Family ranch uses higher-end breed to produce healthier meat

Cass Rains
Enid News & Eagle
FILE - In this March 19, 2019 photo, Linda Woodruff talks about her wagyu cattle during an interview at Silverwood Ranch southeast of Enid, Okla.

FAIRMONT, Okla. (AP) - Linda Woodruff and her family raise the Japanese breed of Wagyu cattle on their family farm, Silverwood Wagyu, east of Fairmont.

The name comes from "Wa," which means Japanese, and "Gyu," which means cow. Silverwood also is a hybrid name, as Woodruff's son, Jeremy, manages the farm's website and her daughter, Stacey Silver, and Stacey's husband, Justin, manage the day-to-day operation of the farm.

"It's a family farm," Woodruff said to the Enid News & Eagle. "We all work together."

Woodruff's father was born in 1914 and lived about a mile away from the farm. As a young boy, her father helped the farmer who owned the farm cut wood and do chores because the farmer only had girls. When the farmer passed and the farm came up for auction, her father bought it.

"When my dad passed away in 2010, I became the owner of the farm, and my daughter moved to this farm and is raising her children there," she said. "After my daughter was set up, we decided to put cattle on the land, but normal cattle would not do, so we decided to raise high-end, specialty cows."

Growing up and working on the farm, Woodruff said she always wanted to run her own operation. She said she also began Silverwood Wagyu because she wanted to know where her food comes from.

FILE - In this March 19, 2019 photo, wagyu cow and calf roam at Silverwood Ranch southeast of Enid, Okla.

She said in 2012, while on break in Fort Worth, her son-in-law called to tell her about some Wagyu cattle for sale at an operation there. She came back with three cows and has been growing the ranch's herd since.

"We chose the Wagyu because they are very calm," Woodruff said. "They are calm and mild-mannered."

In the United States, Wagyu are bred for superior meat quality traits and calving ease ability and are also used with breeds such as Angus and Holstein to increase the meat quality grade of the first cross progeny, according to the American Wagyu Association.

Woodruff said another reason for the selection of the breed is its health benefits.

"It's very healthy, and we raise it naturally. We raise them in a clean environment," she said. "I wanted a product that didn't go through a commercial feeding house."

In summertime, the cows at Silverwood are grass-fed. In winter, they are fed hay from one of the farms pastures and feed cubes.

Woodruff said the cattle also go through a specialized feed program designed by her son-in-law prior to harvest.

Wagyu cattle have been extensively studied in Japan and in the United States. Washington State, Kansas State, Pennsylvania State, Texas A&M and other universities have done extensive research into the fat produced by Wagyu cattle and effects of dietary fatty acids.

Research at WSU shows Wagyu beef has a 2:1 ratio of mono-unsaturated fatty acid to saturated fatty acid, compared to British cattle with a 1:1 ratio. Other studies have shown higher mono-unsaturated fatty acid in the diet is associated with lower cardiovascular disease. Foods high in oleic acid also have been found to decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol.

According to Dr. Stephen B. Smith from the Department of Animal Science at Texas A and;M University, Wagyu beef is the healthiest beef that can be produced.

"When you produce high quality beef, you also produce healthy beef," Woodruff said. "In Japan, beef palatability is positively correlated with the amount of oleic acid in beef. The Asian markets prefer beef that contains elevated oleic acid, or softer fat."

The results of a study led by Smith found Oleic acid has positive health benefits. Increasing oleic acid in beef has a measurable effect on cholesterol metabolism in people. Smith found modifying the fatty acid composition of beef can be done naturally and practically. Beef from Wagyu cattle is healthier because it is genetically enriched with oleic acid. As Oleic acid increases through feeding programs, saturated and trans-fatty acids in beef are reduced.

FILE - In this March 19, 2019 photo, Linda Woodruff hand feeds a wagyu bull during an interview at Silverwood Ranch southeast of Enid, Okla.

In Japan, the cattle are called Kobe and were used as draft animals, which could explain their calm demeanor. The breed was first introduced in the United States in the 1970s when Japan allowed four varieties to be exported to the states.

"Our cows are direct descendants from Australia, which is a leader in Wagyu production and quality," Woodruff said. "We raise our cows without cages on naturally growing Bermuda grass until they are ready for process. We do this process to first and foremost keep a healthy and happy cow and secondly to create the beautiful marbling texture, and taste you will immediately love."

The animals are harvested in a humane manner and processed by Chieftain Meats in Kiowa, Kan. The meat is for sale at Jumbo Foods and is served by the Ponca City Country Club. The meat also is sold online at Woodruff said she would sell stock to ranchers interested in a Wagyu herd. She said those who taste the marbled meat are impressed with flavor and quality.

"They can usually taste the difference," she said. "The feedback is excellent."

Woodruff said the goal is to see the farm continue to grow and have more people try and become consumers of Wagyu beef.

"Our ideal would be 12 calves a year," Woodruff said. "Ideally, if I could harvest one calf a month. That's our goal."