Blue Range Ranch
As early as the 1980s, George Whitten was doing things differently than most Colorado ranchers. His Blue Range Ranch was one of the first ranches in the U.S. to gain certified organic status. He was also among the earliest ranchers to adopt the holistic land-management practices of the noted environmentalist Allan Savory.
George and his wife Julie Sullivan joined the Panorama program in 2011 because their philosophies about rangeland conservation and preservation—and about the importance of cattle to maintaining a healthy ecosystem—meshed with those of other Panorama ranchers.
They graze anywhere from 200 to 600 certified organic grass-fed cattle annually on about 85,000 acres that sprawl across their 4,000-acre ranch, along with leased Bureau of Land Management parcels, in the San Luis Valley near Saguache, Colorado.
The Blue Range Ranch herd is carefully selected for tenderness and marbling, which deliver a healthy, flavorful beef to the consumer. Blue Range Ranch cattle are never confined, never fed grain or animal by-products and never given hormones.
“Raising cattle at high altitudes, where high winds and drought are always a threat, will make an environmentalist out of any rancher who cares about future generations,” says George, a lifelong cattleman whose ranch has been in the family since 1897.
“We’re proud of our land and proud of the animals we raise. Our cattle spend their entire lives here in the valley as cattle were meant to, moving as a herd over the land,” says Whitten.
George and Julie are dedicated to bridging the gap between environmentalism and agriculture. Julie devoted 15 years to teaching college-level environmental studies and environmental education, which focused on the ecological and social roots of environmental problems to encourage creativity among future environmental leaders.
“Cattle,” George noted, “are actually beneficial to the delicate high plains if they’re managed correctly.” Practices employed at the ranch have reduced aquifer depletion while increasing the diversity and vigor of irrigated meadows and uplands so that they now attract more wildlife. Thanks to the attention paid to things like soil porosity, plant diversity and soil cover, the ranch’s grazing acres stayed productive throughout a recent severe drought.
George and Julie, working in collaboration with Holistic Management International and the New Mexico State Land Office, used cattle to restore a severely degraded piece of land near Albuquerque.
Their commitment to the future led to development of a unique apprenticeship program, begun in 2009 in partnership with the Quivira Coaltion. The program gives a next generation of ranchers hands-on experience in ranching, ranch and land management, and marketing.
“The goal is to provide an opportunity for young people to work in sustainable agriculture,” said George. “We ask for a one- to two-year commitment – enough time to mentor these young people in all aspects of running a sustainable and resilient agricultural enterprise.”