Similar Backgrounds & Partnered Talents Equal Premium Beef
Two Cattle Raisers create a production chain to produce a premium beef product in South Texas.
Story by Maggie Malson, photos by Shawn McCoy
In an industry where quality and consistency determine final product acceptance, 2 cattlemen have combined their experience and expertise to bring a premium beef product to the table.
Dustin Dean and Jason Peeler, both of Floresville, and both directors of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), partnered in 2014 with the goal of establishing a premium beef brand.
“Our idea was to build an Angus-cross calf that our company could own from birth all the way through the production cycle, through the feedlot, and even to the point where it’s an actual product that enters the wholesale and retail market,” Dean says.
Combining their expertise
Both Dean and Peeler grew up in the industry, Dean in the northern part of Texas near Jacksboro and Peeler in South Texas, with strong family ties to ranching and cattle production. After attending graduate school at Texas A&M, Dean went to work on the breeding and genetics side of the industry at Sexing Technologies, serving as the director of beef operations from 2009 to 2014. The company is the largest producer and exporter of gender- sorted semen, with 80 percent of their portfolio in the dairy industry.
After college, Peeler started working for himself raising stocker cattle. Then, in an attempt to diversify, he partnered with his dad to purchase Texana Feeders in Floresville in 2002.
“We were running stockers and cow-calf pairs, but it’s hard to do that in a drought,” he says. “We started migrating to cattle feeding.”
They feed about half Mexican cattle, with others being Brahman, Angus, and Hereford-cross cattle sourced in south Texas. Cattle are mainly fed a corn and silage based ration sourced within a 150-mile radius. They also use some cottonseed hulls from cotton production in the area.
Serving on the TSCRA board brought the cattlemen together, where they got to know each other. Discussions about the industry and how they link the entire production cycle together led them to join forces.
“We realized we could combine our resources and the backgrounds we both had,” Dean says. “Jason has the feeding and finance side, and I provided the genetic information and meat part of it. It was a good opportunity to mix those into a business model.
“We wanted to create a production system that is similar to the pork and poultry industries, focusing on the consistency of supply of calves every month, and the consistency of quality and shape of product from calf to calf,” he adds.
Producing premium beef
Dean & Peeler Premium Beef, the name the product will be marketed under, is graded upper 2/3 Choice and Prime, and will be available to retail outlets and wholesale distributors. It’s also a local product.
“This Angus-cross beef comes from cattle that spend the majority of their life in South Texas,” Dean adds. “They get fed out at Texana Feeders, which buys the majority of their feed from local farmers. It’s also slaughtered at Kane Beef at Corpus Christi, formerly known as Sam Kane Beef Processing.”
Dean and Peeler wanted to focus on attributes important to those purchasing meat.
“The beef is a very high-quality product, and is the same every single time,” Dean says. “We won’t have ups and downs in supply every month. It’s a very consistent product from every angle and that’s what wholesalers and retailers really look for.”
“These calves are produced from genetics we select, then raised, and owned from birth,” Dean says. “We’re using specific Angus and SimAngus bulls that have the right muscling and growth to produce the product we need. The calves are on a very strict diet from the moment they are born to the moment they are processed. We control 100 percent of that system.”
With such an attention to detail on genetics, feeding and processing, they can also guarantee the product to be tender. Knowing that their target markets are wholesalers, meat markets and restaurants has caused the focus to be accomplishing solid consistency of product and volume.
“For example, that consistency in volume allows a steakhouse to have 100 percent of the beef on their menu be Dean & Peeler Premium Beef,” Dean explains. “Many times they can only have one signature item, like a ribeye or a hamburger. But, with this product, they could make the burger to the sirloin to the ribeyes all Dean & Peeler Premium Beef. We’re able to push and sell every piece of the animal as the market demands it, which also creates opportunities for those wholesale and retail customers.”
Challenges and opportunities
All of the Angus-cross calves for Dean & Peeler Premium Beef will be processed at Kane Beef, stored there, then flow out of the Corpus Christi facility to wholesalers as needed.
Building a production system from scratch takes time and planning.
“One of the biggest challenges with Dean & Peeler Premium Beef calves is coordinating that supply where all the calves are born evenly throughout the month and throughout the year,” Dean says. “We have to make sure calves are finished at the appropriate weight to maximize quality and have them slaughtered at the right rate or pace to maximize the consistency of the volume every week.
“You have to piece together birth and slaughter at the same rate of volume,” he adds. “If you have 200 calves being born every week, you need to be slaughtering about the same amount. Making sure those 2 dots match up has been the hardest part.”
Another outlet for Dean & Peeler Premium Beef has been Dean & Peeler Meatworks, which is a federally inspected USDA custom processing facility in Poth, 5 minutes south of Floresville.
“Meatworks was another opportunity that presented itself,” Dean says. “We do custom processing for producers in South Texas, and have a retail meat market under the same name to sell Dean & Peeler Premium Beef to the public.”
The facility was originally built in 1972 as a custom processing plant, but shut down in 2002, sitting vacant for 14 years. Dean and Peeler purchased it in February 2016, began renovation in September, then opened its doors March 1, 2017.
The biggest challenge for the project was also a big opportunity.
“The facility had to be renovated to properly meet the USDA federal inspection guidelines,” Dean says. His wife, Annie, who was a construction science major at Texas A&M University, was the general contractor for the project.
“After BSE was discovered in 2003, the whole locally processed movement really took off, but 10 to 20 years prior to that we saw the decline of small custom slaughter facilities,” he explains. “They either went out of business or started processing other products, like sausage. There are far less good custom processing places to meet that demand.”
In fact, Dean & Peeler Meatworks is the only federally inspected USDA custom butcher shop from Corpus Christi to Dallas.
“Right where we sit in Wilson County is a regional hot bed for South Texas cattle producers,” Dean adds. “We saw that as an opportunity. In addition, most custom slaughter facilities are on a 2- to 3-month waiting list. When our customers see what hoops we have to go through to meet the USDA guidelines, they know the custom product we give back to them — the beef from their calf — is going to be done right.”
In addition to the federal inspection, Dean and Peeler took things a step further, working with a software company to develop its own programs to run the plant. The software processes cutting orders, prints custom labels and logos and adds the federal stamp of inspection. It will print the net weight and price per pound as well.
“We’re the only place I know of that when you bring a calf to us to have processed, the product we can give back to customers has the type of label on it that makes it truly a retail case-ready item,” Dean says. “It’s a product that has their label, their pricing, and is ready to be sold at farmer’s markets, or to other retail outlets.”
Not only do local customers who want to put beef in their freezer make up a percentage of the patrons, but also people come from as far away as Houston, which is 3.5 hours northeast, and McAllen, which is 3.5 hours southwest of Poth, to have animals processed.
“The reason they wanted to come to us was because of that federal inspection,” Dean adds. “They are taking it back to sell it to restaurants in Houston or at their own retail markets. Retail customers have come from north of San Antonio because it’s hard for them to find a high-quality beef product that’s consistent every time. That’s something we’re able to deliver to them.”
At a time where many consumers want to know where and how, and by whom their beef was raised, these cattlemen have created a system to match those demands.
“A lot of cattlemen dream about being in the cattle and in the meat business,” Peeler says. “We are able to sell what we produce and sell what we put our hard work and money into from even before the birth of the calf.
“That’s probably the most satisfying part,” Dean says. “We were able to link the 2 opposite ends of the industry together and have a product that people really like at the same time. It’s a great feeling to see their reaction. They say it’s some of the best meat they’ve had and they come back to get more of it.”
“Premium Beef” is excerpted from the September 2017 issue of The Cattleman magazine.