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April 17, 2024 5:41 am

UMO faculty tours cattle operation in Turkey

Faculty from the University of Mount Olive recently toured Wilders Farm in Turkey, N.C. From left are Wilders Director of Agriculture Jake Newbold, Wilders Brand and Operations Manager Danielle Lantz, Director of the UMO Lois G. Britt Agribusiness Center Ed Olive, Dean of the UMO School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences Dr. Sandy Maddox, UMO Assistant Professor of Animal Science Dr. William Farmer and UMO Chair of Agricultural Sciences Heather Glennon.

TURKEY, N.C. – Several hundred head of genetically pure, authentic Japanese Wagyu cows and bulls are foraging on tender blades of Bermuda grass still damp from the late spring frost. Ranch hands are busily checking fences, feeding animals and cutting hay. Beyond the fence line and into the woods is the sound of Berkshire hogs wallowing lazily in the mud, fresh from the weekend rains.

It may look like a scene from the “Yellowstone” television series, but the more than 1,300 acres of property known as Wilders Farm is located just two miles west of Interstate 40 in the rural Sampson County community of Turkey, N.C. Owners Reid and Jaclyn Smith bought the property as a means of expanding their pandemic pastime.

“During the height of the COVID -19 pandemic, the Smiths purchased about 30 Wagyu cattle to pass the time and ease the boredom on their Johnston County farm,” said Wilders Brand and Operations Manager Danielle Lantz.

That newfound hobby turned into the start of a profitable venture when the Smiths, who have a strong background in construction and real estate, purchased the Matthews farm. The former owner, the late Jeffrey Matthews, had a passion for quarter horses and longhorn cattle. Therefore, the many outlying buildings, barns and fenced-in pastures were well equipped for transitioning to Wagyu cattle.

With only a handful of registered Wagyu farmers in North Carolina, the Smiths are forging into relatively new territory. As their website says, “We might be the new kid on the block, but we’re no rookies to farming. Our crew is proud to come from families that have been in farming for generations. We have a deep appreciation for the hard working men and women who make our agriculture community what it is today.”

Embracing the community in which they live and work, the Smiths recently extended an invitation to several members of the University of Mount Olive School of Agriculture and Biological Sciences for a farm tour. During the tour, attendees saw the farm’s 10 full-time staff members managing the day-to-day operations on the farm. “We employ several other part time staff for calving season, breeding season and retail market days,” said Director of Agriculture Jake Newbold.

UMO Chair of Agricultural Sciences Heather Glennon said she learned a great deal about feeding and equipment options during the tour. “It was interesting to learn that the Wilders Wagyu are grass-fed and grain-finished animals, and that the farm is the source of all dietary needs including hay and silage supplements,” she said.

Assistant Professor of Animal Science Dr. William Farmer was especially interested in learning about the farm’s artificial insemination and embryo transfer programs. “We learned that the farm utilizes commercial Angus cows as surrogates,” Farmer said. “This is enabling them to increase their herd at a more rapid and stable rate of production.”

“It is one of our main goals to become a major distributor of authentic Japanese Wagyu genetics for the East Coast in addition to our e-commerce meat sales,” Newbold said.

The Smiths are planning their first cattle sale for early November. They have every expectation that their initial crop of purebred Wagyu will bring a premium price. Known for its incredible tenderness, unique marbling and unmatched flavor, Wilders Wagyu beef is certainly bringing top dollar online and in farmer’s markets across the state.

A 26-ounce Wagyu porterhouse steak sells for $155 while a two to three-inch thick cut tomahawk steak carries a $241 price tag. “Once you have tasted it, you will know why,” Newbold said.

“Our products speak for themselves,” added Lantz. “We can’t keep up with demand.”

Beyond Wagyu, the Wilders label is front and center on the Smith’s Berkshire pasture-raised pork products as well.  They sell everything from sausage to pork chops.

“We really enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to visit and tour the Wilders operation,” said Dean of the School of Agriculture and Biological Services Dr. Sandy Maddox. “It is well-managed and they have a clear vision as to where they want to be in the future. We are excited about forging this new partnership with Wilders Wagyu. They are open to allowing our classes to come and tour the operation and in selecting students to participate in their operation through internships. They are also interested in working with our faculty on artificial insemination and other areas of production. This should be a productive partnership for both the university and Wilders.”

“We are so happy that we could host UMO, we certainly do not know everything that there is to know about Wagyu, but what we do know is that none of us can do it alone,” said Lantz. “As much as the Smiths love the breed, they are also in it for the community of breeders and farmers – for the reward of doing it together. Which is why the Smith’s brand does business the WILD way: with a Will to win, Intentional adaptability, Living compassionately, and Disciplined execution. You will see that WILD stamp on everything, from livestock branding to packaging, to the logos on our jackets. Because our owners, Reid and Jaclyn Smith, back their products with family values. It’s more than just their brand; it’s their way of life.”

— From University of Mount Olive Public Relations