Strategic Marketing

Piedmontese Go Premium

Nebraska's Lone Creek Cattle Company is marketing to its strengths, selling top-end Piedmontese bulls and then offering buyers a ready market for the calves from those bulls. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo courtesy of Lone Creek Cattle Company)

Shane Peed knows how to fill a niche beef market. During the past 10 years, he and his family at the Lone Creek Cattle Company (LCCC) have refined a production system focused on bringing Piedmontese beef to consumers. It's a no-fuss approach for cow/calf producers who want to step into the niche side of beef production.

The strategy is simple: Provide cow/calf producers with the best in Piedmontese bull genetics, and then give them a ready market for the calves. Peed believes it's a plan with a lot of growth potential.

LCCC, with corporate offices in Lincoln, Nebraska, encompasses multiple cattle ranches, partnerships with co-operator herds and direct sales of certified Piedmontese beef to premium restaurants and specialty retailers. Online meat sales are offered through a separate family-owned entity, Great Plains Beef (www.greatplainsbeef.com). Peed said they currently work five ranches and partner with six feedyards across Nebraska, Kansas and South Dakota.

MARKET-DRIVEN PLAN

The cattle company's prime bull-development site is Toro Ranch, Custer County, Nebraska. This is where Piedmontese seedstock and development begin. Bulls developed here are used in LCCC terminal herds and leased to external producers.

Other LCCC ranches, all based in Nebraska, include Pullman Ranch, Red Deer Ranch, Quarter Circle Bar Ranch and Hoffman T Lazy Z Ranch. Pullman Ranch specializes in maternal development; Red Deer Ranch serves as a center for terminal development; Hoffman T Lazy Z Ranch is used for fall-calving terminal herds; Quarter Circle Bar Ranch provides facilities for feeding and intensive grazing for backgrounding calves prior to their transfer to finishing yards.

Maintaining a consistently tender, hormone- and antibiotic-free product is the focus of LCCC's marketing program.

"It all goes back to the bull," Peed said. "Our bull-testing and development program helps identify the best genetics. Those sires service a network of co-operator herds to provide a large-enough volume of calves to fill orders for this specialty beef."

CO-OPERATORS WANTED

Piedmontese numbers are still relatively small in North America, with some 6,500 registered animals. Operators who want to get into the niche market can start with an LCCC lease. Peed prefers to not share the number of pounds of beef the LCCC is marketing annually. The business is still in a building phase and looking for co-operators.

"Beef producers can lease an LCCC bull and sell weaned calves back to us at current market prices plus a per-head premium," Peed said. "Our bull-lease program typically covers a 90-day breeding season. We work with individual producer-calving strategies to negotiate each lease."

The bull-lease program brings terminal carcass traits to LCCC's program so ranchers can concentrate on building the best cow herd for their environment and calve within their most profitable time frame.

"Partnering with producers and having that variety of calving seasons is advantageous to us," Peed said. "It's a means for balancing out our supply flow of cattle for finishing."

LCCC pays co-operating producers a per-head premium that Peed said is competitive with industry standards for hormone- and antibiotic-free animals at the time calves are sold. This gives co-operator herds a ready market. He declined to give specifics on per-head premiums, saying they follow industry standards and are constantly changing.

The Peed family has worked closely with the Italian Piedmontese Breed Association since starting their herd. There are three North American Piedmontese breed associations: Piedmontese Association of the United States (www.pauscattle.org), North American Piedmontese Cattle Association (NAPA, www.piedmontese.org), and the Canadian Piedmontese Association (www.clrc.ca/piedmontese.shtml).

LCCC partners with NAPA to bring Piedmontese bulls to Toro Ranch, where they are tested for feed efficiency, phenotype, disposition and growth potential. Data collected on each bull is analyzed and compared with other North American Piedmontese bulls.

"When bulls come to the ranch, we give them about 75 days to get accustomed to the environment," Peed said. "Then we put them in test pens and use the GrowSafe system to measure feed intake for 75 days."

After those 75 days, and once the other genetic data are taken into account, the top sires are chosen for the LCCC leasing program. Co-operator herds selling calves back to LCCC agree to follow a preconditioning vaccination protocol. Typically, calves are all weaned within a 45-day period.

A NEW VIEW

Claims that certified Piedmontese beef is better nutritionally than other beef have data from the University of Nebraska to back them up. The study reports a typical USDA-graded 3.5-ounce sample of a Choice New York strip contained 82 mg of cholesterol, while the Certified Piedmontese sample contained only about 38 mg. The Piedmontese beef also had less saturated fat than samples of conventional beef. For example, the average USDA Choice New York strip sample contained more than 4.6 grams of saturated fat, the Piedmontese sample 4.2 grams.

Shane Peed, a cheerleader for the Piedmontese breed and one of Lone Creek Cattle Company's (LCCC) owners, said these traits, along with consistency, bring something different to the consumer market.

"More and more consumers are looking for consistent meat quality and a beef-production system that makes animal welfare a priority," he said. "That's what we've been able to put in place."

For more information about the Piedmontese breed, visit www.piedmontese.com. To learn more about LCCC, visit its website at www.lonecreekcattleco.com.

(BAS)