This year is full of anniversaries; first of all 2017 is the centennial year when Israel Bennion sold his Ben Lomond ranch, located 5 miles west of here, and moved to this spot and began homesteading once again and for the last time. He was 55 years old in 1917. He bought the kit for a bungalow house out of a Sears & Roebuck catalog and hired a couple of Pehrsons from Vernon to build this house.
It is the 20 year anniversary of Alan Mitchell/Elizabeth Bennion family moving back to Vernon to take over the ranch. We restored the house, primarily in the year 2000, and moved in permanently in June 2003. We reclaimed fields. We built additional irrigation systems. We dug stockwater lines and troughs. We constructed 15 miles of new fence. We built our road. We farmed alfalfa hay, barley, and range grass seed. We took over a herd that could be described as “rainbow” with Black, Red, Orange, white breeds (Angus, Hereford, charloise, Solaire), and bred them to be mostly Black Angus.
Of course we didn’t do it alone. Our kids (Karma Sue, Rebecca, Colin, Sam, Frost) were the fencing, hoeing, and irrigation crew. Our Vernon neighbors helped with mechanicking, horse shoeing, laying pipeline, baling hay (Marlin).
About our lifestyle. We generate our only electricity using solar panels and a generator. We pump from our own well. We heat with our own wood. We can our own beans, beets, tomatoes, and BBQ sauce. We eat our own eggs, beef, and chicken. We have no television although we do have high-speed internet. We have a dog that herds cows, a horse that eats hay.
I didn’t learn to swear until I began working with cows about 1998, and broken-down farm equipment in 1999, but the other half of the story is that I have repented and we have learned to be gentle with cows. Don’t yell. Herding is like selling real estate, it is all about location—or at least position. We raise in a natural way, in other words, we don’t use hormones; we only use antibiotics on the rare cattle that get infections; we give vaccinations and treat for parasites.
More importantly, my wife Elizabeth knows every cow. She prints a roll call sheet from Excel and takes her magic marker and sometimes her granddaughter Madelyn and roll-calls the herd. She notes any problem. She watches the cows thru their lifetimes and knows their body score and fertility; whether they calved early or late; raised a big calf; and whether she will knock you down when you go to tag her calf. Let’s try an experiment—somebody pick a random number between 1 and 999. Liz, do we have any cows with that number? Close to that number? How old is she? Has she ever lost a calf? What color or markings or horns? Who was her mother? Have we ever kept any calves out of her?
But this day is not primarily about the past, but about the future. For 2 decades our primary crop is selling calves in the fall. Occasionally we have kept some as sold them as grass-fed beef. We have introduced bulls with high marbling and sold to an association that promised data on the finished product. What little data we have received has indicated that most of the finished steers grade “prime.” Under the USDA grading system of select, choice, and prime, less than 2 percent grade prime. Our cattle make good beef. So we have decided to transition to selling the finished beef. And two years ago we began with Wagyu, a breed out of Japan that grades beyond prime because of its marbling and tenderness. But quality comes at a cost of both time and inputs. And that is why we are here today—to taste test whether it is worth it.
We want to offer three kinds of beef in the future: Wagyu/Angus Cross (American Wagyu), Grass-Fed, and what we will call Ranch Beef (Grass-Fed, Barley Finished). First, what we are calling a ranch beef that is a Black Angus or Red Angus calf raised here its entire life. Born in March/April under those trees over there, from May to August following its mama throughout 10,000 acres of permits north and east of here. In September returning to these alfalfa fields here to be weaned. In December start eating hay until April when the grass begins to grow and they are a year old and weigh 700 lbs. They will continue on pasture and receive ranch-raised barley until they weigh 1400 lbs are ready to slaughter in the fall at about 18 months.
The next category is Grass-fed beef. These will be like the ranch calves except they will received no grain inputs. We have raised these before and some people here have bought them. They take an additional year to get mature—or about 28 months in all. Because of this, we need to charge more. The meat MAY be less tender and we recommend a butcher hang them for at least 14 days to let the meat cure.
The Wagyu/Angus Cross are calves with an Angus mother and a Wagyu father. Wagyu matures more slowly and doesn’t look as hearty as the Angus. But if the beef is better it may not matter. Because our herd is adapted to conditions here, we don’t dare own Wagyu cows, but we own a Wagyu bull that produces the Cross. We raised some Cross calves last year and they did fine, but were a little smaller. This year we have 4 Cross calves; the bull will begin breeding 20 cows next week. You can see the bull W5 in the corral if you want. Because Wagyu matures so slowly the calves will be finished with grain in a feedlot.