At the core of every cut of prime beef is the genetic code that determines how the steer will shape up as it grows.
Getting just the right genetics is worth every hour it has taken and all the money it has cost to pull a stock trailer from Delta Junction, Alaska to Delburne and back — a 6,000-km round trip — to pick up the young bulls that will bring fresh blood to the herd at home, say Alaskan beef producers Doug and Cathie McCollum.
Owners of Delta Meat & Sausage Co., the McCollums made history in 2007 when they purchased a load of six Galloway bulls from Delburne-area producer Russ Horvey and his brother Wesley, who farms east of Leduc.
It was the second time the McCollums had come all the way to Delburne for new Galloway bulls. Their previous supplier, who farmed in the United States, moved to Australia, said Russ Horvey.
When the McCollums picked up their second load of bulls from Horvey in 2007, those animals became the first Alberta cattle to cross into the United States when the border was reopened to Canadian beef, four years after BSE was discovered on an Alberta farm.
Those six bulls are now reaching the end of their careers and the time has come to pick up some new bloodstock, Cathie McCollum said this week as she and her husband drove through Watson Lake, B.C., on their way to Delburne.
They’ll pick up three bulls there and then head to Wesley Horvey’s farm for two more.
In Delta Junction, the bulls will be crossed with Angus cows from which the McCollums raise the beef to supply their processing plant and market.
Delta Meat & Sausage slaughters 150 to 160 head of the McCollums’ cattle each year, selling sides of beef to customers as far away as the northwestern United States.
Those buyers are former Alaskans, now living in Washington, who don’t want to give up the consistency and quality of the grass-fattened beef they had been buying from Delta, said McCollum.
Horvey said the fact that he has customers willing to make a 6,000-km round trip to pick up breeding stock is as good an indicator as any of the special quality in Galloway beef.
Now retired from his job as a beef specialist with Alberta Agriculture, Horvey said he has done more research recently and learned that, like the Speckle Park cattle that were developed from Galloway genetics, the Galloway itself is noted for the very fine marbling that makes its beef especially juicy and tasty.
The marbling is not visible because it is actually inside the muscle fibre, he said.
By using Galloway bulls on their Angus cows, the McCollums are able to provide their customers with beef that is consistent in quality, said Horvey. Angus is good beef, but less consistent in quality than the Galloway-Angus cross, he said.
McCollum said she and her husband take pains to offer beef that they have fattened on the hay and oat greenfeed grown on their farm, and without using hormones and vaccines.