Zachary Jones is the ranch manager for TT beef, a family operation for generations. When he took over the family cattle operation he began to implement a system of free range beef, from calf to finish, all on open grassland. One of the greatest aspects of the ranch, and what separates him from most other ranchers, is his use of grass only. They don’t feed hay. They don’t feed grain, or corn. Just all natural, grown by the sun and rain and soil, grass. Zachary has taken down almost all of the barbed wire fences on the ranch and gone to a rotational grazing system that utilizes only one strand of thin electric fence. One person can go out and move the cows from one pasture to another in only a few minutes, all by themselves.
All you have to do is drop the one wire to the ground, and the cows come a runnin’. Just like people, they want the greener grass in the other pasture. After they go to the new grass, you just raise the wire up again and its all taken care of.
This type of grazing does require a rancher to constantly monitor the state of the grass and rotate the cows accordingly. As Zachary points out, he grazes his cows and raises the grass “the way the buffalo did”. A herd would come through, eat all the grass, trample the ground up some and move on. This type of grazing is beneficial to the landscape, and is in harmony with the way that nature operates. When looking out across the rolling green landscape, you can see what Zachary means, what he is striving to do, and how it has helped the ecosystem. Hawks fly overhead, curlews pick for bugs in the grasses, coyotes bound across the hills and badgers dig their dens in the valleys. Pronghorns run free across the prairie, unhindered by barbed wire fences, and the cattle are happy.
One of the biggest joys that I found at the ranch were the generations of cows all living together as family units. Unlike most traditional cattle ranches of our time where the calves are weened young, separated and then shipped off to be fattened at feed lots, the TT ranch keeps all the different ages together. They are not weened, but live naturally and switch to grazing when they are inclined to. The cows also live for several years, wild and free, before they are sent off to become steaks. You see, it takes 2 to 3 years for a cow that has been grazing on grass alone to reach slaughter weight. During that time they all live together. There are sometimes up to four generations all living in the same pasture together. That in itself makes me feel good.
I also saw lots of calves, some only a day or two old. Thats not the norm for most operations. But when you don’t have to fatten up a calf by fall to ship off, it stands its best chance of survival when it is born in the late spring. Zachary explained that cows will naturally be bred when the time is right for their bodies and the natural change of the seasons. Everything on the ranch seems to focus on bringing about the natural cycle, the cycles of the weather, the seasons, the plants and the animals.
While we were making the rounds and checking on the cows, the grass and the water Zachary showed me one of the great treasures of the ranch, a massive artesian well bubbling from the ground in the middle of the green rolling hills.
I came to a few conclusions while touring this great operation. I realized that Zachary, his family and all of those working on this ranch live a life close to the earth, attuned to the seasons, the land, the animals and how it all fits together and is interrelated. I realized that the cows have the chance to live a healthy life, a true life walking the hills and grazing the grass. I saw how the landscape blended the sun, the rain, the snow, wind, the soil, the plants, the insects, the animals and the birds all together to live harmoniously and to the benefit of all. And all of this is brought together in its final form as a steak on the table. But its a real steak, a healthy steak, a nutritious steak and a tasty steak. It makes you have a fuller appreciation for all that goes into our food, and where it comes from. The TT beef is a local product we are proud to serve, and people that we are proud to do business with. We hope you feel the same way.