By James Coope Contributing Editor
While attending the Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Trade Show (CattleCon) earlier this year in New Orleans, I was impressed to learn how many local, family-owned and operated cattle operations there are in the beef industry. The stories told at the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame were inspiring – stories of innovation, survival, sacrifice and success – and, in many cases, were told by the very people who made it happen. For many, it was a timeless victory for Main Street over Wall Street, and for the most part, that battle continues even today.
Consider the following:
- There are 882,692 total cattle and calf operations in the United States (NCBA).
- Of those, 96 percent are owned and operated by families (NCBA).
- Despite the large number of producers, four companies process 85 percent of cattle into steaks, roasts and other cuts of meat, and 70 percent of hamburger in the United States (USDA).
- Factor in that up to 20 percent of beef originates abroad and it’s easy to wonder where the beef on your dinner plate actually came from.
I met a lot of hardworking producers in New Orleans and gained a new appreciation for what they do every day. After returning home, I started to pay more attention to some of the local producers in my own area. Castle Rock, Colo., is a growing town south of Denver with a rich history of ranching. We are fortunate to have a few working family ranches that not only still exist, but are contributing great things to the community.
There happens to be a 1,400-acre family ranch outside of town called Kiana Creek Ranch, and I learned about them after speaking to a local here in town. Kiana Creek Ranch has roots in the area dating back to the 1860s and has been operated by the Slattery family since 2015. Many of the original buildings on the property are still standing on the ranch today. The property was once a Pony Express stop between Denver and Colorado Springs, and much of the history still exists. Kiana Creek Ranch specializes in producing local, grass-fed and finished beef, selling locally online and distributing in a select few local shops.
There is a market in downtown Castle Rock called The Emporium that showcases many local merchants and artists, and Kiana Creek Ranch is one of them. I decided to give Kiana Creek Ranch beef a try. While you can order almost any cut from Kiana Creek online for delivery in almost any quantity, you can pick up select cuts in smaller quantities from their booth at The Emporium. I bought a couple of New York Strip steaks from cattle that were raised, processed, sold and, ultimately, enjoyed locally. It was delicious! While we have some great butchers and retail spots nearby, I doubt they can tell the same story that Kiana Creek does.
I mapped out where Kiana Creek Ranch is located, and I was surprised to learn that I could actually see the ranch from my back porch that overlooks the town of Castle Rock, with the Rocky Mountains in the background. While I have written many articles about beef that I’ve grilled on my back porch, I have never sourced our beef from anyone producing in the area, within a few miles of my house.
I took some time to learn a bit more about Kiana Creek Ranch, and it’s truly impressive. Kiana Creek Ranch is American Grassfed Association Certified, ensuring that they raise their livestock using practices that give back to the land. They support the local community as a national FFA organization, 4H supporter, an advocate for the Douglas County Conservation District and the Douglas Land Conservancy, as well as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Quivira Coalition. They connect the rich ranching history of the area to the present and, perhaps most important, the future leaders of the cattle industry.
In many ways, the story of Kiana Creek Ranch reminded me of the stories and the many people I met at CattleCon a few months ago – dreamers, entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders, all committed to animal husbandry and advancing the industry. It’s not easy, and not for the faint of heart. Kiana Creek Ranch is one of the 882,692 producers who live this dream every day, and we’re fortunate to have them as neighbors.