Rachel and I met in University nearly a decade ago. We sat together in Literary criticism, me in my funky folk and she in her Wranglers and speckled boots. It didn’t take long for Rachel and I to become friends and between pauses in lectures about Foucault and Marx I learned all about my vegetarian friend and her inherited and abiding love of all things ranching.
After University, we went our separate ways, she continued her education and has now completed her masters on the enviable subject of pioneer women in the west. I suspect the University of Calgary will soon publish her work for everyone to read.
Rachel and I lost touch for a while. When we found each other again I was happy to see that my down-to-earth friend had found a way to do what she loved- Rachel had a ranch!
Trail’s End Beef is Rachel and her husband, Tyler’s dream. Although the two of them have always worked on ranches, neither of them owned their own land. This is the biggest problem good, farm-oriented folks have if they aren’t in line for an inheritance. It is very difficult and expensive to start farming or ranching without land connections. However, as life would have it, through a series of events- Rachel and Tyler were eventually able to purchase an old feedlot, an old house and some acres of pasture. My stalwart friend and her industrious husband have been renovating the house and converting the feedlot ever since. With every leveled stall- every pounded post, my lovely friends are creating a new kind of ranch. One where they could raise ethical beef- happy beef. Animals that anyone could feel good about eating. Grass-fed beef is NOT the norm. Usually calves spend the first few years of their lives out on pasture- living the way cows are supposed to and eating what cow’s four stomachs are designed to eat, but once cattle reach a certain age, they are shipped out to feed lots. Here cattle usually exist in close, not always ethical conditions. They are fed interesting things, not much of which agrees with their constitution, in order to fatten them up. The goal is a nice ‘marbled’ beef. A cow with fat in all the right places. Rachel is no longer a vegetarian but she still hold fast to her beliefs in ethical and humane animal treatment. She and Tyler raise cattle that spends it’s entire happy life grazing on organic pasture. Their beef don’t live in feed lots, they aren’t stuffed full of chemical/ enhanced feeds. Their animals are healthy from beginning to end and the product they produce is beef you want to eat. Real food produced in the best possible way.It’s not easy work and because Rachel and Tyler started from nothing there is the necessity of having a full-time job off the ranch to make ends meet. The couple aren’t at the stage yet where ranching can pay all the bills and Rachel readily admits that as far as equipment goes, they have to, “beg, borrow and steal,” in order to continue re-working their land. But it’s a labor of love. And the beautiful big-eyes cows who curiously came up to check us out as we toured the converted feed-lot are testament to their commitment to raising beef the best way they can. The day we arrived was extra special. The night before one of their cows had had some trouble birthing a big, BIG calf. Unfortunately the massive calf was just too large and when Tyler was finally able to pull the animal out, it was dead. Ranchers say that if you’re gonna deal with live stock you have to deal with dead stock, but the poor creature’s death still stung. As if by miracle, the very next day Rachel and Tyler heard of an orphaned calf nearby who needed a mother with milk. The girls and I arrived at the farm just as Rachel and Tyler were unloading the brand new calf. We got to see the sweet little baby and a sad momma cow find a way to exist and thrive together, despite their losses and by the time we left, the little calf would call for it’s momma and the big cow would come right over.
What Rachel and Tyler are doing isn’t groundbreaking- it’s the natural way to raise beef- or at least it was, until farming became a massive, corporate, industrialized entity whose focus is far removed from the ethical treatment of animals to the all consuming bottom line.
Mahatma Ghandi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
And so stop reading here if you’d like to end on a sweet note knowing that Rachel and Tyler are doing good things for themselves, their land and their livestock. Continue reading if you’d like to see just how different the way my good friends raise their animals is from the norm.
Below is the video trailer to the book CAFO. It explains what industrial animal production is and looks like- the exact opposite of the what Rachel and Tyler are doing. I hope it will help you chose to buy ethically raised meat.