Natural cattle programs offer access to niche markets

US - Natural cattle programs can offer producers access to niche markets for high-quality beef if they’re willing to work with companies to raise beef a certain way.
calendar icon 27 January 2007
clock icon 2 minute read
Tyler Melroe, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension livestock educator for Marshall County, says companies that market so-called “natural” beef may pay premiums to producers who can guarantee their animals qualify as what the natural beef sector calls “never ever.”

“Never ever has been kind of set as the gold standard. It just simply means never ever treated with antibiotics, never ever fed any ionophores, never ever receiving a growth implant, never ever receiving animal byproducts in feed sources. Those are the never evers.”

Producers must remove animals from a natural program if they’re treated even one time with such methods. Melroe said that makes it all the more important that producers select good quality livestock to raise, and that they vaccinate their animals against disease, since vaccinations are allowed under natural programs.

Melroe added that companies that specialize in natural beef want the ability to verify how animals are raised and want the ability to trace animals in order to maintain confidence in their labels.

Producers raising high muscle, low fat continental breeds can find a niche with the natural market that caters to health-conscious consumers. Producers who raise British breeds noted for high marbling meats can also find a place within the natural market that aims at consumers shopping for taste.

“If you’ve identified a market that will work pretty well for you in the natural program, really I think you need to be proactive,” Melroe said. “One company representative told me he’ll never ever quit trying to buy cattle better than he did last week or last year. Continually, ever day, he wants to buy better and better cattle, and if you have a high-quality source of cattle that fit their program, they’re going to be interested. But how are they going to know unless you contact them? So contacting a company representative, somebody involved in procurement with that company, is really, really critical to letting them know that you have the cattle.”

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