Colorado ranchers feed cattle naturally to give consumers a superior beef product
December 28, 2018
Here it is folks the final installment of our Christmas "COWntdown", I hope you all enjoyed it! Have a Merry Christmas!🎄🐮
It started with an idea to snap a few photos of his family's cows for social media and then Tyler Christensen ordered a drone and things really took off.
Christensen and his dad, Eric, run cattle and farm near Weldona, Colo., in the northeastern part of the state. Tyler fed the cattle in the shape of numbers to count down the days to Christmas and took photos, soon ordering a drone to capture aerial photos. On Christmas, the two set feed out in the shape of a cross and released a short Facebook post, a Cow-ntdown to Christmas.
The process took the duo about 20 minutes each morning and the numbers and cross were feed truck freehand without GPS. Now that the two, and the cattle, have a little practice, they're considering other designs to photograph for other holidays.
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Christensen Ranch is a partnership between Eric and Tyler Christensen and Eric's cousin, Kathy Wood and has been in the family for 95 years. The ranch finishes their own cattle in addition to other purchased cattle as well as custom backgrounding. They farm about 1,000 irrigated acres and pasture about 15,000 acres. The cattle in the photos are the fall herd and the ranch also runs a spring calving herd. The ranch also has a small box beef and freezer beef business to broaden marketing options and deliver quality beef to customers.
"We finish about 1,500 a year between our own and cattle we purchase and cattle we partner with other ranchers that have similar goals," Eric Christensen said. "Everything we feed is fed naturally."
The finished cattle are harvested at Cargill in nearby Fort Morgan and processed at Meyer Natural Angus. Meyer, formerly Coleman Natural Meats, markets natural Angus beef and offers cattle verified through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Humanely Handled Program.
The boxed beef program was one that Eric said he considered 25 years ago when he took his first marketing class and it has been slowly growing. He said he's learned to be patient with a start-up business.
"It's taken us a long time to get to the point where we were comfortable and had the ability to move that part of the business forward," he said. "If we could make an animal that was 100 percent steaks, our job would be really easy. The problem is half of it is ground beef and we get a lot of repeat customers that say they've never had ground beef taste like this, what do you do different?"
Aging, processing, and genetics all play a role in delivering a quality product and Christensen said a lot goes into that perfect bite of steak. The ranch also offers freezer beef, processed by Stage Coach Meats in Wiggins, Colo. Boxed and freezer beef is available on the ranch's website.
"We feed cattle the old-fashioned way," he said. "We don't push them very fast, we use earlage, which is probably not a very well-known feed product. We use a silage chopper to cut the whole ear of corn and that fermented feed helps with the marbling and there's not as much fat accumulated on the outside of the carcass."
He said use of earlage gives their meat a distinct flavor but said that's a feed truck seat observation. He said he's not a meat scientist but knows he rarely orders steak at restaurants, preferring the ranch's beef.
The cows are primarily Red Angus and they utilize Hereford bulls. Christensen said he likes the moderate size of the Red Angus but was finding that they were yielding smaller carcasses. The Hereford bulls were the solution to maintain the carcass traits and disposition of the Red Angus with more size. They then breed the baldy mothers back to Red Angus and have been pleased with the results on the ranch and the rail. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.