Wagyu Beef Operation featured on OCCA Ranch Tour

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville-Examiner Enterprise

By: Roseanne McKee

From 9 a.m. to noon June 16, the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association held its annual Ranch Tour. A caravan of trucks, a few SUVs and one sedan, mine, left from the Osage County Fairgrounds and headed to six ranches in Osage County, where cowboys held groups of cattle for us to see.

For the next several weeks, my column will highlight a different cattle ranch operation from the tour. I hope these columns will provide a window into the world of cattle ranching rarely explored by those outside the beef industry, which is a significant economic driver in Oklahoma.

The tour was broadcast on AM 1500 with introductions by the OCCA President Shane Stierwalt and interviews with ranch representatives.

Thatcher Drummond described his cattle ranch operation.

“The pasture is primarily fescue with some Bermuda in it. I fertilize this pasture every year and weed spray it when needed. On years when we have a lot of rain, I will mow to approximately a foot tall. … I stock this pasture one cow per acre. The only way I can achieve this is by fertilizing and weed spraying. When it does get hot and dry … I will rotate the pasture just west of here. The pasture I would rotate to is straight Bermuda. Here my stocking rate changes. I try to give them three acres per head and also weed spray and fertilize that pasture,” Thatcher Drummond said.

“Currently, we are using Wagyu bulls on 50 cows in the spring and then turn around and breed 250 cows in the fall. We currently put one Wagyu bull to every 30—35 cows. We leave the bulls on the cows for 30 days and then pull them off and switch back and forth 250 in the spring and 250 in the fall.

Drummond introduced Cade Nichols from Sherman, Texas, who provides the bulls used to breed Drummond’s Angus cows. “We in turn sell the calves back to him, which he feeds out for 24 months before they are ready to go to market.”

Cade Nichols, who manages a 7,000-acre cattle ranch in north Texas, said that Wagyu cattle “may not be pretty in the pasture, but they’re pretty on the plate.
“Contrary to what you may have heard about Wagyu cattle, they are not massaged and fed beer. Actually, they’re pretty tough animals that you can turn out, and they’ll make a living for you.

“This breed was first brought to the United States in 1976 to Texas A&M University to research meat quality. The trade between the United States and Japan was halted until 1992 at which time Japan sent over the first female. Japan continued to send cattle over until 1998 at which time they halted all exports. In the United States, Japanese cattle are known as full-blood Wagyu. The American Wagyu Association maintains a registry of the full-blood Wagyu, which requires a three-way DNA parent verification to ensure the integrity of each animal’s pedigree is traced back to its original Japanese roots. There are many benefits to using Wagyu bulls on cows like the ones you’re viewing. First, Wagyu bulls have an extremely high libido and service more cows than any other breed. We regularly use one bull per 35 head for a 70 to 90-day breeding period. Also, these breeds will live longer than any other breeds. We typically use a bull until it’s 10 to 12 years of age. What this means for a rancher is he doesn’t have to purchase as many bulls to breed his cows and he doesn’t have to purchase them as frequently, which in turn means more money back in his pocket.

“Next, these bulls have very low birth weights. What this does for a rancher is he can confidently use these bulls on heifers like the ones you’re viewing and not have to worry about them when it comes time for them to calve. The average birth weight is about 54 pounds, but the average weaning weight is 517 pounds. Yeah, that weaning weight may be a little less than what you’d get on a Hereford or a Charolais bull but when you add a per pound premium to the calf, the producer actually comes about better. And all the while, [he] doesn’t have to be up all night checking heifers and possibly pulling calves.

Nichols said that at his ranch “using these bulls, we are producing over 95 percent prime beef and a lot of that is prime plus, plus beef. These calves, once weaned, will be brought down to our grow yard until they’re 12- to 14-months of age. Then we ship them to the Texas Panhandle to finish them on grain. We harvest these animals and sell them as boxed beef, mainly to Dallas/Fort Worth area restaurants.

“Another great benefit to these animals, in addition to the fact that they will improve beef quality when crossed with any other breed is the health benefits. Wagyu beef has a tendency to be more tender than most breeds and have a better flavor because of its fatty-acid composition. Wagyu animals are high in monounsaturated fatty acids, Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s.

“Most importantly to me is the fact that it tastes great and increases the value of the animal.”

Read my column next week about the cattle ranch operations of Alred Ranch and Lazy K Cattle Ranch.

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