A Health Journey
Raising CWR Forage Fed and Finished Beef began as a health journey for us. When my wife and I began our family, one thing that was important to us was knowing what we were feeding our children. We desired to feed them healthy food. But that desire initiated the question, "What is healthy?"
Another contributing factor, in the early stages of this journey, was that we lost four friends to various forms of cancer. So we began in earnest to learn what foods are healthy; and why some foods that should be healthy, are not.
In an effort to understand the maze of cancer, we found that food is a contributing factor. In fact, the lack of healthy food is often a culprit in sickness in general. We found, in our research, the importance of being proactive in our health, instead of attacking everything from a reactionary standpoint.
Emerging from a broken system
During this time we also began to consider how we were treating the land and the soil. I had sprayed weeds as a biological technician for the National Park Service for five years. And when I began managing the ranch, we sprayed weeds for another five years. I noted two important facts that challenged a paradigm.
The first was that the amount of chemicals needed to kill the same weeds increased over time. The weeds were developing an intolerance to the chemicals. So we were increasing the chemicals used, as well as increasing the strength of the chemicals. I began to ponder the long term effects of this program. How much chemicals and how harsh of chemicals were we going to need to kill the same weeds in 50 years?
The second question had to do with the soil. Why were we continually coming back to the same locations every year to spray weeds? What was wrong with that soil?
I began to understand that weeds are telling us something about the soil in which they are growing. Weeds are a product of disturbed soil; imbalance of soil ph; or bare soil. Weeds are a tool that are being used to fix a problem in the soil. The soil is the problem. The weeds are the symptom, as well as part of the solution, to fix the problem in the soil. I realized when I grazed those weeds, it helped to correct the balance in the soil.
In the hay fields I discovered that a part of the reason I had weeds in the field was because I was trying to grow a monoculture. No place in nature will you find a monoculture. It's always a polyculture.
Polyculture is the original design for the soil. So, in CWR fields, I began planting polycultures: Two kinds of alfalfa, three kinds of clover, and as many as seven different varieties of grass. The result? The weeds were reduced, and the soil became healthier!
Another Paradigm Shift
Another paradigm shift for me came with the frustration and hardship of calving in January and February. Among ranchers, tradition is to calve as early as possible to attain the age and weight at weaning time that will bring the highest dollar. The problem with this paradigm, I realized, is that it is out of sync with nature.
When a mother cow needs the most and best quality feed was during a season when this was least available (i.e. the dead of winter).
We began to observe when the the unmanipulated animals in nature were birthing, and started to challenge that paradigm. As we synced our birthing dates closer to the buffalo, elk and deer in our area, we realized it was reducing stress on the animals. We also discovered that it drastically reduced, and in some cases, eliminated the need for subsidized winter feed. Our calves were healthier, more vibrant, and less susceptible to sickness and disease. Being born on green grass and 70 degree days was a better design than 3 degrees in four inches of snow. Who would have thought!?
However, this shift created a marketing problem. We were now operating outside the norm of society and it affected our ability to sell our animals for a worthwhile price. They didn't fit the mainstream program. This led to exploring other avenues in which to sell our beef.
Refining a Finished Product
We began experimenting with a forage finished product. Well, we thought it was a finished product... we weren't even close! Those first few years we butchered some terrible beef. But through this process we learned. We found age, timing and feed quality are very key components to producing a quality forage fed and finished animal. Today Circle W Ranch is proud to offer great tasting, organically raised, forage fed and finished beef.