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Colorado beef comes naturally: state's cattle ranchers making a comeback.

It must have been a rancher who coined the phrase "labor of love." Because ranchers are faced with changing market conditions year-over-year, weather extremes, backbreaking labor, and perennial breeding challenges, you know the ranching profession is chosen for the passion it inspires in its practitioners. Yet if you've driven down state highways lately and noticed more and more cattle herds along the way, it's not a mirage. Colorado cattle ranching is growing; the state now ranks 10th overall in the beef industry. As Americans seek more nutritious, flavorful meal solutions, the demand for natural, lean beef is rising. And with stringent USDA regulations, it's safe to say, beef is back, and healthier than ever.


How many ranchers are in the state?

Colorado beef is produced by 14,000 independent ranchers, whose herds range in size from 50 head of cattle to more than 1,000. Says Tami Arnold of the Colorado Beef Council, "While the ranchers are independent, they are all unified in the promotion of beef, preservation of the land and a desire to produce superior meat for the Colorado consumers." Given the growing demand for land, it is surprising many Colorado ranches are still multi-generational operations. While there are plenty of start-ups, too, the state's older ranches and ranching families still believe in raising cattle safely through the conservation and preservation of private, forest and BLM lands.


Fifth-generation rancher Burt Guerrieri and wife Sandy operate Mill Creek Ranch in Gunnison. Guerrieri, a Colorado College graduate with a bachelor's degree in English, seemed an unlikely candidate for carrying on the family ranching tradition. But when Guerrieri graduated, he went back to Gunnison to help out at home--part time. That was 25 years ago.

Today, Guerrieri is actively working to make ranching better--not only for the family business but for all the state's ranchers and ranching in general. A student of alternative ranching methods and genetic improvement, Guerrieri tested small herds of cattle to be calved in June, unlike the traditional March time frame, striving for a less complicated calving season. He also cross-bred a few lines of cattle, those with exceptional traits, to produce cows with genetic balance. His innovative calving and cross-breeding theories have worked to produce naturally bred cows that produce some of the finest meat in Colorado.

Sandy Guerrieri provides the marketing energy behind Mill Creek, helping to build the ranch's e-mail and mail order natural-beef business. When asked why Mill Creek beef is special, she replies, "We feel we have everything on the ranch. Our cattle are all born, raised and tended to by caring ranchers. We are at the top of the water and air chain for the cattle, and the grasses are natural and nutritious. In the winter, they feed on our own hay."

Ranching by region

In Colorado, the catch phrase for the beef industry should be "Natural beef, it's what's for dinner." Increasingly in demand, natural beef is defined by the USDA as free of sub-therapeutic antibiotics, growth hormones and animal by-products. That means the only antibiotic that can be introduced to the animal before slaughter must be one used for medicinal reasons; no hormones can be injected to encourage weight gain; and no animal by-products can be used in grain feeding. In fact, cattle must be raised on at least an 80/20 ratio of grass/grain.

It is that formula that works to Colorado's advantage as a haven for raising beef cattle. When cattle are raised on nutrient-rich forage, pure water and clean air, beef is higher in protein, vitamins and minerals than other meats or poultry.

The USDA guidelines are easy to abide by in a state with an abundant supply of rich grasslands as well as grain. Typically beef cattle graze most of their lives, and are grain fed for three months prior to slaughter. Colorado ranchers have a natural advantage in the rich forage and hay that is available; they have a cost advantage because that forage also helps negate some feed costs. Ranchers in different regions of the state also realize some locally specific benefits as well.

Gunnison Valley

Hundreds of ranchers are in the business across the Gunnison Valley. Its pure water and air, and the abundance of natural mountain grasses, grow cattle that are also, inevitably, some the healthiest in the state for having weathered the high-valley's long, cold winters. Of course, for the humans, absolutely stunning 360-degree views right outside your break-fast-nook window are a lifestyle bonus. Burt and Sandy Guerrieri say some of their Texas rancher friends have said they'd give up anything to gain access to the beef-cattle mecca the Guerrieris call home.

Yampa River Valley

When ranchers are queried on why this valley is noted for raising cattle, they answer universally: "It's the forage." Grasses are thick and grow in rich soil fed by mountain streams and runoff. C.J. Mucklow, director of the Routt County extension cooperative, says, "Some of the richest pastures in the state are in the Yampa Valley. It is because of the abundant moisture, and naturally occurring cool-season grasses. Cattle thrive on cool-season grasses, and the Yampa River Valley has the best in Colorado if not the nation."

