Larry Di Giovanni/News Naturalist Chris Bowman holds a red oak leaf at Ramser Arboretum during Saturday’s Heart of Ohio Tour.  The red oak is known for its pointed edges, as opposed to the rounder leaves of the white oak.
Larry Di Giovanni/News
Naturalist Chris Bowman holds a red oak leaf at Ramser Arboretum during Saturday’s Heart of Ohio Tour. The red oak is known for its pointed edges, as opposed to the rounder leaves of the white oak.

DANVILLE — The science of beef cattle production in the early 21st century and more than 100,000 red and white oaks at the former cattle ranch-turned Ramser Arboretum just up the road three miles, were just two of the six Heart of Ohio Tour (HOOT) stops inviting motorists for visits on a beautiful fall Saturday.

Ke-Car Farms on Snively Road near Danville, named for owners Keith and Carma Jo Kauffman, was stop three on the HOOT, a driving tour with an agricultural tradition. This was the second time the Kauffmans have participated on the tour, giving visitors a chance to sample some prime-quality Angus beef, grilled by business partner Chuck Dudgeon. They also had a chance to look inside the family’s historic barn constructed in the early 1900s.

Keith Kauffman said although getting the word out about the high quality of Angus beef home-raised in Knox County is one of his purposes to be on the HOOT, it’s secondary to his main purpose. Keith’s first reason for being on the HOOT is to let the public know “the difference in growing beef cattle today versus 40 or 50 years ago.”

Beef production has always been about the quest for producing the highest-quality beef possible, known as “prime,” which is a cut above “select” beef and “choice” beef, Kauffman said. Today, however, beef farmers like the Kauffmans have that quest down to an exact science. That’s because of a combination of DNA testing, genomics — or the process of “mapping” genomes — and another testing process supported by DNA testing, called EPD (Estimated Progeny Difference).

Angus cattle has always been known for its black color as well as the desirable “marbling” (white flecks) in its meat that make for tasty steaks. But now, through the DNA and genomics processes, each head of cattle processed for meat can be scored on a number of factors important to get that “prime” designation.

“One of our genomics scores identifies tenderness (of the meat),” he said. The EPD test shows several factors desirable for meat production, he added, included scores for marbling of the meat as well as ribeye size.

The Kauffmans keep about 20 head of Angus cattle on Ke-Car Farms. They order the male “contribution” to the process, which comes in liquid nitrogen containers. Kauffman, working with a veterinarian, transfers inseminated embryos from one cow to another which are also ready to reproduce, thus ensuring a steady supply of Angus. The cows receiving the transfer belong to Dudgeon. After the cattle are born, they return to Ke-Car Farms. He keeps some and sells sends the others off for market sales. He receives quality reports on each sale, denoting beef carcass weight, amount of back fat and quality grade.

During the HOOT tour, Kauffman took visitors on tours in a comfortable side-by-side type vehicle. He was proud to show six young heifers born in the spring, all black and looking nearly identical. They came from two cows that went through the “extract inseminated egg-and-implant–in-other-cow” process.

Up the road about three miles at the intersection of Ohio 3 and 205 at the edge of Jelloway, Susan Ramser and her husband, naturalist Chris Bowman, greeted visitors near the entrance of Ramser Arboretum and its walking paths inside a forest that is home to thousands of hardwood trees. The arboretum was the creation of Susan and her brother Mark Ramser’s father, landowner Russell Ramser. He had made a cattle ranch of the property at one time, but later befriended a forester, Harold Bower, who helped convince him to create the arboretum.

The first hardwood trees planted went into the ground in 1986, and — somewhere around 70 to 100 years later — the first red oaks and white oaks will be deemed ready for harvesting, said Bowman, who provided a walking path tour. The red oaks are differentiated by their pointed leaf ends and smooth bark with reddish-hued sturdy tree underneath, while white oaks produce rounded leaves and trunks with a rougher, flakier bark. The largest red oaks in view were about one foot in diameter, and need to be about double that size to be harvested. So they still have another 40 to 60 years to go before harvesting, Bowman predicted.

In the meantime, arboretum visitors can also enjoy the wildflowers growing on either side of a mowed pathway as they exit. On this particular Saturday, a Monarch butterfly — a rare site these days — was viewed floating in the air, before resting on pollinator plants to feed on nectar as it prepares to venture south into Mexico for winter roosting.

“The smaller one next to it I think was a Buckeye butterfly, actually,” Bowman said.

One unfortunate occurrence has literally “plagued” Ramser Arboretum, as it has all white and green ash trees. An invasive insect known as the Emerald Ash Borer has killed off thousands of ash trees in the arboretum, first detected in the north, in Michigan and other areas, around 2002, Bowman said. The first borers were viewed inside Ramser Arboretum in 2014.

Their presence has reduced the site’s overall number of hardwood trees from about 150,000 to around 100,000, Bowman said. One silver lining is that the removal of dying ash trees provides more space for the oaks to grow, he added.

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Larry Di Giovanni: 740-397-5333 or larry@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @mountvernonnews