It’s all in the Grass: Raising Beef, Pork and Lamb the Natural Way
While studying Animal Science at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., Jeff Downs of Kinikin Natural Foods, located east of Montrose, Colo., was appalled at the confinement conditions that he saw livestock living under. Armed with a Bachelor’s degree, he started to research alternative methods of raising beef, lamb and pork.
“My father, Steve (who passed away 10 years ago) bought our 700 acres in 1990 to return to farming as a hobby,” he told me as we sat in the kitchen of his 1920s farmhouse. “When I started this business seven years ago, I did everything – all the irrigating, haying, hauling, butchering and selling.” He paused with a slight smile before adding, “It was exhausting.” His efforts, however, as well as those of his wife, Jenika, have been well worth it.
The cattle, sheep and hogs that the Downs raise are constantly being rotated on irrigated pasture, meaning low impact on the soil, and they never receive growth hormones, antibiotics, steroids or corn silage. Grass-fed meats, I learned, are high in vitamins A and E, both of which are powerful antioxidants, with E in particular being shown to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. Additionally, they are higher in conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs) which, according to laboratory studies, “are considered by many to be our most potent defense against cancer.” Grass-fed beef is also a complete source of Omega 3 fatty acids (the good kind) and “some has as much Omega 3s as salmon,” Jenika informed me.
In order to produce more intramuscular marbling in their products, the couple is currently working with such heritage breeds as the Red Devon and Scottish Highland. Calves are born in May when there is plenty of grass (as opposed to arriving in late winter) and “the steers are held for two years” instead of getting finished on silage and then sent to market as yearlings. Because they utilize different forages, Scottish Cheviot sheep are pastured with the cows, and lambs remain with the ewes until butchering “so they are essentially milk-fed until they are harvested.” Even the Duroc hogs are turned out on forage to revitalize the unimproved areas of the ranch. “We supplement the pigs with brew grain from the Horsefly Brewery, which has little carbohydrates but lots of fiber and protein,” Jeff explains. “It’s mixed with cracked corn from Olathe and skim milk from Kinikin Corner Dairy.” Nothing goes to waste with this outfit: even the beef trim plus hearts and livers go into their special recipe of dog food.
Although it’s clear that this couple is dedicated to the philosophy of “you are what you eat,” Jenika – who was born in Leadville, Colo., and met Jeff while she was studying at Berkeley – admits that in the beginning, “I knew nothing about farming beyond what was wrapped in grocery store cellophane.” She shared a story about the time that she innocently asked what a bred cow was, mistaking the spelling as ‘bread,’ and after I had finally stopped laughing we agreed that nearly every beginner farm wife could relate. Although the business had a chance to go national after being featured in an “American Character” story on NBC (the interview, done by Tom Brokow, can be viewed on the website http://www.KinikinFoods.com) they have decided against going that route. Instead, Jeff and Jenika have chosen to stay local, selling their products out of a giant freezer close to their house. They can also be found at Farmer’s Markets in Telluride and Crested Butte – which run through mid-October – and Montrose, which will continue throughout the winter on the first and third Saturdays of each month. Additionally, they are now offering a meat CSA with a convenient monthly drop-off and a significant savings off retail prices. “We really appreciate our customers,” Jenika said sincerely. “Word of mouth is the best way to get information out.”
Jeff concluded, “It’s important to shorten the mileage between consumer and farmer. If you keep things local, the money stays in town instead of going to a shipping yard hundreds of miles away and that keeps food transportation costs down.” From the sounds of it, everyone benefits.
Although they do hire seasonal people to help with certain chores around the property, for the most part it’s “just the three of us” counting their toddler, Lilly. (Jenika, who used to work in town as a financial planner, began staying home fulltime and working on the farm after Lilly was born.) Watching the couple as they passed the baby back and forth during our interview, it was easy to picture the next generation years down the road with everyone thriving and growing right along with their grass-roots venture.
For more information, please contact Jeff and Jenika Downs, 71467 R71 Road, Montrose, Colo., KinikinFoods@gmail.com, (970) 901-9959 or (970) 901-7088.
*Editor’s note: Kinikin Corner Dairy was featured in the March 21, 2011 edition of the Fence Post.