June 2017
Farm & Field

Artisan Beef

A new craft beef is making a name for itself in northwest Alabama.

You may have heard of Kobe or Wagyu (pronounced wi-goo) beef, but there is a new brand produced in northwest Alabama making waves in the artisan beef market. Gyulais (goo-lay) beef is a trademarked form of the craft beef that originated in Japan.

According to the website wagyu.org, the term Wagyu can be broken down into "Wa," Japanese, and "gyu," cow. The term Kobe beef describes Wagyu beef that is raised near Kobe, Japan. So all Kobe beef is Wagyu beef, but not all Wagyu beef is Kobe beef.

Dr. Daniel Hammond with his trailer identifying Gyulais as the product provided.

 

Dr. Daniel Hammond, who has been a practicing pediatrician for more than 30 years, first began in the cattle business with the Charolais breed about 20 years ago. Always interested in the genetics side of cattle production, Hammond’s interest was piqued just over 13 years ago when he visited a fellow Charolais breeder in south Texas.

"He had all these black cows in the pasture and I said that I didn’t know he was in the Angus business, too," Hammond recalled. "He told me those were Wagyu cattle. I started looking into it and reading about it."

It wasn’t long until Hammond purchased some Wagyu genetics and began his own experiment of sorts crossing Wagyu and Charolais. Hammond’s property is just outside of Florence on the old Perry Estate.

Hammond has studied the genetic components and believes he has developed a strong competitor in the artisan beef market. The Gyulais trademark was granted to Hammond by the federal government a couple of years ago. Not only does it allow for the marketing of the specialty beef but it also allows Hammond to develop his cattle as a breed.

Wagyu cattle are completely different from Western cattle according to Hammond. The most obvious difference is in the fat composition of the meat. We all know that, when it comes to beef, marbling means flavor. Wagyu is generally accepted as superior in marbling compared to traditional Western beef.

Concerning the fat composition, Hammond noted that Wagyu has a 2:1 ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat. Western beef at its absolute best is 1:1. Once he was challenged as to how he knew the beef contained so much monounsaturated fat. Besides all the carcass testing that has been done, Hammond said, when you prepare a roast in a pan and then come back after it has cooled, instead of congealed fat you find what looks like olive oil.

"That’s monounsaturated fat," Hammond said.

He also mentioned that Wagyu beef has the highest concentration of omega-6 among other breeds. Hammond noted that this particular fatty acid isn’t popular in the United States just yet, but it will be soon.

Hammond said Wagyu are some of the easiest calving cattle in the world.

"They’re easier than Longhorns," Hammond offered. "If you breed a Wagyu bull to Charolais heifers, you don’t even have to check the heifers."

He has experience to back up his claim. Out of approximately 125 calves born on his farm, he has assisted with only two births.

 

A new batch of Gyulais calves born this spring.

"For the first three years, we only bred our heifers, but we liked the calves so much that we branched out into what we have now," said Hammond, noting he has partners in Texas and Louisiana.

Always concerned about genetics and the role they play in the finished product, Hammond has the Charolais national trait leader for backfat. He considers this the backbone of his breeding program. The better the genetics of his Charolais heifers, the better the Gyulais cattle they can produce.

Hammond said that 90 percent of Wagyu cattle in the United States are F1s, mainly Angus. This means that 90 percent of Wagyu in the United States are 50/50 Wagyu and Angus.

"We feel like the Charolais cross is a superior product because our yield is higher and our feed conversion is better," Hammond stated.

This allows for the product to be offered at a lower price.

Currently, Gyulais cattle raised in Lauderdale County are transported to Texas at about 750 pounds to be finished and harvested. The meat is then brought back, frozen, to Alabama to be sold.

Why the higher cost? There are limited bloodlines of Wagyu in this country, so they are expensive to buy. It is now illegal to take Wagyu genetics out of Japan. Hammond said currently there are 17 bloodlines of black Wagyu cattle and seven bloodlines of browns outside of Japan. Also, you have to feed the cattle longer to get the monounsaturated ratio correct in the meat.

Traditional Wagyu buyers won’t consider purchasing cattle unless they have been on feed for at least a year. Charolais cattle can typically be fed out in half that time. By crossing Wagyu and Charolais, Hammond can cut down on the amount of time needed to finish his calves. Wagyu buyers insist on feed finishing the cattle because grass-fed beef has less marbling; that typically means less flavor.

"Most healthy things taste like cardboard," Hammond said, "but this the most flavorful beef I’ve ever eaten. I prefer it to any other product."

Out of over 150 carcasses harvested recently, Hammond only had two that did not score mid-Choice or higher grade. Roughly 40 percent of the Gyulais product is Prime grade.

Why choose Gyulais over Wagyu? Price. Wagyu beef can cost $60 or more per pound. Hammond is introducing Gyulais to the market at around half that price. Gyulais is currently available for purchase from both Lauderdale County Co-op locations, South Court Street in Florence and in Elgin.

Gyulais beef is also available to be served in restaurants. Please contact Hammond by calling 256-740-1114 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

 

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.