Why grass fed cattle? The history of Western Grassfed Beef from Founder Darrell Wood
I am a sixth-generation cattle rancher in Northern California. In early 2000, I just felt I wasn’t being rewarded or recognized for the way I was raising my cattle - without added growth-stimulating hormones or antibiotics and entirely on grass. I knew that the old conventional way of raising cattle and selling beef just wasn’t going to work very well for me, my family or beef consumers. Just as important for me was my family’s desire to continue the family ranching tradition passed from my grandparents and parents to my family. I want to pass on that legacy to my children and grandchildren.
Other family ranchers I knew felt the same. So I decided to take some of my grass fed beef to San Francisco to see if consumers in the Bay Area would appreciate it. They did, and in 2002, two friends and I formed Western Grasslands, Inc.
I called this cattle-raising method “natural” because the only inputs my cattle received were fresh water from the streams and rivers that ran through my ranch, and the sun’s bounty that is converted by the grass pastures and the cattle’s ruminant system into nutritious, healthy beef. But, I didn’t stop there. I not only raise cattle naturally, I have invested in land stewardship methods that have been recognized both inside and outside of the cattle/beef industry. I have tried to lead in perpetuating land conservation by my active involvement in establishing land conservation trusts, not just in my home state of California but throughout the U.S. These land trusts guarantee that the land will always be used for grazing and not developed into strip malls, housing tracts or “ranchettes” for absentee owners.
It was very tough at the beginning, but my fledgling grass fed beef business began to attract attention and competitors. The attention was nice except when I was told how I could make more money. All I had to do, I was told, was to cut some corners on my cattle-raising practices and substitute just a little corn or other grains at the end of the cattle’s life to give the meat just a little more marbling. I knew what my “advisors” didn’t seem to understand about ruminant animals when giving me such “advice.” Ruminant animals, like cattle, are not designed to ingest and process grain. They are designed with their four stomachs to convert cellulose, or grass, into muscle tissue. Grain gives them an upset stomach. For consumers, grass fed beef, while still marbled, is not as heavily marbled as grain-fed beef and is very low in saturated fats and high in unsaturated fats. Plus, it is high in the human-heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.
I stuck to my methods and philosophy, and Western Grasslands, Inc. started to grow. In fact, to meet demand, I had to reach out to my ranching friends outside of California throughout the West Coast and Mid-West. These ranchers also believed in what I did and raised their cattle the same way. I just wasn’t going to give up, and Western Grasslands' growth continues to this day. What hasn’t changed in the 15 years since I began selling grassfed beef in San Francisco is my commitment to the natural way of raising cattle, preserving and sustaining the lands through conservation, and selling beef that is good for you.