the routine, and the peaceful setting helps him put everything in perspective.
Secluded on the Bacque land is a magnificent home moved from the White Castle area in the 1970s that would be livable with a sizable amount of money and work. Massive live oaks stand majestically throughout the property, forming a small paradise. He particularly looks forward to mowing the pastures. “It’s addictive and relaxing.”
Frank said he ran the farm as a cow-calf operation, selling groups of calves raised like most cattle in the area. “Max changed everything and went to grass-fed.”
Sugarcane is also grown on the Bacque family land by the Albert brothers.
The Bacque family also owns 600 acres in the Port Barre area, acquired by Frank’s grandfather.
Farmer Steve Stagg grows soybeans on the property.
Max said wild hogs have been a problem in the past on the Port Barre farm. Now that Stagg has killed more than 600, they are less plentiful.
But beavers have built dams that block the water flow on a nearby stream and that floods soybeans, which typically don’t like to stay wet.
Stan said he has been getting more calls about beavers. “In the last 3 years, they’re all over the place.”
The Bacque's credit the LSU AgCenter’s Master Cattleman classes taught by Stan and numerous other LSU AgCenter cattle experts. “You learn something every time,” Max said.
Max graduated from Master Cattleman in 2016 with Frank, who has taken the class five times.
“There’s so much material, you can’t absorb everything,” Frank said.
And Frank said Stan’s eagerness to share information is a big plus. “Stan is one of the favorite speakers at Master Cattleman,” Frank said. “He is a great teacher.”
Stan said a new Master Cattleman class will begin in July in Lafayette. The first Advanced Master Cattleman class, interrupted by COVID last year, is expected to resume this year, he said, and the second advanced class is expected to begin next year.
Stan said the Master Cattleman classes allow cattle producers to meet people that they might not normally encounter from the veteran cattle owner to the novice. “You get all different kinds. That’s one of the most positive things about the classes.”
Max said the social aspect is a major reason he enjoyed the class, and that’s also why he likes selling the Bacque beef. “I really like the people I deal with and meet.”