Farms Finest: Selecting the right side of beef | AspenTimes.com

Farms Finest: Selecting the right side of beef

Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

At the Flying B Bar Ranch are Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, Brad Buchanan, owner of Flying B Bar Ranch, and Joe Maxwell, vice president of the society's Outreach and Engagement Program.

In the West I have often found that desolate, dirt roads will end at a ranch gate. Such is the case with the Flying B Bar Ranch, located about seven miles north of Strasburg, Colo. Its sprawling 1,400 acres (including leased land) lie east of the contrasting world of Denver International Airport and have been producing beef cattle since 1916.

On Wednesday, the ranch owners, Brad and Margaret Buchanan, hosted the Humane Society of the United States and guests with an informal breakfast meeting and ranch tour. The Humane Society chose this ranch because it is an example of how beef production can be done humanely, be environmentally respectful and raise certified grass-fed beef without antibiotics.

Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society, organized the event with Joe Maxwell, vice president of the society's Outreach and Engagement Program. More than a dozen agriculture-thought leaders attended, including representatives from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Slow Food USA, the Western Livestock Journal, the American Grass Fed Association, Colorado Voters or Animals and the state of Colorado itself. Together they shared views on the animal industry and how our food-system methods could be improved.

Change in production practices is sorely needed. Sixty years ago, the food industry turned away from the farm and headed toward factories. Much larger volumes of food were needed to feed the growing post-war baby boom. Barn doors were closing, and concentrated animal-factory operations opened a profitable way to meet consumer demand, exchanging quality for quantity.

Why is the Flying B Bar Ranch significant? The Buchanans purchased Flying B Bar only six years ago. They raise an Angus herd that is bred to their Wagyu bulls, producing a premium Wagyu/Angus beef cross. They have chosen to have the ranch be an example for methods that are healthier for people, for the planet and for the animals. The Buchanans are aiming to show others how to do this.

"I choose to eat meat, but I also take full responsibility for every step of the way on how it arrives to my table," Brad Buchanan said. "Our cattle are healthy mentally and physically. If antibiotics are used, it is only to heal that one animal and then pulled out of the grass-fed program. The livestock just does not get sick often if they live in healthy conditions."

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The demand for the Buchanans' grass-fed beef is three times more than what they currently have available to sell.

If a high-quality product can be produced using ethical methods for the planet, consumer and animal, the Buchanans believe a market niche will emerge and this will write the future for more farmers. The Flying B Bar Ranch's barn doors are open to show others and encourage collaboration.

Pacelle agrees that we should be teaching people how to operate humanely rather than saying what not to do. He added, "Industrial farming has unraveled farms and their communities. We need more people to get back into farming and help keep those who are farming stay in."

Pacelle, who has been a vegan for 28 years, says animal consumption has become excessive in our diets.

"If we could have consumers wanting quality versus quantity, again it would be better for our health, animals and environment," he said. "Humans have been meat eaters since the beginning of time. That is not going to change; we simply must manage fulfilling the need as humanely as we can. Flying B Bar Ranch provides us with a good example to follow."

Maxwell had visited the Roaring Fork Valley this summer for a Meatless Monday event at Rock Bottom Ranch. (See the Aug. 18 Aspen Times for the Farms Finest story.) Once the lieutenant governor of Missouri and a fourth-generation hog farmer, he is a natural fit for the position of vice president of outreach and engagement.

"It is all about getting the larger conversation going and to see the whole picture," Maxwell said. "My family farm raises hogs, not pork. It never occurred to any of us to treat our animals in any way other than humanely and with respect."

We have wonderful ranches in our own Roaring Fork Valley. Maxwell intends to return and share their methods, as well. For more information on the Farmers Outreach, contact jmaxwell@ humanesociety.org.

Joni Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, her website is FarmsFinest.com, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at joni@farmsfinest.com.