By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau: A recent article in Drovers CattleNetwork highlighted how the genetic makeup of South Dakota’s lost animals due to the October blizzard will take years to rebuild.

If you’re not raising a cattle herd, you might not know anything about the importance of quality genetics in a cattle herd. As the same article pointed out, it takes years and generations to develop quality genetic traits with each ranch building them into a herd based on environment, feed resources and more.

Though we might not know anything, we should care. It’s these concerted efforts on the part of our American ranchers to build quality into a herd that makes our U.S. beef industry the finest in the world. Plus, if you’re a beef aficionado, you should care even more as this is why you can distinguish various tastes of meat by breed and even methods of raising the cattle, for example, grass-fed.

Kacie Tomerlin, co-owner with her husband Danny of Arizona Legacy Beef, understands this all too well. They have a unique heritage breed (a true genetic breed that can be traced over extended generations) of beef and the genetics have been generations in the making.

 Danny Tomerlin (white shirt) of Arizona Legacy Beef sorting the cattle.

Taking care of the genetics means a lot to any rancher you’d visit with. “We’re ensuring the longevity of a quality beef supply by securing those genetics,” says Tomerlin who is also president of Yavapai County Farm Bureau in Arizona. “Even if you’re not a beef eater [the beef industry] is a huge part of the economy that impacts everyone. From the medicinal beef byproducts to the variety of consumer products it becomes a widespread product in our economy.”

Indeed, Arizona’s beef industry is the top agriculture commodity again (last year it was dairy) in the state at $854 million in cash receipts alone (exlcuding the value of any of the byproducts produced), according to the USDA’s 2012 figures.

“In regards to genetic quality, if you are a beef eater,” continues Tomerlin, “then the quality of what you’re getting on your plate is a lot different: How it looks on your plate, how it’s going to cook up, how it’s going to taste.”

Arizona Legacy Beef provides 100% natural Criollo beef from animals raised on their native rangeland that is lower in total fat, saturated fatty acids and cholesterol than mainstream beef simply because of the genetic makeup of this particular breed of beef.

The Criollo breed is originally from Spain and carries a unique muscling in the beef carcass. In fact, while some breeds just cannot carry off a tender cut of meat if raised exclusively on grass and native rangeland, the Criollo breed can.

To ensure ongoing quality and availability of Arizona Legacy Beef, the Tomerlins work in concert with other producers. “We work with producers in other states that also have the Criollo heritage breed and it spreads the risk,” explains Tomerlin. “So, if something were to happen - say the drought extended so badly in Arizona we would have to disperse our cattle - we know we could as we’ve qualified the purity of the genetics in the other Criollo herds around the country. We know where we could go to get a starting herd if we had to. Then, within our own herd we work to keep it a closed herd with a few other Criollo producers that we know has the same quality genetics.”

In reference to what our South Dakota ranchers are now facing after tremendous losses in their beef herds, Tomerlin expounds on the challenges. “It’s going to be difficult,” she says. “But thanks to ranchers in Montana and Wyoming with similar genetics to those cattle lost in the blizzard that are stepping in and helping is monumental to the recovery effort but it still does not mean a numbers recovery. In cattle we have a one-a-year production rate so it will still take years.” 

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