In a bid to bolster the grass-fed beef industry in the U.S., a group of investors looks to New Zealand.
A philosophy that 100% grass-fed beef produces the highest quality meat has led Gearld Fry and a group of co-investors to import an entire herd, consisting of 69 head, of New Zealand grass-fed Devons to the U.S.
The 66 females and three bulls will be quarantined for 30 days in San Luis Obispo before they're divided up and transported to several different farms. Fry says the herd genetics, which were developed through 30 years of closed breeding and selection of traits suitable for a grass-fed diet, are what Fry and his group have been working to produce in their own herds.
“In February of 2002, I started trying to select and create bulls that would produce gourmet beef,” Fry says. “When I say gourmet beef, I mean meat that is 100% grass-fed and 100% grass finished. I became acquainted with a New Zealand breeder who spent 30 years condensing his gene pool selecting for genetics that produce gourmet beef. He let me go into his two-year-old heifers to select 12 of them and bring them to America.”
Fry, along with his partners at the Bakewell Reproductive Center (www.bakewellrepro.com), harvested embryos from the heifers, which came from New Zealand's Rotokawa® Devon herd. They started herds of Devons in Wyoming, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and the Northeast.
“We've probably produced 150 animals from those 12,” Fry says. “Now, the New Zealand producer is having some personal health problems and has to sell his herd.”
Fry considers the genetics of these imported Devons to be superior to what he has currently been able to produce. Given time, he believes his Devon herds will have the same condensed genetics, but says he won't live long enough to see that.
“We had our meat tested at Clemson University,” Fry says. “In the first sample, the meat was 87% Choice or better, and the tenderness values measured by the Warner-Bratzler shear test showed that our meat was better than restaurant quality. We've never had any of our cattle that didn't test positive for gourmet beef.”
According to Clemson's report, the total fat values of the meat tested were “equivalent to USDA low Choice values; the Omega 6 Omega 3 ration was a near perfect 1.26 to 1; and Warner-Bratzler Shear values averaged 3.6 - below the 4.1 level,” which is the generally accepted range where 98% of people feel the meat is quite tender and of restaurant quality. While Fry and his partners were pleased with the results, they expect to see even better results through their imported herd.
Fry has spent more than 40 years in the cattle business, working with large numbers of herds around the world. Through Fry Reproductive, he offers artificial insemination and embryo transfers and collecting, evaluating and freezing semen. Since the mid '90s, he's been assisting fellow cattlemen in returning to grass-fed, non-crossbred beef. His search for the proper grass-fed genetics has taken him around the world.
“I've visited about every Devon farm in Africa and Australia,” Fry says. “In searching, I sent out a large number of emails outlining what I was looking for. That's how I found this particular herd. When I first visited the farm, I was impressed with the females. But I knew the real test was in the bulls.”
Fry says it's unusual these days to find bulls whose qualities surpass that of the females in their herd.
“But that's what these are,” Fry says. “This cowherd is phenomenal. They're 100% grass-fed, and there are several different female lines in the herd. On my first trip, I brought back 20,000 straws of semen. I took time to evaluate the bulls and everything I had seen on that farm. I knew then I wouldn't live long enough to recreate what this cattleman had done over 30 years.”
Fry will facilitate genetic management of the herd, and the cattle will be located in different geographic locations so the genetics will be developed in more than one area of the country. The bulls will go out to different regions to work in cowherds.
“This is the first time Devons have been shipped to America since back in the 18th century,” Fry says. “It's probably the first time in 500 years that an entire herd was imported. We're excited about the potential. We feel we have the genetic package we need to produce beef everyone wants. That's the only reason we wanted this herd.”
Loretta Sorensen is a freelance writer based in Yankton, SD.