Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the August issue of Grayson Magazine.
Dominion Farms in Denison has been producing livestock for generations. And if current Pottsboro Independent School District board member and former Grayson County Judge Drue Bynum and wife Nora’s children decide to go into the farming business, the family will have been doing it for six generations.
Head down Well Road in Denison, to find the ranch that raises Angus cows and is elbow deep in the ranching process from cow and calf operation, all the way to slaughter and consumption.
Drue Bynum bought into his wife’s family’s business more than 20 years ago, but even then he was no stranger to ranching.
“I was raised in the country and I worked on a ranch when I was in high school,” he says of how he got started. “I went to West Point and was in the Army for a while.”
In the past, the farm-raised other breeds, but Bynum said that there is something different about Angus cattle and that is why he stuck with it.
“They are an English breed and are black in color,” he says of the Angus cow. “There are also French breeds, continental breeds and cross breeds. I raise Angus because, based upon the carcass data I have seen, they just produce a better animal.”
Also helping to produce better meat, Bynum only raises and sells grass-fed, all natural meat. He uses no antibiotics or hormones on his animals.
“When it comes to why it is important to know about the meat you are eating, I have two adages,” he says. “The first is, ‘You are what you eat.’ But really, you are what your animal eats. And the second one is, ‘Know your rancher.’ Ask questions. Know what is going into the production of the cattle.”
Bynum’s supper comes off of the same shelf as his customers.
“That is important to know,” he explains. “We would not feed someone something that we would not eat.”
Cattle ranching can be split into three processes. Ranchers have the choice of participating in one, two or all processes on their farm.
The first part is cow and calf operation.
“The mother cow and the bull breed calves,” Bynum breaks down the beginning stage of cattle raising. “They have a 50 percent chance of birthing a heifer and about a 50 percent chance of birthing a bull.”
Cows are weaned from their mother at various times.
“It really depends on the grass in the area and other factors,” Bynum says. “Weaning is generally when the cow is about five to eight months.”
Then the rancher takes the cow to the market. At these markets are ranchers, auctioneers and cattle buyers. The closest market in this area is in Gainesville. The Gainesville Livestock Auction is held on Fridays at 10 a.m. at 1920 Refinery Road in Gainesville.
The Durant Stockyards also hosts a special cattle market. Cattle sales are held Thursdays at 9 a.m. at 2201 S. 9th Avenue in Durant, Oklahoma.
The weaned calf then goes to the stocker or feeder cattle operation.
“They are fed wheat and rye and other grasses,” Bynum says about the different feeding options. “They want to put weight on the calf. These cattle are fed mostly a grass-based diet, but some are fed feeder.”
When calves are about 800-900 pounds, they go to the feed yard. That leads to slaughter and consumption.
“The interesting thing about cattle is 80 percent of the money made in this field is made after the calf is slaughtered,” Bynum explains of how money is made in meat sales. “It’s like going to a high-end restaurant. You can pay $40-$50 for a steak at a steakhouse when ranchers are making about $60-$70 per pound on the same calf.”
So while you would think that it is better to get in on the end of the process, there is more risk and it is more capital intensive when it comes to the slaughter and consumption process.
“You can spend three years with a calf,” Bynum explains. “You can keep it from start to finish. That is very capital intensive and that is why a lot of ranchers have niches and do one or a few of the processes.”
Dominion Farms does it all.
“I keep some from start to finish and I sell some at markets along the way,” Bynum says.
Buying from Dominion Farms
Bynum currently does custom orders of half cows or whole cows.
“I have some customers that come in and put a down payment,” he tells of how the order process works. “I will take it to the butcher for them. They can choose how they want it cut and whether they want like ground beef or steaks and then I tell them to come back when it is finished and they pay the rest.”
For those looking to purchase meat directly from the farm, knowing how much a family eats in a year really depends on how often they eat beef and how big the family is.
“My family eats beef like every night so a quarter cow or a half goes really fast for us,” Bynum says. “But, buying a quarter or half of a cow can save you a ton of money.”
People also have the option of purchasing with others.
“I have had two families come in and purchase a half-cow and then just split the meat between the two,” he explains how people have saved money along the way. “I have also had a lot of repeat customers over the last 20 years.”
Why feed matters
Even though a grass-fed cow and a grain-fed cow will not look different. They are different and they will taste different.
“Most studies say grass-fed over grain-fed cattle, but those studies are from around 20 years ago when there were a lot of high protein diets and fads out,” Bynum tells about the personal research he has done on the animals he raises.
Grain-fed is what most people eat.
“The taste of the two is different and it can be considerably different,” he explains. “When you have a forge-based animal, the meat will have Omega 3 fatty acids. Grain-fed animals have Omega 6 fatty acids. So when you cook a grain-fed USDA prime cut of meat, you want to cook it at a high temperature and for not very long. That is how you get the meat tender.”
With grass or forge-fed cattle, it is the opposite. You want to cook it at a lower temperature for a little longer and that is how you get tender meat.
“It is like with a grass-fed roast,” Bynum says. “You put it in a crock pot for five hours. You are cooking it low and slow. We are all used to doing that.”
Bynum says most grocery stores in Texoma are not selling a grass-fed product.
“But, it is all about reading the label,” he explains. “A prime cut is top shelf. Then a choice cut is the middle tier and select is a lower class of meat.”
You also have to read the label to know what you are buying.
“If a calf is fed an 80 percent diet of grass, according to the USDA standards, you can say it is a grass-fed animal,” Bynum says of breaking down meat classifications. “If you want 100 percent all natural, you have to read the label.”
Meat preferences can also send someone to a local butcher over just picking up a package from the meat department.
“Say I want to eat some filet mignon,” Bynum gives a scenario. “So when I want to buy meat, I go to the butcher at the grocery store. I know that the butcher has primal meat and it has been filleted.”
Bynum prefers that his steaks are cut two inches thick.
“I can go into the back with the butcher and look at the meat and choose and have it cut two inches thick,” he explains. “Most of the cuts when you are just looking at the meat in the cooler are three-quarters to an inch thick.”
To get a medium-rare cooked steak that is grain fed at that size, you need to cook it at a high temperature.
“My preference is a medium-rare two-inch steak with a char on the outside,” Bynum says. “To get it cooked with the flavor I want, two inches is a little more forgiving. I have a little more time to get it there without it being overdone.”
Cattle in Texoma is different from cattle in the Panhandle, which is different from cattle in the northeast and west.
“There is an old saying that says you can take cows from east to west, but you cannot take them from west to east,” Bynum says. “I believe that. It is like the forge base gets better the further west you go. Raising cattle in Mississippi, there is more moisture there than here. We have more protein content in our grass. We generally have decent grass and decent rainfall.”
Grayson County has a pretty good blend of factors.
“As the population increases though, we have had an interesting dichotomy,” Bynum explains. “We have pretty large producers here, but it is hard for those that are just now trying to get into ranching because the cost of land is so high. A lot of the producers with sizeable operations around here have been doing this for a really long time.”
A lot of producers lease property and that keeps the land as an agricultural ground for the owner, but it also allows ranchers to come in and take care of it and use it.
“Ranching is hard,” Bynum says of the career path he chose. “We are over 100 degrees a lot of days this summer. We really have not had a lot of rainfall this year. Rain has been sporadic. It will affect livestock. People look at ranching and think it is easy. It is really hard and there are a lot of factors involved, but it is a lifestyle second to none.”