Pete's Valley Cattle
When Rich Stewart, Kim Timothy and Rick Harrison were kids growing up in Woodland, California, an agricultural community (population 50,000) northwest of Sacramento, cattle ranching was part of life. Though none of them came from ranching families, they participated in 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America groups during grade school and high school, then went on to study agriculture in college.
In the early 1990s, the three took the plunge into running cattle, becoming a grass-fed cow-and-calf operation. The three friends named their company Pete’s Valley Cattle after the valley just northeast of Susanville, California, where their herd grazes during the dry summer months. Their 400 head of cattle winter on 6,000 acres in Yolo County just north of Winters, California.
Their goal for Pete’s Valley has been to raise grass-fed Angus cattle and sell their beef directly to the consumer, rather than follow the traditional “production agriculture” or “commodity” model.
Pete’s Valley sells all of its organic grass-fed and grass-finished beef through Panorama for Whole Foods Market stores in California.
“We’re reaching outside the farm gates and connecting with the people who are eating our beef,” says Stewart.
The key to Pete’s Valley’s success is the careful management of the ranch’s natural grassland resources and its Angus genetics to end up with tasty grass-fed beef.
“We never graze more animals on the land than it can handle, which means we won’t grow the size of the herd any faster than our natural resources allow,” said Stewart.
Pete’s Valley Cattle’s grasslands are being studied by the University of Michigan as part of a research project about invasive weed species.
Fifty acres of the ranch is also the subject of a ten-year riparian and rangeland enhancement study being conducted jointly by Audubon California’s Landowner Stewardship Program, the Center for Land-Based Learning’s Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship (SLEWS) Program, the USDA’s National Conservation Research Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
According to a report published about this project in 2005, the study “has already produced dramatic improvements in riparian condition and forage quality and quantity.”
For the three partners, cattle ranching is “a full-time second job,” jokes Stewart. He and Timothy also own and manage a successful seed company, and Harrison is a partner in a large retail insurance agency. “That doesn’t leave much time for anything else,” Stewart says, but he’s not complaining.
“We’ve created a new model in agriculture. It’s based on adding value to our beef through genetics and raising practices, and selling directly to the consumer through Panorama. This is why we’re passionate about what we do.”