Let Them Eat Cake

Have you ever wondered how you get incredibly great tasting beef? Of course, the breed of the cattle and their diet is very important when it comes to taste, but how that animal was cared for throughout its life also plays a huge role. For instance, every steer contains a large amount of the glycogen (sugars) in its body. Once slaughtered, these vital glycogen molecules turn into lactic acid and cause the carcass to go into rigor mortis – thus tenderizing the meat and giving it great flavor. If a steer is stressed or injured prior to slaughter, the glycogen molecules are used up in extra activity. The absence of the lactic acid in the carcass causes an absence of tender and flavorful meat.

A great rancher once told me his cattle should have a comfortable and humane life, with only one rough day at the end. He said if he practiced good land stewardship and humane husbandry, his cattle would reward him with a quality harvest.

IMG_8969 copy
IMG_8969 copy

This same rancher showed me first hand what good husbandry looks like:

  • Long and odd hours no matter the weather
  • No days off - that includes holidays
  • A great love and passion for animals

As you can see, ranching isn't a side job or hobby for this man. It's a lifestyle - his way of life. Every ounce of energy, sweat, and blood in this rancher's body is devoted to his herd. Even though his pastures are well suited for grazing with grass aplenty, he hand delivers cattle cake every Sunday just to make their lives all the sweeter.

This rancher is Mike Fuston of Turkey, Texas.

Where is that you ask?

Good question.

texas-state-highway-map
texas-state-highway-map

Turkey is a small town way up North in the Panhandle of Texas. I had never heard of it. To be honest, I'd never been to the Texas Panhandle. I was misled to believe that region of Texas was a vast and dusty, wasteland filled with wind turbines and tumbleweeds.

Not that appealing right?

Well, I can confirm that it is full of those two things, but it is no wasteland. I learned this myself when I was invited by my longtime friend, Lynita, to head up and check out a cattle operation she and her boyfriend, Mike, run.

I had only been in the meat industry for a few months working the floor at a slaughterhouse, but when Lynita mentioned Mike's pureblood Wagyu herd, I knew I had to see it and learn more. Since 2009, exportation of Waygu beef and genetics from Japan has been outlawed, leaving only a few pureblood herds outside of the small island nation. Most Wagyu here in the United States have been crossbred with domestic breeds to bring down the cost and provide a taste more similar to domestic beef.

Oh, and that restaurant that is selling you “Kobe beef?”

More like 'faux-be' beef.

Don't believe me? See what Forbes has to say on the subject.

So you see why I was so psyched to go see this operation?

I met up with Mike on the tail-end of his evening cattle patrol. We got acquainted while tending to his prized Herefords in the barn that sat on a small hill just beyond the house.

Mike readying supper for his girls
Mike readying supper for his girls

The barn was something to see. Countless show banners hung from the dusty rafters, each signifying a grand-champion from livestock shows in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

Champion show banners hang from the barn rafters
Champion show banners hang from the barn rafters

Now let me digress just a bit here. Texas ranchers are pretty damn serious about their cattle breeds. They tend to stick with them, much like a college graduate and his favorite football team.

Truth be told, it is probably deeper than that.

Well, Mike's family has been raising Herefords for decades. They are dyed-in-the-wool Hereford guys, but what really makes Mike's choice of Hereford ironic is that Lynita's family is known for their decades-long, award-winning Angus…

How those two make their relationship work, I don't know!

Now back to my story.

After every animal had been tended to, we headed into one of the only restaurants in town to grab some grub for ourselves. Now the population of Turkey is just over 400, so Galvan's Restaurant was the place to be on Friday night. After dining on some Tex-Mexchiladas we wandered back to the house where Lynita, uncorked a bottle of wine and we all settled in for the evening.

...or so I thought.

Around 11:30, Mike rose from his old, worn recliner, which, by-the-way, Lynita hates, and went to bale hay.

Yep, bale hay.

In the middle of the night.

On a Friday.

Since the party was mid-way through our second bottle of wine, we opted to stay in and let Mike go it alone. I have no idea what time he returned, but I do know Mike was the first to rise the next morning. There he was at 6am checking on one of his herds.

Around mid-morning, Mike swung back by the house to pick up us slackers. After a short truck ride, we arrived at the tract of land where the pureblood Wagyu grazed. I was surprised how tame Mike's herd was. This level of calmness is only achieved with time and the best TLC.

Mike said initially he faced some difficulty adapting this foreign breed to the Texas climate. To combat this, he began crossbreeding some of his pureblooded Wagyu with Angus cattle, a more adaptable breed of cattle suited to Texas heat.

If you have had Wagyu at a restaurant, chances are that it was, in fact, some domestic crossbred Wagyu.

Finally from there, we went to check on his Herefords at other locations. Mike cares for these animals in such a way that most of his cattle he knows by name. He can back that up with a short biography on each one too.

As we left, he made sure all was in order and we headed back to the house where I experienced my first Turkey Texas Throwdown. Mike brought out some pureblood Wagyu ribeyes, Lynita invited over some puckish neighbors, uncorked more wine and we feasted.

 Pureblood Wagyu rib-eyes

Pureblood Wagyu rib-eyes

Final Thoughts: I had a great time that weekend experiencing an entirely different kind of cattle operation. Mike runs an amazingly, humane outfit where each animal is truly cared for and cared about. As a craft butcher, I am in search of only the finest meats available. This was the kind of operation that produces such meat. The tender care and stress-free life provided by Mike will be evident in the final product - a meat with a sensational taste.

What impressed me about Mike, is he makes sure each steer has a comfortable life with only one rough day at the end – and that's the way it should be. Until then, they eat cake on Sundays.

A BIG THANK YOU goes out to Lynita and Mike for letting me visit their slice of paradise in Turkey, Texas. It was a wonderful weekend that I won’t soon forget.

Lynita and I watching Mike check his herds
Lynita and I watching Mike check his herds

Another BIG THANK YOU goes out to my good friend, Mamie, for sharing Mike and Lynita. She was also a huge help to me when I first launched my blog. I don't know what I would have done without her wit and creativity.