Known as the nation's largest seedstock producer, Leachman Cattle Co. has long hung its hat on “red and black” genetics.

But in the evolving world of purebred cattle, color isn't what it used to be. So it's no surprise that Leachman's new Billings, MT-based beef alliance comes from a cow of a different color — the white Piedmontese.

“We set out to determine if there was any one breed of cattle that had the natural ability to produce lean, flavorful and naturally tender beef… and we found it in Italy with the Piedmontese breed,” says Lee Leachman. He's president and CEO of Montana Range Meat Co., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Leachman Cattle Co.

“There's plenty of research out there showing Pieds produce beef that's leaner, more tender and higher yielding,” adds Leachman. “And, they maintain moderate birth weights and acceptable calving ease when used in a crossbreeding program.”

All this combines with a perfect fit as the final piece of Leachman's trademark crossbreeding systems.

“They complement exactly what we are doing with our other breeds,” says Leachman.

Montana Range is designed to help cattle producers cash in on not only the leaness but also the low cholesterol levels of Piedmontese beef. Leachman advertises that the breed yields only 48.5 mg./100 g. of meat.

To qualify for Leachman's Montana Range alliance, calves must be at least 50% Piedmontese and verifiable carriers of the myostatin gene. It's the so-called “double-muscling” gene that exhibits itself in the extreme muscularity throughout the animal, most noticeably in the hindquarters of cattle. It's this trait for which Piedmontese are best known.

The fine-boned breed carries nearly no subcutaneous fat and very little intramuscular fat or marbling. Male Piedmontese can actually be nearly black, gray or pale fawn in color, and the females are usually white or pale fawn.

Beef Partners Needed

“Montana Range beef is an all-natural, elite beef raised under quality-assured conditions,” explains Ralph Peterson, Billings, director of operations and marketing for Montana Range.

To deliver on this promise, Montana Range needs partner producers willing to raise terminal-cross calves under a strict production protocol. Montana Range beef is raised with no added growth hormones, antibiotics or animal by-products.

“That means no treatment with any of those type of products — ever — anywhere along the line,” states Peterson.

“Every animal entered into our program is identified and source verified,” he adds.

Montana Range calves are fed in contract feedyards located near Omaha, NE. Finished cattle are harvested at O'Neil's Packing Co. in Omaha. The boxed beef is then distributed to wholesalers and retailers around the country.

Montana Range also offers a selection of products through mail order and Internet purchase. These items include pre-cut frozen steaks, roasts, ground beef patties and franks.

Peterson expects to harvest 12,000-14,000 head of cattle through Montana Range next year. The goal is to double that number each year for the next few years. Calves already are being produced for the program in several states stretching from Washington to Georgia.

Peterson says the natural beef market is anything but a niche these days — as evidenced by the demand for Montana Range that he sees daily from home and foodservice customers.

“We're getting close to the point where the demand could grow faster than our present ability to produce for it,” explains Peterson. “That's why we're looking for ranchers anywhere in the country that can partner with us in this venture.”

Montana Range Rules

Leachman Cattle Co. is offering premiums for cattle that meet strict production standards to include in their Montana Range branded beef alliance. They are looking for partners who will:

  • Produce Piedmontese-sired calves via natural service or artificial insemination.

  • Enroll the calves in the Certified Piedmontese Beef Program.

  • Purchase pharmaceuticals through the Leachman Certified Program and Walco International.

  • Not use growth hormones.

  • Identify all calves that receive antibiotic treatments for elimination from the program.

  • Use Piedmontese genetics with the verifiable Myostatin gene.

To qualify, cattle must fit live criteria and must have a minimum ribeye area of 1.6 sq. in./cwt.

Figure 1 shows the current Montana Range grid formula for cattle that qualify. Cattle without an eartag or with a medicated eartag do not qualify and are purchased at market less 30¢. Dark cutters and other out cattle also are disqualified and purchased at market less 30¢.

For more information contact Leachman Cattle Co., PO Box 2505, Billings, MT 59103, call 406/254-2666 or e-mail matt@leachman.com.

Figure 1. Grid formula for qualifying cattle

A) Base commodity price is the weekly average price from the USDA Web page.

B) Base premium of $0.16/lb. of hot carcass weight [HCW]. [Note: ribeye area = 1.6/cwt. or better]

C) Yield grade calculation [Note: YG will be calculated to the tenths. i.e., 1.4 or 2.3]

0 - 0.99 YG0 + $0.04
1 - 1.99 YG1 $0.00
2 - 2.99 YG2 - $0.08
3 - 3.99 YG3 - $0.20
4 and up YG4 - $0.20

D) Carcass size performance calculation

Less than 650 lbs. - $0.20
Light 650-700 lbs. - $0.05
Heavy 701-850 lbs. +$0.05
More than 850 lbs. - $0.20

E) The performance grid

Size
YG
Below
650 lbs.
Light
650-700 lbs.
Heavy
701-850 lbs.
Above
850 lbs.
0 - 0.99 0.00 +0.15 +0.25 0.00
1 - 1.99 -0.04 +0.11 +0.21 -0.04
2 - 2.99 -0.12 +0.03 +0.13 -0.12
3 - 3.99 -0.24 -0.09 +0.01 -0.24
4 & up -0.24 -0.09 +0.01 -0.24

F) Example of performance grid formula usage

$1.12 commodity price [USDA weekly average]
+$0.16 ribeye area qualification premium
$0.25 +$0.04 yield grade premium for YG0
+$0.05 size premium for carcass size 775 lbs.
$1.37/lb. total hot carcass value

Note: This grid is subject to change.

Leachman Cattle Co. Alliance Options

The Montana Range branded beef program is a new venture for Leachman Cattle Co. But, the Leachman family and its employees are far from being neophytes in the alliance business.

“Leachman knew long ago the future was in aligning with cooperators — families involved in ranching,” says operations manager Wayne Fahsholtz, Billings, MT. “They have the management skills and the cattle but want to keep their operations simple. We can help them by providing technical support, genetics and marketing assistance.”

Montana Range is just one component of the Leachman Certified Program. This broad-spectrum alliance links more than 2,500 producers operating 400,000-plus cows who already source their genetics from Leachman.

With Seth Leachman, the company seedstock specialist, the philosophy is not to take risks or deviate from established principles and commitments. Using Leachman's trademark Optimum Mainstream Crossbreeding system as the production template, they offer cooperators a wide range of options and alliance participation levels.

“Our cooperator system for seedstock is well established, giving us a large genetic pool,” explains Fahsholtz. “The feeder calf program is in its infancy but promises to put commercial producers together with selected buyers, thereby adding value for both sides — seedstock and commercial.”

Leachman plans to offer technology-based marketing channels for source-verified feeder calves.

New-age marketing strategies include special video sales and Internet technology.