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From Pasture to Plate: Where's Your Beef From?


Coastal Cattle's Angus herdBeef. It's What's for Dinner. In the 1990s this catchy slogan was used to promote the benefits of incorporating beef into a healthy diet. Fast forward 20 years later and the slogan has transformed to "Discover the Power of Protein in the Land of Beef." With Americans more health conscious than ever consumers are becoming pickier about what they choose to eat.

Thanks to a campaign by the American Angus Association and the American Restaurant Industry consumers have begun to be educated about how the quality of Angus beef compares to beef produced from other breeds. Today whether you walk into McDonalds or a high end restaurant in your hometown you will likely be able to choose an Angus burger or steak as your meal. As the popularity of the Angus breed increases several small farmers have begun building a reputation for producing high quality beef in their local markets.

Southern States is proud to have two beef feed customers who are gaining recognition for producing and selling high quality beef. Both Chuck Stokes of Coastal Cattle in Ayden, NC and Pete Edwards of Windhaven Farm in Windsor, VA sell their meats to high end restaurants as well as in their local communities and beyond through their own stores. Coastal Cattle uses an online store for business, while Windhaven Farm sells their meat out of a traditional brick and mortar on-site market.

So how did Stokes and Edwards get involved in the Angus business?

Stokes of Coastal Cattle was born into the business as they say, joining a three generation tradition of raising Angus. When Stokes was born, he was given five Angus cows to start his herd. Cattle are definitely in his blood. Although not born into the business, Edwards has been in the cattle business for an equally impressive amount of time buying his first cows 40 years ago. Edwards has tried his hand at row cropping, raising hogs and cattle. With an ideal landscape for pasture land he has dedicated his energy into raising all natural Angus beef.

Stokes and Edwards are not alone in raising Angus for American consumers, last year the American Angus Association registered 282,911 head of Angus cattle. Since their introduction to the United States in 1873, the breed has made a lasting impression on the American beef industry. Today Angus cattle represent the majority of the U.S. cow herd. According to the American Angus Association, the advantages of the breed are strong maternal traits, calving ease, growth, carcass quality, relative low maintenance, versatility and they are a proven breed.

Wyndhaven Farm's herd of Red Angus cattleWhile both Stokes and Edwards raise Angus, Stokes has Black Angus and Edwards has Red Angus. The main differences being the color of the hide, as both types of cattle produce the highly desirable marbled meat. Stokes suggests, "There is no other beef cow that can genetically produce the flavors, texture and marbling like Angus." This is part of the reason why nearly all beef cows now have genetic ties to Angus. "You can't beat the very rich identifiable taste that comes from an Angus cow," believes Stokes.

Edwards decided to choose Angus when he got into the cattle business not only for their taste, but also for their frame size. "At 1200 to 1250 pounds they fit what I am doing and my pasture land very well," notes Edwards. Along with size, Edwards observes that the Angus have a good temperament and work well in the climate of Windsor, VA.

As far as beef production goes, Coastal Cattle is a slightly larger operation than Windhaven Farm. Coastal Cattle tries to have 250 animals slaughtered each year. Stokes has a total of 240 brood cows and also takes advantage of purchasing calves from local farmers in his cattle network to replenish his stock. Up north in Virginia, Edwards tries to produce 160 calves a year with some going to Beef being readied for market at Coastal Cattleslaughter and others added to his breeding stock. In total Edwards generally has 325 head total, including 175 brood cows.

Quality beef means something different to everyone, but Stokes and Edwards both agree that quality beef is locally grown beef that is safe for human consumption. As food traceability is increasingly in the news, in articles ranging from food safety and bioterrorism to the consumer's right to know, consumers have begun to ask about the lifecycle of their beef. This is where Stokes and Edwards come in. They work the entire lifecycle of their herd from birth to beef.

Through working the entire lifecycle, Edwards says, "I know what I have." There is no guessing when it comes to how the cattle have been bred or raised. Both men can share this information with their end customers through their web sites and when customers purchase their meat. However, there are times when both need to buy additional cattle. While Edwards only brings in additional cows for breeding stock, Stokes has been dealing with another dilemma. As his beef's popularity rises, he has begun to outsource some of his beef to meet the demand. "I don't mind buying into my herd, as long as the majority of the cattle's life is spent with Coastal Cattle," says Stokes. "When possible I try to purchase five to six month old calves."

Even though Stokes has to go outside of his herd when demand calls for it, he is keeping his commitment to traceability. "We are in the process of creating a network of farmers to sell beef under the name Blue Ribbon Angus Beef," explains Stokes. "Currently eight farmers all within a 60 to 70 mile radius are engaged in working on this effort." This creative solution to meeting increased demand will benefit both Stokes and the consumers, as there will be a trusted group to buy beef from.

Ribeye steaks produced by Wyndhaven FarmStokes also believes that quality beef is achieved through feeding the cattle slowly over a responsible period of time. "We don't try to bulk up our cattle too quickly," points out Stokes. This slow growth philosophy enhances muscle growth which in turn contributes to the flavor produced.

