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    Omega-3 Beef | Winter 2015 Out Here Magazine

    By Erin McIntyre

    Photography by Daniel Johnson

    The idea of marketing a juicy steak as health food might seem crazy to some, but cattle rancher Dale Dicke swears by his quality product.

    The owner of North Country Farms, near Creston, Neb., started producing his own niche product, Omega-3 beef, three years ago, and believes he’s found a way to provide a delicious way for folks to eat their vitamins and enjoy them, too.

    Dicke, who started his cattle operation at age 17 with only two cows, has long been a proponent of natural beef. This sustainable practice of ranching involves raising livestock without hormones or antibiotics. He started this 40 years ago, and counted Mel Coleman, the Colorado rancher widely regarded as the father of natural and organic beef production, as his friend and mentor.

    For decades, before it was trendy, Dicke focused on providing a quality, sustainably raised product to customers who cared about where their beef came from.

    Now, he wants to take the idea of natural beef one step further. He believes his vision for a marketplace with Omega-3 beef will be just as successful as natural beef has proven to be.

    His idea came from people who take supplements — fish oil pills, to be exact. Dicke has found, in informal surveys, that most consumers invest in taking fish oil to add Omega-3 fatty acids to their diets.

    At farmers markets, “I would ask every customer that came up if they took fish oil pills,” he says, and found that at least 80 percent of people said they did.

     

    Dicke, 63, says most people estimate that he’s at least 10 or 15 years younger when they meet him, and he attributes that to eating all-natural beef.

     

    “I can work all day with guys that are 30 years old and it doesn’t bother me,” he says. “If you eat healthy, you’re going to stay healthy.”

     

    North Country Ranch’s Omega-3 meat has been has been assessed by Midwest Labs, which found that their beef has 14 times the Omega-3s contained in conventional beef.

     

    This, Dicke says, is similar to the levels in an equal amount of salmon.

    Natural and Healthy

    The process for producing an Omega-3 steak starts with what the cow eats, and Dicke has it down to a science. In his operation, the cows don’t receive hormones, antibiotics, or ionophores, which are additives used to help cows process feed and gain weight faster.

    “We feed our cattle prairie hay, salt, and a mineral. Of course, they’re out on grass, and when they come to the farm, then they get a grain mixture,” he says.

    North Country uses a chopped rye in their rotational mix of crops, so the cows get some of that. But the Omega-3 fatty acids come from flax — the same source that many vegetarians use for the nutrient as a substitute for fish oil.

    Flax is a delicate, blue flowering plant that produces a tiny flat seed, full of nutritious Omega-3s. But Dicke found that breaking down those minute seeds was important to make the nutrient available to the cows’ digestive systems, so they built a processing mill to grind the flax for the feed.

    A ratio of 10 percent flax seed in the cattle’s feed is required to obtain desired levels of Omega-3s in the finished product. This isn’t cheap to do, and it’s why you’ll find their beef costs roughly 30 percent more than the conventional beef in a supermarket. But for folks wanting to eat healthy food and not feel guilty about enjoying a burger or steak, it’s a small price to pay.

    “There’s a percentage of our consumers that are very concerned about their health and they’re looking for something that fits their needs,” Dicke says. “This is just a small niche for just a small percentage of our consumers. But I think in the future we may be surprised how it grows.”

    Today, one of his major customers is Chipotle Mexican Grill. North Country Farm’s meats are also offered in supermarkets in Nebraska, as well as in several steakhouses in Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado.

    Soon, Dicke will embark on his own dining enterprise, as he’s partnering with investors to build a restaurant called Blue Bloods Brewery in Lincoln, Neb.

    Not surprisingly, “100 percent of the menu,” Dicke says, “is going to be Omega-3.”