Erichsen Black Dog Ranch and Cattle Company: For The Love of Wagyu
Published on Mon, 01/03/2022 - 9:21am
Erichsen Black Dog Ranch and Cattle Company: For The Love of Wagyu.
By Heather Smith Thomas.
Steven and Mary Erichsen own and operate Black Dog Ranch and Cattle Company near Weatherford, Texas, raising Wagyu seedstock. This breed is their passion. “When we created our first ranch in Oregon we realized we’ve always rescued black dogs,” Mary says. Thus the name Black Dog Ranch and Cattle Company.
Originally they were both in high-tech professions in the Northwest. “About 10 years ago, out of the blue, Steve said we were going to move to Texas. “Steve was very active in cutting horse competitions, and we’d come to Texas for cutting horse events and fell in love with this area,” Mary says.
They sold their house to the first person who gave them a cash offer, and moved to a sight-unseen ranch in Weatherford, TX. They’d been showing cutting horses for many years, and to do that successfully, Steve felt they needed to be in Texas. “By happenstance, my company gave me an offer to move down here, so we did,” he says.
Mary’s brother-in-law in earlier years spent time in Japan and was given some Kobe beef as a gift. “I had a meal at their house, and some Kobe steak, when I was quite young. I’d never tasted anything like it--so delicious, like eating butter; it would melt in your mouth,” Mary says.
“After we moved to Texas and Steve decided to get some cattle, there was no doubt in my mind which breed I wanted. I was hopeful that Steve and I could raise some wonderful Wagyu beef,” Mary says.
Steve loves to research genetics and talked to as many people as he could find who were breeding Wagyu. “This was in 2012, and there weren’t very many yet because this breed was just getting well started in the U.S. and not everyone had websites. “We were not members of the Association yet--just searching the internet to find breeders.”
Being a persistent person, he found people to talk to, and learned more about these cattle. “We started with three recip cows and put embryos in them to start our Wagyu herd from scratch,” he explains.
It was a bit difficult in Texas, where other breeds dominate. “Those ranchers thought we were crazy and asked why we’d want to raise Wagyu!” The first time a cattleman sees a Wagyu, it’s a shock because this doesn’t look like a beef animal.
“I am famous for asking a lot of questions. I learned from another rancher that one of the most important things is to have a plan and stick to it. We were already business people, so planning is easy. But to be successful a person needs to stick to it. One thing we’ve seen, especially in the Wagyu breed, is people tend to bounce around; they jump in and jump out, or keep changing their plan. They want to do beef, or embryos, or the latest, greatest whatever, but don’t stick to any one thing. If you stick to a plan, it will work, as long as you are persistent in how you drive it,” he says.
“Our plan was to produce the best breeding stock possible,” Mary says. “We challenged ourselves. When we joined the Australian Wagyu Association we looked at their data and how it might fit with the U.S. data and what does it mean. We compare that data with the data available from the American Wagyu Association and ask what the end user is really getting, and what is the market demanding? We do a thorough analysis of what it all means,” she says.
Fast forward to today. “We produce some of the finest Bulls, Cows, and Heifers for breeding stock, using some of the best genetics available in America and Australia,” says Steve. “We don’t have extra cows at this point. About 2.5 years ago the market exploded, for us. We sell everything we can raise or get our hands on through partnerships, every year. The demand is growing,” he says.
“Our primary market is small ranches and breeders just getting started with Wagyu—looking for a few good animals and for some help. With the internet today you can find Wagyu cattle, but you can’t always find someone who can guide you or give you solid business answers about why you’d want to do what you do and how to go about it. I look for folks who need help and make sure I answer their questions,” Steve says.
“I can tell them that if they have this kind of heifer they should look for such-and-such kind of a bull, what the options might be for bulls, and here’s why you’d want to do it,” he says.
“This past year we sold cattle to small ranches but were also approached by a large Angus ranch nearby. We’ll be selling them bulls to breed to their registered Angus. Probably 80% of our bulls are sold to people who are producing F1 cattle (crossbreds).” Wagyu bulls are great for breeding heifers because the calves are born easily, eliminating calving problems, and the high-quality meat is another benefit--a win-win situation.
“We are very interested in helping the industry with education,” says Mary. “A number of years ago we hosted about 40 German breeders who came to our ranch for a half-day program of education. We had Dr. Stroud here to help with this,” she says.
“We spent time with these breeders, comparing notes,” Steve says. In Germany they use a lot of Holstein cows as recips for embryos. “They wanted to know what we were doing, and some of the best practices, and the latest in IVF, and what we are seeing with IVF versus conventional embryos, etc. Dr. Stroud is a well-known embryologist in the Wagyu industry.”
Wagyu is a great breed to be involved with because people are not as competitive with other breeders and tend to help each other. “New breeders and small ranchers can find help; we can relate to them and what they are going through because we are one of them. Like other small ranchers, my wife and I do all the feeding and cattle care. Every morning we feed cattle and we appreciate these cattle because they are so docile and well-mannered. You couldn’t do what we do with Brangus, Angus or some of the other breeds,” Steve says. “It’s so much nicer to work with cattle that are polite!” These animals are smart and trainable and very user-friendly.
He and Mary have 35 fullblood registered Wagyu on 60 acres, plus some Angus cows as recips for embryos. “We have the mamas and babies in one pasture, open cows in another pasture with a young bull we want to try out, and a bull pasture. It’s pretty easy to manage,” Steve says. “We make it a priority to have a calm low-stress program for our cattle and have seen tremendous results.”
The environment on their ranch is ideal; the cattle are happy and content. “These cattle are loved, just like everything on our ranch,” says Mary. “They are quiet and happy, and that gives us a lot of satisfaction. Coming from our high-tech jobs to this, is such a change and so fulfilling! I wish we could have done it many years ago because it is such a good lifestyle. Some people show everyone pictures of their grandchildren, but we show people our cow pictures!” she says.
“The tagline we use is ‘For the Love of Wagyu’ and everything we do is about that,” says Steve. “I keep asking myself: ‘Is what we are doing going to produce a better product this year than last year?’ This helps us with decisions on genetics, breeding, feeding, etc.” Like the old 4-H Motto, the goal is to make the best better.