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UNR research milks cows for more money

John Seelmeyer

Livestock producers in northern Nevada have a lot riding on university research that seeks to increase the value of cows ranchers cull from their herds.

Those cull cows account for about 30 percent of most ranchers’ revenue, and they typically are sold to packers for hamburger and other low-value meat.

A research project at the University of Nevada, Reno, however, seeks to create higher-value meat products from cull cows.

So far, the project called “Cash for Cows” has met with some success, said Bob Butler, who manages UNR’s Wolf Pack Meats facility.

Researchers, for instance, have used the carcasses of cull cows to create carne para asar, a thinly slice steak cut, as well as seasoned steak cuts known as fajitas and carne asada.

All three have proven popular with Nevada’s growing Hispanic population.

Next up, Butler said, has been development of lines of gourmet hamburger, three lines of lean ground beef blended with cheese combinations.

Researchers also are looking to development of marinated steak cuts for casino buffets and creation of salami and jerky products.

The creation of value-added meat products that use cull cows, Butler said, is “one of the missing links” as livestock producers look for ways to solidify their profitability.

“About 30 percent of their revenue comes from cull cows, but they have no control,” he said.

“They’re at the mercy of the market.”

A survey by Wolf Pack Meats found that livestock producers in the state are dissatisfied with the results of their sales of cull cows.

Somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 cows are culled from Nevada herds annually for lack of production or other reasons.

Although Butler and his student researchers are buying cull cows from auction yards at Fallon to get a good feel for the animals available in Nevada, most of the cull cows from the state’s producers are sold at yards out of state.

The importance of the sale of cull cows can’t be overestimated.

Nevada Agricultural Statistic estimates that the total agricultural return to the state’s rural counties is determined largely by producers’ ability to get a good price for cattle culled from their herds.

Butler said his team hopes that they further can strengthen the state’s agriculture economy by keeping sales of cull cows in Nevada and reducing the number of animals sold out of state.

Wolf Pack Meats, a USDA-inspected, student-oriented facility operated by UNR College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources, relies on mechanical tenderizers and marination to add value to carcasses that otherwise would be sold for hamburger.

Although cull cows usually are older and haven’t had the benefits of feeding programs specifically designed to create tender cuts of meat, Butler said Wolf Pack Meats still is able to create consumer friendly beef.

“True, we are not trying to sell the Tbones and prime ribs the same as market cattle,” he said, but he added, “You cannot believe how tasty and tender this meat is.”

Products developed by “Cash for Cows” are sold at Scolari’s Food & Drug and Sak’n Save supermarkets in Reno and Yerington.

Equally important, Butler said, has been the input of Scolari’s executives about proposed products that are likely to flop in the marketplace.

“We are very fortunate to have Scolari’s working with us,” Butler said.

“They are hometown people.”

Financial support for the “Cash for Cows” research has come from the U.S.

Forest Service, which provided a $10,000 grant.

In part, Butler said, the Forest Service is looking to build relationships with ranchers who sometimes have been unhappy with land-management decisions by the federal agency.

The Nevada Department of Agriculture last year provided $16,000 for the effort.

Along with Butler, the program is spearheaded by Susan Casey, who will use the research as she pursues a master’s degree.

Undergraduates also are involved in the work.

“These kids have an idea, and then they’ll see it in the marketplace,” said Butler.

Last year, the “Cash for Cows” program led to a marketing campaign called “Beef, It’s What’s for Breakfast” at Scolari’s and Raley’s stores in the area.


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