Emma cattle ranch seeks exposure at stock show | PostIndependent.com

Emma cattle ranch seeks exposure at stock show

Scott CondonThe Aspen TimesPost IndependentGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Scott Condon The Aspen Times

Tom Waldeck wants to draw attention at the National Western Stock Show in Denver on Wednesday to his ranch in Emma and its resident wagyu cattle.Waldeck’s Emma Farms Cattle Co. will be showing in the first-ever wagyu cattle exhibition at the Denver stock show, probably the most prestigious event of its kind in the country.There aren’t a lot of ranchers in the U.S. who raise wagyu cattle, which originated in Japan and produce what is considered some of the best-tasting beef. The critical mass wasn’t there before this year to earn a coveted spot in the stock show’s exhibit competition. At least 50 head of a breed must be available for an exhibit.Waldeck will be showing six of his cattle, including a 32-month-old bull, Hoshi Maru, that he figures will be a vital part of his operation over the years. The six wagyu are at “boarding school” right now, getting trimmed, blow dried and generally pampered. They also are working with a team that will show them.The goal really isn’t to win a medal at the stock show, Waldeck said. It is to build greater awareness of the wagyu breed in general and the operation of Waldeck and his partners in particular.Emma Farms Cattle Co. teamed last year with Campbell & Sons Ranch and LeValley Ranch, both located near Hotchkiss, to raise pureblood wagyu cattle. Waldeck got interested in raising wagyu five years ago and bought a few calves from a breeder in Oregon and some more in New Mexico. The operation has taken off. He took 10 steers to the butcher in 2010 and 36 the following year, and the companies estimate they will deliver 120 for processing this year.”All I wanted was three cows, and we have 300,” Waldeck said. That makes Emma Farms and its partner ranches one of the biggest pureblood wagyu operations in the U.S.About 50 wagyu live at Emma Farms, the former Cerise Ranch in the heart of Emma, about 18 miles from Aspen. Waldeck bought the 140-acre ranch in 2006. He has put most of it in a conservation easement that allows agricultural operations. The balance of the herd is at the Hotchkiss ranches.The ranches expect to see about 140 calves born this year, Waldeck said. They raise their cows strictly for eating and not for breeding stock.Wagyu take considerably longer to raise from birth to processing, with steers requiring 30 to 36 months to achieve the highest quality. That is roughly twice as long as most other breeds require for maturity. That makes them unattractive to many ranchers. More time means more feed, more labor and greater risk for something to go wrong. Ranchers don’t like risk.But for the cattlemen that go with wagyu, the payoff can be handsome. Emma Farms has contracts to provide beef to several high-end establishments, including the Little Nell Hotel’s Montagna restaurant, Sebastian’s in Vail and the Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs. The company is working on a deal to provide beef to Elway’s in Denver, and it already provides beef to a group of high-end eateries in Los Angeles.Waldeck wouldn’t disclose the prices he charges for his beef, but the retail levels leave no doubt it is high-end meat. The Little Nell charges $22 for a one-third-pound hamburger. A steak at some restaurants goes for $50.Emma Farms’ wagyu cattle are never fed antibiotics or growth hormones, Waldeck said. They are 90 to 95 percent grass fed. The breed is known for the tiny bits of fat interspersed in the muscle, giving it a distinctive taste.”It’s different than any other beef,” Waldeck said. “You know you’re eating beef, but it has more depth and more complexity.”Wagyu beef is also popular because it has high levels of unsaturated fats that can boost “good” cholesterol.Waldeck anticipates that people who know the cattle business will be curious about the wagyu he and other exhibitors have at the stock show. He sees it as an opportunity to advance that niche of the industry.”We’re trying to build a Colorado industry, not just fool around with a ranch,” Waldeck said.scondon@aspentimes.com

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