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BetterFed Beef seeks to provide a 'good onya' choice for American beef consumers

BetterFed Beef, a Minnesota based beef company, has trademarked a new breed, Certified Onya, which has proven to be as tender than Wagyu beef.

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Tom Peters and Max Winders first met while they were studying at the University of Minnesota. The pair formed a lifelong friendship and created a business dedicated to bringing the best American-raised beef to the American consumer.
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Sitting on lake Ontario, Tom Peters and Max Winders patiently floated, waiting for the fish to bite. A yearly tradition, the pair traveled to Canada for a week, as their respective roles in the agriculture industry made it difficult to catch up. The subjects may have changed throughout the years, from their young children to retirement, but one thing remained steadfast: cattle.

It was during one of their week-long trips that they were hit with an idea: Why not bring the best American raised beef to American consumers? Right to their doorstep. If the COVID-19 pandemic made anything apparent, it's that almost everything can be delivered to your front door. Why would quality beef be any different, pondered Peters and Winders. Thus, while bobbing on the Canadian waters, BetterFed Beef was born.

A match made in heaven

Max Winders
Max Winders' background in international agriculture has helped greatly with the success of BetterFed Beef.
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From the get go, Winders and Peters were dedicated to bringing the very best beef to their consumers. A crucial part in delivering high quality, super tender beef was finding the perfect genetics. Peters, who has been a nutrition consultant in the beef industry over the last 35 years, spent over a decade trying to bring to life BetterFed’s ideal cross of cattle. After trying breeds from Angus, Limousine and Charolais cattle, he finally landed on a unique match up of breeds: a hybrid of Jersey and Gelbvieh cattle. While the breeds were an unlikely pair, they turned out to be a match made in heaven.

A Jersey heifer or cow and a Gelbvieh bull are bred to produce an offspring that Peters and Winders have coined, ‘Onya’ cattle. The jersey mother has the ability to put an ideal percentage of fat right inside the muscle, which is conducive for marbling.

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“The cross is quite remarkable, in terms of producing healthy, fast growing and super tender beef,” Winders said. “Part of the magic is the Jersey mother. She looks like a little fawn. You wouldn’t think they could produce such a big beautiful steer.”

Their Onya cattle have given them high quality, tender beef. The pair trademarked the breed and have been extremely happy with the meat the animal has been producing. Winders grew up in New Zealand on a beef, dairy and sheep farm. Winders also spent 28 years working in international agriculture. His background was the deciding factor on naming the breed.

Certified Onya
BetterFed Beef has trademarked Certified Onya cattle, which is a breed that is a Jersey and Gelbvieh cattle.
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“A term of endearment in New Zealand, we say, ‘good on ya,’ to people. So if you do something good, we say, ‘good on ya.’ Then, when you get really friendly with people you just say, ‘on ya.’ It means you did something well.”

Behind the beef

BetterFed Beef has been going against the grain from its conception and has been making up its own blueprint along the way, starting with their cattle producers. BetterFed Beef has 17 farming families raising cattle for the venture. Each family has proven themselves to be superior farmers and ranchers, taking the utmost care of their livestock, which is incredibly important when producing high quality beef. Management practices such as nutrition, comfort level and low stress environments are key to delivering a top tier beef product.

“It’s a matrix, the combination of all of these. You’ve got to get them all right,” Winders said. “They’re the best at raising this super tender beef.”

The Gorecki family is one of BetterFed Beef’s cattle producers and farms in Taunton, Minnesota. They run a cow-calf operation, raise cattle and farm row crops as well. They work as a multi-generational farm and have a deep connection to agriculture. The Goreckis have worked closely with Peters for many years, as he helped them with their rations and nutrition management for their operation.

Like many producers, the pandemic was a rocky time for the Goreckis, who had cattle to sell but no where to take them to. That was when Peters shared with them the idea of BetterFed Beef.

Luke Gorecki
Luke Gorecki and his family raise Certified Onya cattle and take pride in producing high quality beef.
Contributed

“We loved the idea — the chance to start our own company and not be reliant on the major meat packers who have a pretty tight control of the market,” Luke Gorecki said.

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All 17 producing families are owners of BetterFed Beef, making the startup have a unique business model. The Goreckis receive their Certified Onya cattle as 450 pound calves and take care of them between 12 to 14 months. The Goreckis raise 120 or 240 Certified Onya cattle at a time.

“If we can minimize stress on the animal and make it as comfortable as possible, and as healthy as possible, it’s going to be the best meat possible from that animal,” Gorecki said. “We take pride in that. We work really hard to do a good job of taking care of that animal.”

Peters works closely with the producers and oversees the rations, all the way down to the micronutrients of parts per million as well as overseeing the vitamins to parts per billion, ensuring that their product can be of the highest quality.

While making sure that the cattle are being fed as well as possible, another priority of BetterFed Beef is telling the story of agriculture and highlighting the hard working families that raise the product.

“That’s what I like most about BetterFed Beef is when you order beef from BetterFed and you get the box, there is a QR Code. If it comes from me, it’s got my family’s picture and a little story about us. You can scan it and you can email me questions you have, what you thought of the beef and you know exactly where your food came from,” Gorecki said.

Money where their mouth is

BetterFed Beef has been trying to bring the most tender and highest quality beef to the marketplace, a product that gives wagyu beef — a term which refers to several breeds of cattle that are genetically bred to produce intense marbling — a run for its money. BetterFed Beef advertised its products' tenderness, but decided to put their money where their mouth is and have it proven once and for all.

“NDSU in academia is so well respected, so there is no better place to come and do this type of research,” Winders said.

North Dakota State University conducted the study on BetterFed Beef to see if their claims were true. Dr. Robert Maddock, a professor of meat science, oversaw the research.

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Robert Maddock
Robert Maddock is an NDSU meat science professor and oversaw the BetterFed Beef research and study. Photo taken March 14, 2022 in Fargo, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

“We did something where we did a shear force test, where we measured the tenderness of the meat and measured fat content and some things like that,” Maddock said.

The results spoke for themselves.

“We found that everything was really really tender. The product that we got from BetterFed Beef from their production system was essentially the same tenderness as wagyu,” Maddock said “One of the steaks on our shear force didn’t even register. It was so tender.”

Peters and Winders are excited to bring premium beef to the American consumers through an e-commerce marketplace and will continue to think of ways to better their business while floating on the water in the years to come.

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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