The hunt for a top-quality Wagyu steak led to the beginning of Grand Cattle Company
ADAIR, OKLA. – Like most people in America, Erik Paulson likes a good steak. But also, like many people, finding a good cut of beef to devour could be a problem.
Six years ago, Erik, a doctor, was faced with that situation when he searched for Wagyu beef. That search ended in the creation of Grand Cattle Company in Adair, Okla., and the development of Oklahoma-raised 100 percent full-blood Japanese black Wagyu beef.
“We initially started it because we wanted to have some good beef for my friend and I,” Erik said. “So we were going to buy a [Waguy] steer and split it. And we bought it from a friend in Texas. And when we called him, he said, ‘Well, the cost to ship one of them from here up to Tulsa is going to be the same as the cost to ship up to six of them.’”
Erik and his partner Jack Hoskins decided to purchase six steers and sell beef to friends. They had no idea, at the time, how much demand there was for Wagyu beef.
“We called some of our chef friends and asked if they wanted any beef, too,” Erik said. “One of them ordered a whole steer, and a couple of other guys ordered a little bit. And we thought in our head at that moment was maybe this needs to be a company, and there’s probably a demand for it in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
The 200-acre Grand Cattle Company ranch opened with the promise to bring only Prime-grade Wagyu beef to the Oklahoma market.
“We saw a demand there and decided to turn it into a company,” Erik said. “In Tulsa, there are a bunch of new restaurants and steakhouses opening up; it seems like every week or two. They were just buying Prime-grade Angus beef, and when we offered them something that was local and of higher quality. A lot of them jumped on it, even though they have to pay a little bit more. They can charge more too.”
Despite Oklahoma being cattle country, Erik said many ranches can not produce the premium cuts of beef that the Grand Cattle Company is known for.
“I think it’s expensive to raise beef like this, the way that we do it,” Paulson said. “It takes a long time to raise them. So profit-wise, it’s probably just as easy to raise 100 of them in a year and a half and sell them for cheaper than it is to raise a smaller amount of them for a longer time and have to pay the feed cost and buy the genetics. And we don’t actually process any of ours until they’re over 3 years old, so slowly fattening them up, and the feed costs are really high. So that’s part of the reason.”
Erik decided they wanted to produce the best beef possible, so that meant doing something a little different and looking outside the box.
“We actually bought genetics from one of the original bulls that came from Kobe, Japan, in the 1990s, named Michifuku,” Erik said. “In fact, there’s not any more of that semen left in the world. The genetics we have bought for this it’s not just 100 percent full-blood Wagyu, it’s 100 percent full blood Tajima, Japanese Black Wagyu.”
Purchasing the last of the Michifuku genetics did not come cheap, but Erik said the initial investment was worth it.
“Tajima is known as being one of the best for tenderness and meat quality, although they’re not as good at their mothering capabilities,” Erik said. “So when we started doing all the genetics of this, we had to figure out some ways around that. And we’re using surrogates. And it’s a very complex process. But basically, we have the best genetics that you can buy in the world for Japanese Wagyu.”
The ranch took the same mindset when looking at other areas of the breeding process.
“I did a lot of research and read a lot of stuff and different studies, and I talked to many different people on how to raise them,” Erik said. “The hurdle to getting this started up is the cost because we’re paying for embryos, sometimes $600 per embryo. And it only has a 50 percent chance of implanting. And we’re paying several hundred dollars for a straw of bull semen that also doesn’t have 100 percent success rate. So we did that for a while.”
After six years in business, Eric said Grand Cattle Company no longer purchases embryos. They produce around 32 every three months from the current herd.”
Once the cattle are born, that is when the real work begins.
“You can’t throw these things in a feedlot and have them get the same intermuscular marbling that you could with Angus beef,” Erik said. “You need to slowly fatten them up for almost their entire first year; once they’re weaned, then we just let them roam the grass pastures, and they’re pure grass-fed and build up some muscle and some strength.”
Cattle are never confined, but are housed in a smaller pen area. “At that point, we start feeding them grains, too. We hired a nutritionist who made a special Kobe beef blend with some special nutritional and vitamin requirements,” Erik said. “At the end of the first year, we start feeding them grains that are custom crushed. And we do that for another two years.”
Once the cattle are processed, they do not head to the open market. It’s almost impossible for an everyday beef lover to get their hands on their product directly.
“We only sell and deliver this in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Even to the public, there’s not really that much of it that goes to them because most cuts, like the rib eyes, the tenderloins and the New York strips, gets bought by the restaurants before we even process them,” Eric said. “So they’ll call and reserve. We have reservations already for all of the rib eyes and strips and tenderloins for the next two steers that we process.”
With just 29 head of cattle, the Grand Cattle Company can grow larger and increase its production, but the parters are not in any rush.
“We’re in a good spot where we’ve got enough to last us for a few years at a slow production rate,” Erik said. “And then we’ve got about four cows that we’re just going to use for embryos, and then all the rest of them are being raised for meat. We are making a profit, but none of us have taken a single penny from this company since we started it. So we put 100 percent of all the profits back into growing and expanding.”
Yet, Erik knows they will have to make some tough decisions about the direction of the company, and much of it centers around their secret formula.
“We have to talk about all that stuff because we’re a little bit protective of our genetics because they are so rare, and we paid so much for them that we have not sold any embryos to anybody else,” Erik said. “We’ve not sold any cows. The only thing we would potentially sell in the near future is steers because we don’t want anyone to have our genetics; it’s like our trademark. So I think down the road, we’ll consider it when we have higher production, but for right now, we’re just selling meat that is produced in the absolute best way you can and trying to produce as many embryos as we can to grow it to that stage.”