For more than 30 years, Australian cattleman Greg Ebbeck has been splitting his time between Australia and North America and has imported Canadian polled Hereford genetics in the form of semen, embryos and live cattle since 1984.
But in the last four years, Ebbeck along with his partners that make up Six Star Speckle Park Co. has assembled the largest purebred Speckle Park (SP) herd in the world with 350 SP cows and counting. He has done it with embryos and semen from both Alberta and Saskatchewan farms and ranches. The number is quite remarkable because the Speckle Park cattle were only given purebred status in 2006 and the entire Canadian herd is only about 3,000 plus purebred cows.
“We have always used embryo transplant to speed up the breeding process in our herds,” comments Ebbeck. “We follow the purebred cattle in Alberta and Saskatchewan and in the U.S. I first noticed the Speckle Park in a display at Agribition in Regina and saw them again at Farmfair in Edmonton. We also keep an eye on what happens at the Calgary Stampede and this breed has been winning both the carcass competition and the taste and tenderness tests hands down. They were called an evolving breed for 14 years but when they obtained breed status in ’06 we immediately bought some embryos. The resulting calves received a lot of interest from our Australian buyers so we bought more embryos and a couple of hundred straws of semen.”
Within just a few years, Ebbeck has purchased over 2,000 Speckle Park embryos and now has 45 breeders in Australia. He is so pumped about this breed that he has created the Speckle Park International Association out of Australia and the Australian purebreds are on performance data at the University of Armidale, New South Wales, which also does performance recordings for Australian Angus and Hereford cattle.
What’s all the fuss about?
As they say the proof seems to be in the pudding – or rather the carcass results. Ebbeck has won three Australian carcass competitions with Speckle Park calves. With more than 650 head entered in the Brisbane Royal Show this year, he entered one steer and still won the coveted title of Grand Champion Carcass. While Ebbeck can’t offer a scientific response as to why the meat appears to be different, he says, “These cattle marble between an Angus and a Wagyu without having a lot of excess outside fat. Our steers, which are a cross with many different breeds including Hereford and Angus, are achieving, on average, 68% cutability. There has been some talk that there’s a particular enzyme that makes the meat tender and we’re trying to get a gene marker to authenticate that.”
“But the main reason they are attaining so much success is because of the tenderness and taste of the meat. We’ve done four huge taste events in the past year in Australia and some of the best chefs in the country think it’s the best steak they’ve ever eaten.”
Ebbeck has already signed up some of the finest restaurants in Australia to feature the Speckle Park beef and in the spring Emirates Airlines will begin using the 250 gram fillet steaks for their first class customers, replacing the Angus Gold. “Emirates also has some exclusive resorts which cater to the likes of Nicole Kidman when she’s in the country,” offers Ebbeck. “They are also going to include our beef on the resort restaurant menus. The chef that we are dealing with is responsible for Emeritus menus in Sydney, London, Paris, New York and Dubai. We’re gearing up to supply 9,000 carcasses in the first year.”
Ebbeck is buying up as many Speckle Park cross calves as he can by offering 20 cents a kilo premium over market price live weight. He then sends them off to be custom fed. He says they finish between 60 and 100 days depending on the weights they enter the feedlot and dressed weights are between 170 kg and 300 kg. Besides the signed deals with finer Australian restaurants and the airline, he’s getting increased interest from Southeast Asia including Japan where a more marbled beef is preferred.
Ebbeck has been on the road trying to get enough herds to include the SP cattle in their cross bred programs in order to ramp up for the projected market demand year round. Here in Canada, he recently bought the SP Starbank Ranch herd at Neilburg, Sask which included 90 females and then while at Agribition 2010, sealed a deal to purchase fifty per cent interest of 40 females from Jason Goodfellow’s Notta Ranch/Speckle Park Cattle Co. Both the Canadian and Australian SP cattle operations will all be run under Six Star Speckle Park Inc.
The SP group is gaining some high profile converts from other breeds – namely Johner Stock Farm at Maidstone. “When people hear my name it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the industry,” says Goodfellow. “But when they hear that Johner Stock Farm is winning in the Speckle Park show ring, then others want to know what the heck he is doing? That’s bringing other cattlemen to our stalls.”
“This breed doesn’t yet have a lot of numbers but through embryo transplant and semen straws we’ve sure helped to speed up its numbers and its profile,” says Ebbeck. “Out of 48 all breeds entries this year at the Calgary Stampede’s Quality Beef Competition, SP carcasses won Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion. SP’s were in the first four placings and had a total of six placings in the Competition’s top ten. It’s a small breed competing in the big boy’s arena and a lot of people are certainly paying attention to the results. The Canadian arm of Six Star is putting together a buyback program for Speckle Park beef, will offer a premium for first cross calves.”
Speckle Parks are Polled and British Bred originating in western Canada. They are not a composite. They were first developed in Saskatchewan by Eileen and Bill Lamont of Maidstone who crossed speckled cows with Black Angus bulls. From there the new breed became an evolving breed for 14 years. On July 6, 2006, the Canadian Speckle Park Association’s Articles of Incorporation were amended to declare Speckle Park a distinct Canadian breed of purebred cattle.