Having sold the calves we raised for a few years at the regular cattle auction, we were inspired to do something different after reading the Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal Vegetable Miracle and watching Fast Food Nation, Food Inc., and King Corn. We were frightened by what we learned about industrial food, and beef production seemed like the worst. To take beautiful, healthy, and natural ranch-raised animals and then stick them in a filthy feedlot and fill them with corn and antibiotics and hormones for a few months in a huge rush to get them to market - let alone the industrial processing with E.coli contamination and all - it simply felt insane to us. We didn't want to participate in that process. We became determined to get ourselves out of the corn-based economy. Like many of you, we now find ourselves thinking about corn syrup when we are tempted to buy a Snickers or down a Coke. Living on the ranch, we already had a pretty good diet - but all this new information gave us the motivation to improve it even more.
We also noticed that our old-time ranching neighbors didn't usually touch the meats in the grocery store, often trading natural beef, lamb, pigs, poultry, and eggs amongst themselves.
So we considered our options. In our area there are several natural beef co-ops that produce beef without hormones and antibiotics. While that is an improvement, at the end of the day the beef is still corn fed, with none of the health advantages of grass fed. For more on the health side of the story, see "Why Grass Fed?"
We decided that grass fed would be the way to go. But we knew that grass-fed beef had, at best, an uneven reputation. We worried that it would be tough and dry. The marketing folks for industrial food have been convincing us of the superiority of corn-fed beef for some time now! We didn't want to eat lousy beef just because it was healthy. We knew our friends wouldn't want to either. We are foodies. We love food - good food.
So we decided to see what we could learn. We read books about raising grass-fed cattle. We subscribed to "The Stockman Grass Farmer." What we learned was amazing. There is an art to raising excellent grass-fed beef that farmers in the U.S. had mostly lost. There is a vibrant movement of people like ourselves trying to change that. We have turned back to New Zealand, Argentina, and France to regain that lost knowledge. To learn more about what we have learned and what we do here at Johnny Creek Ranch to produce great beef, see "How We Do It."
Finally, a few words about eating meat, specifically beef. We think the anti-meat folks have some legitimate points. But we doubt that they are going to have much success turning us all into vegetarians. We think a more intelligent conversation for Americans to have is about how much meat to eat. Most of the world eats meat more sparingly than we do, using its wonderful flavor more as a condiment than a staple. Think Asian foods. Rather than eat tons of crappy cheap meat, we think we would all be better off if we ate less meat, but made sure that it was high quality and healthy.
And we aren't sustainability experts, but it seems obvious to us that the inputs and environmental impact of our beef production is likely much less than that of industrial beef. We do know that we can make the same amount of income raising grass-fed cattle with 1/2 the animals on the same amount of land. That means a lot, we think.
Thanks for your interest and support,
Jim and Sue Kelly
Johnny Creek Ranch