Getting Fat on Grass: Filer Rancher Aims for Niche Beef Market – Twin Falls Times

FILER • A man once asked Fred Nye how he sells beef if he has no cattle.

Nye says he has no cattle because he sells all his beef.

The Filer rancher, who has been raising cattle for more than 20 years, delved into the niche market of grass-finished beef about eight years ago.

A friend in the Boise Valley had some friends who had survived cancer, Nye said Friday at his N.O. Cattle Co. headquarters. Their doctors didn’t want them to eat meat raised using antibiotics or pebble-sized hormone implants.

“So I started raising some on grass for them,” he said.

All cattle eat grass for the first six to 12 months of their lives. But most commercially raised cattle also have hormone implants. Then they’re finished in feedlots on high grain diets with additives to promote growth.

After raising cattle and working in the animal pharmaceutical industry for more than two decades, Nye maintains what some might consider a realistic view of the cattle industry.

“You want them to grow fast, you better feed them some gas,” he said.

But to meet a local demand, he does things differently.

“If we’re gonna try to feed the world, we can’t do it on natural and grass-fed beef,” he said. ”But there’s a few people who want it, so some of us are providing it.”

On 40 acres, Nye raises about 20 head of cattle without antibiotics and hormones. Most of his animals are Angus bulls crossed with beef and dairy cows.

“They will put on internal fat from the grass,” he said.

Nye’s land is subdivided into five pastures. He rotates his cattle throughout the growing season so they’re always eating fresh grass.

“Grass takes about two weeks to recover,” Nye said.

During winter, the ground freezes, so he feeds his cattle hay and and grain.

Nye’s natural beef cows will continue to fatten on grain and are often ready to harvest in December.

When the grass grows back, his grass-finished cows go back to pasture for another spring and summer. They’re harvested in October.

Nye said he works with family-owned pack houses in Hagerman and Buhl that allow custom packaging.

“Most people just want roast and hamburger,” he said.

Like any natural or organic food product, the benefits of eating grass-fed beef are debatable.

A 30-year study by researchers at California State University in Chico suggests that “grass-based diets can significantly improve the fatty acid composition and antioxidant content of beef.” Grass-based diets also elevate precursors for vitamin A and E and spur cancer-fighting antioxidant activity better than grain-fed beef does, the study says.

Although Nye raises natural beef, he doesn’t believe the hype.

“It’s just a buzzword going through the medical industry,” he said. “But if people want it, I’ll feed it that way.”

Not all of consumers of natural and grass-fed beef are looking to reap health benefits, however.

Rhonda Craig has been been buying natural beef from N.O. Cattle Co. for about five years. The hormones and antibiotics used to raise commercial beef don’t concern her, she said. She buys from Nye because she knows it’s fresh, where it’s raised and how it’s raised.

“I do enjoy getting it from someone I know,” she said.

Craig said she usually buys half a cow every year, which typically amounts to about 250 pounds of roast, hamburger and various cuts of steak.

“It probably lasts me a year and a half or better,” she said.

Natural and grass-finished beef costs more than commercially raised products found in stores. Nye said his beef is about $4 to $5 a pound.

But Craig said it’s a better deal because a pound is a pound; it’s not all fat.

“It’s a much better product,” she said.

N.O. Cattle Co. isn’t a full-scale operation, Nye said, “it’s just a hobby-type farm thing.”

“I used to feed cattle in a feed lot. I’ve done both,” he said. “This is more because people want to buy their own beef, they want to know where it came from and who touched it.”