Twins use technology to assess livestock quality

Mary Ann Thomas
Associated Press
Identical twins Matthew and Michael Kasanicky show off one of their 270-pound pigs on the family’s Gilpin farm. The brothers have a small business that uses ultrasound to determine the quality of meat on the butcher-select livestock.

LEECHBURG, PA - Michael and Matthew Kasanicky can tell you how good a steak will be before a butcher or chef ever sees it.

The identical twins from Gilpin, third generation hog farmers and college students, have what could be called "inside" information about that steak.

In addition to helping to run the family farm and attending college at Penn State New Kensington, they are growing their own business, "Identical Genetics."

They use ultrasound technology on cattle to assess the quality of meat and analyze the animals' genetics.

In a wild coincidence, the name of their business doesn't refer to the identical twin brothers but the previous owners name — identical twin sisters, Lacy Weimer and Lynn (Weimer) Korns from near Wellersburg, Somerset County.

Longtime family friends, the Kasanickys asked the Weimers if they could use the name when they took up the animal ultrasound business last year after the Weimer sisters left their ultrasound business to turn to other farming ventures.

The women could have offered the catchy name to anyone, Lacy Weimer said, "but it wouldn't have been suiting."

Identical Genetics also refer to one of the uses of ultrasound scanning: producing images for a genetic analysis of the distribution of meat and fat in livestock.

The use of ultrasound scanning has been around for years, but the practice is not widespread, according to Mark O'Neill, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

"Scanning has been used for a wide variety of purposes, including identifying the marbling of meat," he said. "That is what chefs talk about. There are certain traits they are looking for."

Matthew Kasanicky of Gilpin uses an ultrasound wand to take images of cattle while looking at a computer monitor to check the quality of the images.

The Kasanickys are using the ultrasound on their hogs to determine the meat quality so they can best sell the animals at market.

The pigs are in a 1844 farm building with a rough-cut stone wall and the traditional pig pens.

But the old-style farm traditions fade when you see the orange glow of the heat lamps in one of the pig pens and multiple sacks holding different feeds.

The boys have won numerous farm shows and 4-H competitions for their prize pigs, a combination of good genetics and "bodybuilding," feeding the animals the right mix of grains and other ingredients.

The brothers each recently won $5,500 scholarships during the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

The science of farming

The science of raising the best hogs appeals to the Kasanickys, who are trying to take a modern approach to traditional farming.

"Working with the animal teaches you a lot more about life," said Matthew, 19.

Michael, with a similar voice, seamlessly finishes the thought: "It makes you grow up quicker. These animals don't feed themselves. You have a responsibility."

They will focus this spring on finding new ultrasound business scanning live cattle for beef producers along the East Coast. The work is seasonal, as it is best to scan calves when they are close to 13 and 14 months old, according to the brothers.

They trained and were certified by the Iowa State University CUP Lab to conduct ultrasound imaging, which they send back to the university to analyze the genetics and report the results to the owners of the cattle.

Among other factors, the lab analyzes the distribution of fat to meat. If a farmer wants to improve the quality of meat from his livestock and he knows the genetics of his herd, he can, for example, purchase a better bull.

In the endless search for efficiency, ultrasound scanning is one of the many tools that can help livestock producers and farmers, said Lester Griel, attending veterinarian for livestock evaluation for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

"The bottom line is, the American consumer spends less on food than anyone in the world," he said.

Genomic testing, ultrasound and other aides help producers select a breeding program for increased efficiencies, according to Griel.

Matthew Kasanicky sees the use of ultrasound increasing in the future.

"For our area, we see ultrasound as an opportunity that might start to become more of a necessity," he said.

Even small farmers could improve the quality of their herds, he said.

It's this kind of thinking that will help his sons succeed in the future, said family patriarch Joe Kasanicky, 56.

"You have to find a niche," he said. "It's just the way go."