CSU partners with Brush Creek Ranch to optimize Wagyu cattle production

In 2019, Colorado State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences formed a strategic partnership with Brush Creek Ranch, a world-renowned 30,000-acre working ranch and luxury resort located outside of Saratoga, Wyoming in the North Platte River Valley. Brush Creek Ranch conveniently shares a fence line with CSU’s Beef Improvement Center and houses a 20,000-sq-ft. certified-organic greenhouse, a dairy, indoor beef finishing barns, brewery, distillery, bakery, and wine cellar to complement the working guest ranch.

The root of this partnership is centered around a shared interest: Wagyu beef. Brush Creek Ranch’s vision is to provide the highest eating quality for their guests and the company is committed to sustainable food production on-site. Faculty and students at CSU are tapping their extensive expertise in a multi-disciplinary approach to optimize Wagyu breeding through advanced genetics, genomics, animal health and nutrition to help Brush Creek Ranch achieve this goal.

Understanding the impacts of genetic composition and the environment

The Cattle Breeding and Genetics group at CSU is interested in understanding cattle biodiversity and how differences in genetic composition and environment affect the final consumed product.

“There are two camps of people breeding and using Wagyu genetics,” said Milt Thomas, professor and John E. Rouse Chair of Beef Cattle Breeding and Genetics in the Department of Animal Sciences. “There are people that cross them with Angus, and people that interbreed Wagyu in the spirit of Japanese tradition. The number of animals that left Japan was small, so inbreeding and the consequences of inbreeding can be easily realized in that kind of a program.”

The USDA is providing access to unique Wagyu genetic material through the National Animal Germplasm Program (NAGP) within the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP), conveniently located on CSU’s campus. An important part of this partnership is to return newly developed genetic materials to the NLGRP for future use and research. This facility houses both common and rare cattle breed genetics and a tremendous collection of agricultural crops representing nearly 12,000 plant species for research and food security.

“This partnership is such a good link,” said Dave Miniat, 4th generation meat scientist, CSU alum and Chairman and CEO of Miniat Holdings, “I think both parties will benefit. Having access to a ranch like Brush Creek could only engage and help them in learning and discovery. And vice versa, the collegiate part of the partnership and the opportunity with students – it’s a beautiful place to be part of.”

Miniat was a crucial part of this partnership, as he introduced CSU researchers to Brush Creek Ranch owner, Bruce White.

Researching Optimal Nutrition for Wagyu Cattle

Wagyu cattle are highly sought-after for their superior eating quality. The exquisite flavor is attributed to the intricate marbling of the meat that is high in oleic acid. Typically found in plant oils, oleic acids give the meat a unique flavor along with added health benefits.

The diets and nutrition of finished Wagyu also influences product quality. In the traditional style of Wagyu production, diets are tailored to optimize final product quality. CSU feeding studies are analyzing the effects of different dietary ingredients on the fatty acid composition of the meat, but the studies come with their own set of challenges.

“They’re a completely different breed from those commonly raised in the United States, such as Angus,” said Octavio Guimaraes, research coordinator for the Animal Nutrition and Physiology group at CSU. “They’re very sensitive to dietary changes, so we’re trying to match the Japanese style of feeding as much as we can.”

The nutrition group in the Department of Animal Science is overseeing this portion of the project and is also eager to offer animal science students the opportunity to interact with Wagyu cattle during their time at CSU. Students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with these animals, an opportunity that is not offered anywhere else in the United States.

“Students that are interested in meat science or animal science in general read about Wagyu cattle and they hear about this amazing breed that’s uncommon,” said Brenna Klauer, CSU Meat Judging coordinator. “The students are able to see the cattle out at ARDEC, and learn how they’re fed and how we’re feeding them differently – it’s really valuable to their education.”

With Wagyu genetics becoming more widely available in the United States, more ranchers will have the ability to raise Wagyu cattle. However, attention to detail and care will be important to retain the quality of the meat. The precision and care these animals receive while at Brush Creek Ranch is handled by ranch manager Ronald Hawkins. Hawkins is savvy to the task at hand: produce the finest beef in the nation.

“We’re trying to give our customers not only a better-quality product but a much healthier product,” Hawkins said.

This unique partnership aligns well with the College of Agricultural Sciences’ strategic plan by advancing innovative science and sustainable agriculture while providing students access to this field. Brush Creek Ranch Wagyu beef products are now available for purchase through Ram Country Meats.