MOUNT HOREB, Wis. – Appreciation for his family’s roots and a trip to Norway inspired Darren Kittleson to purchase his parents’ Mount Horeb-area farm. The family farm will be 150 years old in 2020.

To help boost the farm’s future viability Kittleson has decided to specialize in cattle that produce premium-priced beef.

“To have economically sustainable businesses, most farmers today must either go big or find a specialty,” he said. “We chose the specialty route.”

Kittleson is raising Akaushi cattle. The Japanese breed produces a flavorful, tender and heart-healthy beef, according to the American Akaushi Association. The beef features elevated levels of oleic acid, considered to be heart-healthy. It also has a positive ratio of monounsaturated fat to saturated fat.

The Beeman family of Texas in the early 1990s introduced the breed to the United States. The Beemans own HeartBrand Ranch near Harwood, Texas. They also own HeartBrand Beef, which wholesales and retails Akaushi beef. The company’s tenderloin filets currently fetch from $65 to $80 each. Ribeyes and sirloin strips sell for $50 per steak.

Kittleson is a real-estate-brokerage owner, a professional speaker and a business coach. High school football injuries kept him from pursuing farming as a career. But as a youth he worked on his family’s dairy farm and was active in the Mount Horeb FFA. He served from 1986 to 1987 as president of the Wisconsin FFA.

A trip about seven years ago to the Norwegian village of Kviteseid gave him a deeper appreciation of his family’s farming roots, he said. There he saw a barn that his Norwegian ancestors had built in the mid-1800s.

His family farm in Wisconsin has its own heritage. It was established in 1871 by Thor Kittleson, his great-great-grandfather.

“Carrying forward the family-farm legacy became more important to me,” Darren Kittleson said.

Talking with his long-time friend Ed Peck, Kittleson discovered a way to continue the family-farming legacy. The men were in FFA and 4-H together. Peck about six years ago had purchased land near Mount Horeb. He’s interested in genetics, he said, and was experimenting with unique beef breeds. He currently has a nucleus herd of 17 cow-calf pairs in which he has introduced Akaushi genetics.

“I was interested in the incredible beef the breed produced as well as the unique market for it,” Peck said. “The beef is addictive.”

He told Kittleson about his Akaushi breeding program – but he didn’t own enough land to accommodate the type of commercial herd he envisioned. Peck also is busy running Filament, a marketing-communications firm he founded in Madison, Wisconsin.

The men continued to discuss Akaushi cattle. Then Kittleson decided in 2017 to approach his family about purchasing the farm; about 160 acres of the farm could be used for pasture. Much of the land already was being grazed by cattle owned by Roger Kittleson, his father.

“When Darren said he wanted to buy the farm that thrilled me and his mother,” Roger Kittleson said.

But Darren Kittleson’s job and speaking engagements require a significant amount of travel. That wouldn’t allow much time for managing cattle. Fortunately Chris Kittleson, Darren’s brother, has assumed herd management at what is now called Brunkeberg Kviteseid Farms. The farm is named in honor of the Kittleson ancestral home farm in Kviteseid, Norway. Brunkeberg is a village located near Kviteseid.

“I’m pleased to have both sons involved with the farm,” Roger Kittleson said. “It’s a great way to see the legacy continue.”

Roger Kittleson had raised beef cattle since 2002. He had been a dairy farmer before selling in 1999 his 50-cow milking herd.

“My knees were getting bad and there wasn’t much money in dairy,” he said. “Chris didn’t want to milk cows so we went with beef cattle.”

Darren Kittleson has partnered with Peck, who will help supply Akaushi genetics as well as market the beef. In spring 2018 the two transported two of Peck’s Akaushi bulls to the Kittleson farm. The bulls were introduced to the Kittleson herd of Angus and Shorthorn cattle. The first “crop” of calves arrived in spring 2019.

Today the Kittlesons manage about 85 head of cattle. There are 24 Shorthorn and 30 Angus animals. The remainder of the herd is comprised of Akaushi bulls and calves. They graze a mixture recommended by Marie Raboin, conservationist at the Dane County Land Conservation Division. Pastures consist of Italian ryegrass, tall fescue, orchardgrass, meadow fescue, alfalfa, white clover and alsike clover.

The cattle at Brunkeberg Kviteseid Farms are grass-fed and then finished on grain. The first cattle ready for market will likely be sold next year to HeartBrand Beef. It has slaughtering facilities as well as established markets for Akaushi beef.

Cattle aren’t required to be sourced from the HeartBrand genetics program to qualify for the purchasing program, but they must be registered with the American Akaushi Association. And they must be verified with a deoxyribonucleic-acid – DNA – test. Akaushi producers earn a premium of 20 cents per pound more than a five-day Cattlefax average, according to the HeartBrand Beef website. Akaushi cattle are sold at a market weight of 1,300 pounds and have hanging weights in the 700- to 750-pound range.

Kittleson and Peck said they hope to have beef ready for direct sale in fall 2020. They would consider selling to restaurants in Madison, Minneapolis and Chicago, Kittleson said.

“The big challenge for direct marketing is the scarcity of butchers in our area,” he said.

Peck said, “We’d prefer to sell to local markets, but being able to sell to HeartBrand Beef provides a safety net."

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Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.