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The Piedmontese: changing the way America thinks about beef.

It looks like many Amish farms -- serene, austere, tidy - the house, out-buildings and the barn. But there is something happening in this Amish barn. A new heifer calf is on the ground, and she's going to impact an entire industry. She was a frozen embryo, and now she is alive. She is a Piedmontese.

With his roots deep in agriculture, Wayne Schlabach is leading the American beef industry into the 21st century with the Piedmontese cattle. From Italy, the Piedmontese could very well change the way this country thinks about beef.

Deep in Amish country, in Fredericksburg, Ohio, Wayne had a unique perspective from which to observe the changing lifestyles and eating habits of the American consumer. Increased concern with the amount of fat in the diet has brought beef products under fire. Wayne observed, "America wants to eat beef, but America wants to eat |guilt-free' beef. In Italy they do it! They eat Piedmontese beef. Ounce for ounce it has less fat, calories, and cholesterol than roast chicken without the skin, and even less cholesterol than flounder."

Working with traditional breeds of cattle, Wayne found there was a catch 22. The leaner beef he produced, the more he sacrificed tenderness and flavor. "That just won't do," says Wayne. "The American consumer likes to have his cake and eat it, too."

Enter the Piedmontese. The fat has been trimmed genetically and the meat is a cardiologist's delight. (Notice the chart.) Yet, so tender, that a 12-ounce Piedmontese ribeye steak takes five minutes less to cook than regular beef.

Pioneering the Piedmontese was a bold throw in an otherwise spartan life for Wayne. An anachronism, an Amish entrepreneur, unintentionally. "The Piedmontese phenomenon was inevitable. It's like Sam Walton, the WalMart legend said -- the consumer rules. I am just at the right time and the right place with the right product. It was certain to happen."

If Piedmontese beef is attractive to the consumer, the breeding stock was doubly so to the farmer. What if you could get 10 to 15% more meat from the same size animal -- an animal that took the same time, effort and money to raise? That's the Piedmontese picture.

Due to the uncanny lack of fat on a Piedmontese carcass, the butchers had a pleasant surprise. There is virtually no waste. The yields are so good the yield grading system can't accurately reflect them. They compute to be even better than 1.0 which is theoretically the perfect score.

The double muscling is a remarkable trait. Earlier double muscled cattle died on the vine because of calving problems. Piedmontese calves, however, are born small. The double muscling trait doesn't appear until the calves are 2-3 weeks old.

Wayne was able to put the Piedmontese genetics within the realistic grasp of other farmers. All the producer has to do is add the Piedmontese bull to his program. He can stay with his existing set of cows. The Piedmontese advantage is gained in the very first cross.

Never having thought of himself as an "agri-preneur," what led Wayne Schlabach to become a visionary for the beef industry?

Wayne and his wife Ada yearned to offer their children -- three sons, Jerry, Stephen and Jon and daughter, Rachel -- the freedom and finances to stay on the farm. Son Jerry, at sixteen, had already developed the passion to farm. It was time to get serious.

"We weighed the country's obvious needs against the available breeds, and they just didn't match. It's a finicky consumer we are catering to today. He is a heart, cholesterol, calorie and fat conscious fellow. We went with the name Norway Farms and, using the Piedmontese, began to do what other industries do... give the consumer what he wants. "

These are not a new breed of cattle, and they are not an exotic breed of cattle. The Piedmontese are the most popular breed in Italy. They are only new to the U.S. It only takes a few determined innovators in any industry -- people with a real product that brings real answers to real demands, and the energy to follow through -- to bring about a paradigm shift within that industry.

Schlabach's had plenty of energy and set about building a future for the Piedmontese in this country and a future for their children at home with Norway Farms. "Pioneering the Piedmontese," says Wayne, "changing the way America thinks about beef... that's what we've been doing."

Schlabach's have come a long way with the Norway Farms since that first fullblood heifer calf from a frozen embryo. Supplying the beef industry with breeding stock, semen, and embryos, they are seeing their efforts pay off. Researchers have learned that one cross with a Piedmontese bull rids a beef carcass of extra fat without sacrificing tenderness and flavor. What does this mean? It means -- from birth, through the feedlot, through the packer, to the plate -- the search for genetically lean, top quality beef is over.

Wayne Schlabach can be reached at 9445 James Rd., Fredericksburg OH 44627
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Italian cattle breed
Author:Blackstone, Nicki
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:835
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