On January 12, the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) announced it had withdrawn its grassfed standard used in livestock and meat marketing due to lack of a clear congressional mandate to maintain it. While these changes at the USDA are largely procedural, this development could result in a proliferation of “grassfed” claims that do not meet consumer expectations. In light of the USDA’s announcement, transparent third-party certifications that clearly define 100 percent grassfed production (like Certified Grassfed by AWA) become more important than ever for protecting the interests of “true” grassfed farmers and conscientious consumers alike.
Hut’s Hamburgers, an Austin tradition since 1939, has added that iconic symbol of Texas-the Longhorn-to its menu. Animal Welfare Approved Bandera Grassland of Tarpley, Texas is supplying the restaurant with pure Texas Longhorn beef from cattle that are direct descendants of the Iberian cattle brought by the Spaniards in the 1500s. The Animal Welfare Approved seal is an assurance to consumers that cattle from Bandera Grassland have been treated according to the highest welfare standards.
“We were interested in the beef because of its unique history and strong identification with Texas, but what sold us on the burger was the spectacular taste,” said Michael Hutchinson, the owner of Hut’s, which is regularly voted as having the best burgers in Austin and is known nationwide for its innovative menu. “Our customers love it. It tastes like the beef you used to be able to get 150 years ago-like the beef you might have eaten on cattle drives. It’s got big, authentic Texas flavor. Having the beef come from an Animal Welfare Approved ranch is an added bonus, because Austin is a town that cares about sustainable agriculture and animal welfare.”
Don and Debbie Davis, who own and run DWD Longhorns and Bandera Grassland, are purists when it comes to Longhorns and their history. “After the Spanish missions failed, many of the cattle became feral and the true Texas Longhorn can be traced to those first herds. Although they were re-domesticated by Anglo-American settlers, the Longhorn was almost extinct by the early 1900s, when ranchers wanted cattle that put on weight more quickly and could be kept confined. Luckily, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the bloodline. We do blood typing and visual inspection to ensure we are raising cattle that are historically correct.” Unlike most breeds of beef cattle whose traits were selected by man, the Texas Longhorn evolved through natural selection and is adapted to survive in arid, predator-infested wilderness. They possess resistance to many bovine diseases and parasites, calve unassisted, can travel great distances between water and their source of forage, and efficiently convert forage to energy and muscle with little waste in fat. The result is lean, tender, intensely flavored beef that Austin burger-lovers have embraced.
The motto of Bandera Grassland is “Land Made, Not Man Made” and the welfare of their 100% grassfed cattle has always been a paramount concern for the Davises. “We applied to the Animal Welfare Approved program because it meant that our customers wouldn’t have to second guess our ranching methods. The seal tells them that we treat our animals with the highest standards.” The Bandera Grassland cattle run in family herds for as long as possible and calves are weaned from their mothers at eight months. They graze natural pasture and are allowed to grow at their own rate with no added growth hormones or grain finishing. (Pictured: Don Davis and Michael Hutchinson.)