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Raising happy cows
Higher prices lure some to leave natural beef co-op
by JOEL ASCHBRENNER, Herald and News 11/3/11
Poe Valley Rancher Jason Chapman looks out over his bulls. Chapman is a
member of Country Natural Beef, a cooperative that sells natural beef. More
ranchers have left the co-op in recent years due to high prices in the
conventional beef market, but Chapman says it’s worth it for him to continue
raising natural beef.
Tuesday was audit day for Jason Chapman’s cattle.
The Poe Valley rancher is a member of Country Natural Beef and regularly gets visits from the natural beef cooperative’s inspectors. The auditor checks that the cattle have ample pasture, but aren’t being overfed. He checks for a clean water supply and cattle chutes that won’t hurt the animals.
“Most importantly they look at the cattle themselves to make sure they’re in good condition and not being mistreated,” Chapman said.
Some members have left the co-op recently to test out conventional beef markets due to higher prices there, but co-op members voted Wednesday on rule changes that hopefully will make it more difficult for members to join and leave based on the markets, Chapman said.
Members of Country Natural Beef are audited by two separate firms and have to meet strict regulations on how they raise their cattle. It can be costly to raise cattle that meet the cooperative’s standards, but for producers like Chapman, it’s worth the added expense.
Tuesday’s eight-hour audit cost Chapman about $1,500. All told, it costs 10 to 15 percent more to raise cattle for Country Natural Beef than for conventional beef markets. But Chapman makes about $100 more per head by selling his cattle through the cooperative.
For him, selling natural beef is about the stability more than the price.
“What Country Natural Beef offers us through the cooperative is a steady paycheck,” he said.
Chapman joined Country Natural Beef four years ago. He’s a third-generation Poe Valley rancher, and the operation has expanded since his grandfather’s time. Chapman now raises about 350 Angus and Charolais cows on 800 acres of irrigated pasture. His cattle spend the winters near Willows, Calif., and are trucked to the Klamath Basin when the weather warms.
Country Natural Beef requires producers be certified under Global Animal Partnership, an animal welfare rating system developed by meat industries, the Humane Society and People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Producers must feed their cattle all-natural feed and can’t administer hormones or antibiotics to the animals. They also must take additional precautions in the handling and shipping of their cattle.
It took several years for Chapman to receive a certification from the Global Animal Partnership. He said he would implement many of the same practices even if they weren’t required for certification.
“In order for us to make money, we have to have happy cows,” he said. “Happy cows produce happy calves and happy calves produce a lot of meat.”
Local business uses, stocks Country Natural Beef
Dayle Robnett, co-owner of Diamond S Meats, uses Country Natural
Beef in all her beef sausages. The natural beef keeps longer and is
preferred by many customers, she says.
About 80 percent of Country Natural Beef’s meat is sold in Whole Foods stores around the country, but some of it stays in local markets.
Locally, meat from the natural beef cooperative is available at Diamond S Meats, and there’s plenty of demand, said Diamond S co-owner Dayle Robnett.
“We have quite a following of people who want products that are raised without hormones or antibiotics,” she said. “That’s very important to a large group of people in Klamath Falls.”
Diamond S makes all their beef sausages from Country Natural Beef’s meat. The natural beef, Robnett said, lasts at least twice as long on the shelf as conventional beef.
“What I like about Country Natural Beef is it’s owner-raised,” she said. “It’s a co-op of ranchers and farmers getting back to the grassroots of what cattlemen used to do: raising their calves from birth until they take them to the slaughterhouse.”
Page Updated: Friday November 04, 2011 11:46 PM Pacific
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