2021 Taste Makers: Judd Organic Angus Farms Owner Mark Zerefos Is Raising His Cattle in the Heart of Metro Detroit

Cattle farming? Less than 30 miles outside of downtown Detroit? This rancher is doing it, and doing it big — on 86 acres to be precise.
Mark Zerefos - Judd Organic Angus Farms
Mark Zerefos stands by his beloved cattle, which are born down in cow country and raised in metro Detroit.

Mark Zerefos, owner of Judd Organic Angus Farms, is dedicated to providing a healthy alternative to industrial-raised meat. His cattle are raised on 86 acres in a free-range environment in Sumpter Township and are fed organically — no preservatives, no antibiotics, no growth hormones. The farm also aims to educate the public on cattle farming. Zerefos offers free, family-friendly farm tours that show off the cows, explain their history, and demonstrate how they’re cared for. Here, he takes a few minutes away from his herds to tell us why his cows are outstanding in their field.

Hour Detroit: What’s Judd Organic Angus Farms’ origin story? 

Mark Zerefos: I’ve only been doing this for maybe 14 years. Before I was a cattle farmer, I was actually a stockbroker. Then I managed and owned a security guard company and a gun store. But I always had an interest in farming, specifically cows. That was always at the back of my head. When I moved to Sumpter from Redford — in Sumpter, the land is a little bit cheaper than, say, in Brighton — I had the opportunity to get some animals. My neighbor across the street had a daughter who was a veterinarian in Nebraska, which was my connection to buy some cows. When I started, I pretty much learned as I went. Now, all my cows are from Nebraska, Kansas, or Missouri, close to Oklahoma down in cow country. I currently have three herds over on Judd Road, Wear Road, and Oakville Waltz Road in Carleton, Michigan. 

Why cow country and not here in Michigan?

It’s just cow heaven there. That’s where the expert cow guys are. They have the best-looking cows, and they’re just better overall. When it comes to calving, I tried to make my own bulls and I had a hard time. Getting them from cow country makes easier calving. Their bulls are bigger and have great genetics. You know, I never really know the total amount of cows that I have, but it’s over 70, and when calves are born, it might be over 90. 

What makes Judd Organic Angus Farms stand out from other cattle farms?

Just that I really like my cows and I baby the heck out of them. I feed them cracked corn mixed with mineral, hay, and grass. Some people like grass-fed farms, but I kind of frown on it and so do most farmers I know. It sounds great, but corn with a little bit of mineral mixed in it makes the cows happier. It also makes the meat taste better — it’s more marbled. I use local corn, and the mineral is like vitamins for the cows.

In Michigan, the ground doesn’t have a high source of minerals in it like other places in
the country, so the added mineral gives them some of the nutrients they need. And because the stock is all from Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri, I’d say I’ve got the prettiest cows — maybe in the state of Michigan, I think! They’re purebred Angus.

Fun Fact!

Get this — ironically, Zerefos is a vegetarian! “I became a vegetarian by accident,” he laughs. “And now that it’s been so long — 15, 16 years — I can’t go back. As far as nature and sustainability goes, though, I’m pro-cow.”

What’s it like raising cattle just outside of an urban environment like Detroit?

For one, I’m sold out every year. I can reach more customers than if I were in a more rural area. It works out well because I have a website where people can place orders and specify how they want their meat cut. I charge by the hanging weight, and they can pick up their orders from the farm or from our processor, Jerome Country Market near Jackson, Michigan. (I had to shop around for a new processor because mine shut down during the pandemic. While it’s a bit farther, I prefer the quality of Jerome’s.) I also personally just like living near and
visiting Detroit. 

What else changed for you during the pandemic?

For a few days there a year ago, my phone just wouldn’t stop ringing! People were worried that the food supply might get in trouble because of the pandemic, and they wanted to fill their freezers, so I had an increase in customers.Now, I’m already sold out. 

Do you sell to any local restaurants or grocery stores?

I don’t. At Jerome’s, you can get meat that’s approved for USDA resale, but right now I just sell to my customers. I have enough customers that I don’t really need to, but if someone wants to call me, I’d love to expand! 

Visit juddfarms.com to shop.

This story is featured in the August 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition. And learn more about this year’s Taste Makers here