Northeast Plains

Yuma County in the northeast corner of Colorado is the No. 1 producer of feed corn in the United States, so ranchers, like many Midwestern farmers, can easily claim the beef raised there is corn fed. Rancher Kenny Rogers of Wagon Wheel Ranch, says, "In Colorado, we ranchers take advantage of what grows naturally and spend less time harvesting feed for the livestock then ranchers in other states."


Colorado beef for Colorado

Wholesalers, retailers and consumers recognize quality when they taste it. Whether naturally raised beef or corn fed, Colorado ranchers are producing meat that is winning praise from many quarters. What makes this beef so special? It's in the abundant natural resources the cattle thrive on, ranchers say.

But the question remains: Do Colorado-raised cattle get eaten in Colorado?

Absolutely, according to rancher Kenny Rogers. "Ninety percent of cattle stay in the state and go directly to the consumers," Rogers said. "With diesel prices at $3 a gallon, we will see the percentage rise. We are all independent ranchers and don't rely on major processors to carry the weight." A lot of the smaller ranchers are even beginning to deliver their meat door-to-door, Rogers said.

So beef has come full circle. In the past year, national statistics show that Americans are consuming more beef per person (1.5 pounds) than in the past 10 years. Strict feeding practices are improving the quality of beef, and as the "natural" beef movement grows and awareness of the nutritional value of beef increases, the demand for Colorado's flavorful, lean beef rises, too. The country's appetites do seem to go through cycles. First it was increasingly popular to eat the boneless, skinless chicken breast, then the other white meat, pork, found some national favor. But now beef has come back to the table, recognized as a safe and important source of nutrition. Colorado ranchers aim to keep it there.
Lean Cuts of Beef as Compared to a Skinless Chicken Breast **

 Chicken Breast 0.9g sat. fat 3.0g total fat
 Eye Round Roast and Steak * 1.4g sat. fat 4.0g total fat
 Sirloin Tip Side Steak 1.6g sat. fat 4.1g total fat
 Top Round Roast and Steak * 1.6g sat. fat 4.6g total fat
 Bottom Round Roast and Steak * 1.7g sat. fat 4.9g total fat
 Top Sirloin Steak 1.9g sat. fat 4.9g total fat
 Brisket, Flat Half 1.9g sat. fat 5.1g total fat

Lean Cuts of Beef as Compared to a Skinless Chicken Thigh **

 95% Lean Ground Beef 2.4g sat. fat 5.1g total fat
 Round Tip Roast and Steak * 1.9g sat. fat 5.3g total fat
 Round Steak 1.9g sat. fat 5.3g total fat
 Shank Cross Cuts 1.9g sat. fat 5.4g total fat
 Chuck Shoulder Pot Roast 1.8g sat. fat 5.7g total fat
 Sirloin Tip Center Roast and Steak * 2.1g sat. fat 5.8g total fat
 Chuck Shoulder Steak 1.9g sat. fat 6.0g total fat
 Bottom Round (Western Griller) Steak 2.2g sat. fat 6.0g total fat
 Top Loin (Strip) Steak 2.3g sat. fat 6.0g total fat
Shoulder Petite Tender and Medallions * 2.4g sat. fat 6.1g total fat
 Flank Steak 2.6g sat. fat 6.3g total fat
 Shoulder Center (Ranch) Steak 2.4g sat. fat 6.5g total fat
 Tri-Tip Roast and Steak * 2.6g sat. fat 7.1g total fat
 Tenderloin Roast and Steak * 2.7g sat. fat 7.1g total fat
 T-Bone Steak 3.0g sat. fat 8.2g total fat
 Chicken Thigh 2.6g sat. fat 9.2g total fat

* Cuts combined for illustration purposes
** Based on a G or serving

Note: Table made from bar graph.



Mill Creek Natural Beef

P.O. Box 602

Gunnison, CO 81230

(970) 641-6455

Colorado Homestead Beef

PO Box 743

101 Grand Ave.

Paonia, CO 81428

(970) 527-5655

Salazar Natural Beef,

P.O. Box 296

Manassa, CO 81141

(719) 843-5264


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Article Details
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Author:Smith, Kathy
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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