By Sheridan Wimmer on February 7, 2020
Rancher’s oat-fed cattle produce meat with lower cholesterol
In the 1980s and ’90s, Quaker Oats ran commercials featuring actor Wilford Brimley and the slogan, “It’s the right thing to do and the tasty way to do it.”
Although they were talking about oatmeal in the commercials, one Kansas family stands by that slogan in a surprising way: how they raise their beef cattle.
In 2007, Dallas Picolet, the patriarch of the family, saw a commercial that sparked an interest in a problem he wanted to help solve.
“The commercials were claiming that if you ate a bowl of oatmeal every day, you’d lower your cholesterol,” he says. “I wanted to see if changing what we were feeding our cattle would change the health of the cattle and of their meat.”
Dallas started feeding his cattle oats and alfalfa to see if his hypothesis was correct. Through time and testing, the results indicated it did, in fact, lower the amount of cholesterol in the meat when compared to cattle with diets of corn and soybeans. Oat-fed cattle even beat out animals on grass their entire lives.
“I tested the meat at Kansas State University and the results showed an impressive drop in cholesterol,” Dallas says. “The oat-fed beef even beat bison, ground chicken, ground turkey and pork in terms of cholesterol levels.”
The research also showed the oat-finished minute steak contained less fat than a skinless chicken thigh, with lower sodium than grass- or grain-fed beef and a high amount of vitamin B12 and protein.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
With research results in hand, Dallas knew he needed help in marketing the product when the time was right. That didn’t happen until 2013, when his daughter Lacey called him. She was working at a furniture store in Manhattan when she felt a different calling.
“I felt a little stuck,” Lacey admits. “I loved working where I was, but I needed a change. I called my dad and he offered to let me come home to the farm and work on an idea he had.”
That idea evolved to be the Oatie Beef brand.
“I knew we could market oat-fed beef,” Lacey says. “I became the bookkeeper and marketer. At the time, we were feeding out 10 head of cattle on the diet.”
When Lacey got married, her husband, Joshua Autrey, left his job as a construction foreman to help on the farm. Now she and Joshua are the main proprietors of the business, with help from Dallas on deliveries.
The family frequents farmers markets to sell their products, and they say they’ve learned a lot from food buyers about what they’re looking for when making grocery choices.
“These days, food buyers have a lot of questions when it comes to decisions about feeding their family,” Lacey says. “If a customer has a concern about the way our beef is raised, we tell them our story and answer them honestly; that begins an opportunity to build a relationship.
“One way we’ve adjusted our product to customer demand is to use celery salt in our bacon and summer sausage products instead of sodium nitrite,” Lacey continues. “Oatie Beef stands on listening to its customers, and that was something of concern. It costs more, but if that’s what our customers are looking for, we’re going to listen. It’s the right thing to do.”
Feeding cattle an oat-based diet doesn’t change the flavor of the meat. Joshua says there’s still a great taste and texture, just with lower cholesterol.
“You still get that nice grain-finished flavor,” Joshua says. “But you also get the great health benefits to go along with it.”
Joshua feeds weaned cattle six pounds of oats and 10 pounds of alfalfa per day, then increases the amount fed until they get approximately 19 to 20 pounds of oats, which they raise themselves.
“We’ve been fortunate to grow our own oats,” Joshua says. “But if we need more, our neighbors have been growing oats and we have the option to get some from South Dakota if necessary.”
They have grown from feeding 10 head the oat-finished diet in a year, to feeding 40 head.
“We’re really proud of that growth,” Lacey says.
WHERE’S THE BEEF?
Oatie Beef is available for purchase in a few ways. You can call them directly at 785-482-3268 to place an order, visit Herman’s Meat and Smokehouse in Topeka, Simply Good Overstocks in McPherson or see them at the Manhattan Farmers Market. Oatie Beef is about building relationships with their customers. They have approximately 150 customers in Kansas City and drive more than 250 miles round trip to deliver their products.
“Call us and we’ll deliver,” Lacey says. “We’d like the order to be $50 or more, but we have one customer who has some trouble getting around, so we deliver a pound of product to her. It’s that personal connection with our customers we love to have.”
“Since we have wholesale accounts in Kansas City, we like to offer free delivery while we’re there to any customers who purchase from us,” Dallas says.
If you look for their products in a store, be sure to check the frozen aisle.
“We have to sell our meat frozen,” Lacey says. “That makes it a little difficult. We all like to go to the meat counter and see the product since beef is a visual buying experience. We try to make our products as visually appealing as possible. That’s why we went with vacuum sealing because you can look at it and see the marbling.”
Beef cattle ranchers strive to meet consumer demand, adjust to market influxes and treat their livestock with care and respect. Each cattleman or cattlewoman may have different breeding techniques or herd preferences, and they may prefer checking cattle on horseback or on a four-wheeler. The Picolet family found a niche market that works for them and their operation.
“I love that my dad had an idea, saw it through and we’re here six years later making it work,” Lacey says. “We hope to continue his legacy by raising our daughter to think outside of the box and continue our Oatie Beef brand.”