The beef feeds manufactured by Southern States assist Coastal Cattle and Windhaven in producing high quality beef for the end user, through strict adherence to research proven nutrition principles which ensure that requirements for production are met. According to Mike Peacock, Manager of Livestock Feed Sales for Southern States, "Cattle are the most efficient and healthiest when supplied all the nutrition needed to meet their genetic potential for development." Therefore, it's essential that no corners are cut or shortcuts taken in the formulation of the feed and supplements just to make them cost less. Quality ingredients are key!

So how is a quality ingredient assessed? At Southern States, our Quality Control and Purchasing departments have jointly identified specific criteria that all ingredients must meet. Each ingredient that is used in Southern States products is evaluated for appearance, smell, density and moisture content. In addition to making sure that the ingredients are nutritious, they are also checked to make sure they are free from contaminants such as mycotoxins and foreign materials. Mycotoxins are compounds produced by a mold that negatively impacts animal health when consumed. Since mycotoxins can be prevalent in feedstuffs, we have implemented a strict ingredient mycotoxin testing regimen.

If an ingredient does not meet our quality standards, the ingredient is rejected and never used in our products. At our feed mills, the receiving operator is the first line of defense in quality control. The operator can tell if the ingredients being delivered meet the quality standards by taking a test sample. Prior to taking the test sample, the driver of the truck hauling the ingredients must certify that his/her truck has been cleaned, and verify what the product is and where it is coming from.

As the health of our customers' livestock is of utmost importance to us, we do not take chances with any of the ingredients we accept for use in any of our products. Knowing this, our vendors and suppliers send us the cream of their crops; thereby allowing us to have safe and nutritious products.

Both Coastal Cattle and Windhaven Farm take pride in feeding their cattle custom formulated feeds designed for them by Southern States. These specialized rations allow both farmers to produce all natural Angus beef for their customers. Both farmers use formulas that qualify as part of an all natural diet. Essentially this means there are no animal co-products (meat and bone meal, animal fat), no antibiotics, no added hormones, and no added steroids. The added connotation is important as naturally occurring hormones and/or steroids may or may not be present in ingredients used in the formula. The Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration uses the added designation to ensure all natural products are in fact, all natural.

The feed ration used at Coastal Cattle was developed by Southern States through the assistance of feed division representative Mike Nash. This ration can be used across the board at Coastal Cattle from feeding calves in the feed lots to the brood cows. "Our ration is completely our own, it's so nice to have one feed that works for our entire herd," shares Stokes. Through using a single ration, Stokes is able to meet the all natural requirements as he knows his herd has been consuming all natural feed from birth to beef.

Windhaven Farm uses their own Southern States ration formulated to meet the needs of their herds. A lifelong Southern States customer, Edwards decided to go the all natural route with his herd two years ago as public interest in all natural food increased. After meeting with his local Southern States feed representative David Baber, a feed program was designed for his herd. Edwards supplements his herds Southern States diet with grain he grows and grass pastures.

Both men agree when it comes to raising all natural cattle there is no room for antibiotics in their programs. "There is high demand for cattle that has never had antibiotics, growth implants or hormones," says Edwards. "Even in my personal consumption I only want all natural beef." It all comes down to the consumer being able to trust that the end product is going to be safe for them to feed their families. As Americans continue to make their diets healthier, farmers will need to change the way they raise their herds.

However, just because Windhaven and Coastal Cattle don't use antibiotics in the beef they sell doesn't mean they don't treat their sick cattle. "When we have an animal that gets sick we will treat it and then cull it off to the stockyard," explains Stokes. "There are still plenty of farmers who don't mind having cattle that have had antibiotics."

A calf in the pasture at Coastal CattleAlthough Stokes and Edwards run similar businesses, one philosophy sets them apart. Stokes believes that by keeping his cattle in small groups the flavor improves. At Coastal Cattle you can find three to five acre pastures with five to seven calves grazing at a time. "The most important part of a calf's life is socialization. They need to establish a pecking order," suggests Stokes. "A small group makes it easier for cattle to understand the hierarchy of the group." Through years of experience Stokes has found that small groups enable the cattle to relax and grow. "There is not a lot of pushing and shoving in the small groups, which equals less stress on the animal," notes Stokes. Less stress equals better beef in Stokes' book.

Not only do both farmers feel they have the responsibility to provide the best products to their customers, we at Southern States agree. Livestock owners come to Southern States and entrust us with their animals' well being. "Raising livestock is our passion as well as the customer, thus we are as involved as they are," remarks Peacock. "We are each in the food supply business, not just the animal business, and take our responsibility seriously."

If you're interested in trying out some Angus from Windhaven Farm or Coastal Cattle visit their web sites http://www.coastalcattle.com and http://windhavennaturalangusbeef.com for more information on how to buy their All Natural products. In addition to selling through their own stores, both men sell their beef to local high end restaurants and health food stores. Next time you order a prime cut of Angus from your favorite restaurant be sure to ask where it came from! It could very well be a Coastal Cattle or Windhaven cut of beef if you are in Virginia or North Carolina.


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