Weatherford Democrat

November 4, 2013

Ranch to table

Steering a new course


Weatherford Democrat

— BY JUDY SHERIDAN

 Aledo veterinarian Dr. Glenn Rogers doesn’t have a beef with the traditional way cattle are raised and brought to market.

“U.S. agriculture and the U.S. beef industry furnish the safest, most wholesome food supply in the world,” he said. “It’s not a concern. It’s more of an effort to enter a niche market that’s growing.”

A sixth generation Texas rancher with acreage dating back to the 1890s, Rogers is adapting to a national natural foods trend by starting a new business,

He raises about 500 breeding heifers annually through his cow/calf operation on Holt River Ranch in Graford, but he began branching out in April, marketing beef directly to the consumer through a company he named Grassy Ridge Natural Beef.

“Natural is a non-definition as far as the USDA goes,” he said. “It means minimally processed at slaughter. It’s vague.”

For Rogers, however, natural is defined as meat from animals raised without growth hormones, antibiotics or animal by-products, cattle that ate mostly grass and never saw the inside of a feedlot — where additives are routinely used to improve feed efficiency.

“We try to be very transparent,” he said. “If we use antibiotics when an animal is sick — and I believe it would be inhumane not to — it’s noted, and that animal doesn’t go into the natural program.”

 Varying from the norm is more costly, Rogers admitted, resulting in a higher-priced product.

“One $1 implant given to a calf can result in 20 pounds of extra weight at weaning,” he said. “That’s $40.”

Removing antibiotics from feed products can usher in more illness, another expense.

 “Natural beef products are a luxury item,” he said. “Technology has allowed us to feed the world, but we want to use it as little as possible to achieve our goals.”

Rogers is passionate about stewarding his grassland, working to improve soil health through a rotational cell grazing system that lets the pastures rest and incorporating no-till techniques to limit the soil’s exposure to sunlight and minimize fertilizer use.

“Animals don’t perform if they’re not on good feed,” he said.

 Cattle fed grass exclusively develop a yellow fat from the carotene, Rogers said, but the taste of the meat improves.

“I will say the flavor of animals raised on pasture tastes better,” he said, conceding that the meat from cattle finished in a feedlot gets higher marks for tenderness due to the higher level of intramuscular fat.

“You just don’t overcook it,” he advised. “Our personal favorite — with cuts that aren’t tenderloin or ribeye — is to apply sea salt for 30 minutes; it helps to tenderize it.”

The dry aging process Grassy Ridge uses, where the meat is hung for 14 days after processing — allowing the muscles to stretch — is another way to boost tenderness.

Rogers isn’t the only one who relishes the beef harvested from the first lot of commercial-bred Red Angus — two dozen animals — to come out of the natural program.

Aledo Agbackers, offering Grassy Ridge hamburgers during AHS football games, have been selling out in the third quarter, with Bearcat supporters putting away more than 500 patties per game.

Rogers reports repeat customers at Aledo’s Bulk and Bunches, and he is just beginning to explore consumer demand through the Weatherford Farmers’ Market.

People have become more interested in putting “a name and a face” on those who produce the food they eat, Rogers said.

To make that connection “more of an experience” he has built a large pavilion with a view of the Brazos River, complete with an outdoor kitchen, stone fireplace and other amenities.

Rogers has already staged his first Beef Fest there, a customer appreciation day offering wildlife tours, live fiddle music and beef prepared by a professional chef.

Marketing may be a new subject for Rogers, but he’s shown he can change hats with ease, having spent 11 years as a practicing veterinarian, nine in the academic arena and 12 in the animal health industry, where he is recognized for his contributions to herd health programs.

He is working with an economist friend to decide if he wants to push the program out or keep it small.

“At 57 I’m at the time of life where I don’t need to add stress,” he reflected. “The concept is good, and there is demand — a desire to connect with where food comes from.

“I’m excited to have customers come out and see the ranch.”