Good Grass Makes Great Beef

By Hal Walter

If you’re in the livestock business in the Wet Mountain Valley, what that really means is that you’re in the grass business. Few people know that better than Elin Parker Ganschow, owner of Music Meadows Ranch and Sangres Best Beef.

Elin’s been in the grassfed beef business for nearly two decades, continuing a tradition started by her grandfather, William Parker, and passed on to her father, Bill, who put together the original family ranch near Arriba in Eastern Colorado, building up to 14,000 acres out of the Soil Bank Program of the 1940s. Along the way her father also acquired ranch land in California, Hawaii and the family ranch at the south end of the Wet Mountain Valley.

“He found this ranch in 1968 and just bought it,” says Elin, 52. “It was our place to come and be in heaven.” The 4,000-acre ranch is now protected by a conservation easement through the San Isabel Land Protection Trust.

Elin grew up on horseback working the main ranch on the plains near Arriba. She “rode all the time,” and was active in 4-H, showing horses, cattle and dogs, even training bird dogs for hunting. She went on to earn a degree in Animal Science with an emphasis in agriculture business from Colorado State University.

Ultimately settling in Westcliffe, Elin began to look for a new angle on the traditional cattle business in the mid-1990s. Already a trend was developing, as people interested in healthier eating began to look for better sources of beef.

Science shows that grassfed beef has a healthier ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. In addition, grass-fed beef contains higher levels of disease-fighting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Moreover, free-roaming cattle on a natural diet of grass and other forage have a much better quality of life, are much healthier than their feedlot counterparts and are therefore less likely to require medications such as antibiotics.

But what really caught Elin’s attention was the delicious flavor of meat raised on the native grasses of the Wet Mountain Valley – something discovered by accident. One of the family ranch steers escaped and ran with the neighbors’ cattle on the local grass for a while. When the beast was at last caught and returned, it was decided to put the animal into the family freezer.

“We had never had beef taste that good,” she says.

Seeing the potential forming for growth in the market for natural grassfed beef products, Elin was eager to change up the game from the traditional cow-calf operation and branch out into something new.

“I wondered if we could make a good living by just selling people what they want.”

So she set to work building the business that would eventually become Sangres Best GrassFed Beef. The business serves up beef in cuts and freezer portions (whole, halves and quarters) directly to consumers, and to fine food operations such as The Local of Colorado Springs and Brandon Natural Beef of San Francisco, which supplies popular Bay Area restaurants such as Harris’ Steak House.

She also sells her beef at the Westcliffe Farmers Market and other regional farmers markets.

Today Elin is recognized as one of the most successful businesswomen in Custer County, and the success of the business can be traced back to the grass and her ingenuity in utilizing this most natural of natural resources.

“Dad did a good job of stewarding the grass. He knew if he didn’t get the gain, he wasn’t going to make any money,” Elin says.

“One of the things I think gives the excellent flavor is the multiple varieties of short-growing-season forages. I think the water plugs into that, too – clean air, water and grass,” she says.

“That flavor is the key to our success. It edges out the competition. Our motto is, ‘It’s good for cattle . . . and great for dinner!’”

Elin purchases steers that meet her natural beef standards in the spring, stocking her pastures according to the anticipated carrying capacity for the season. She prefers Hereford and Hereford-Angus cross breeds. In recent years drought has forced her to keep her operation to about 300 head, about half the carrying capacity in a normal year.

These cattle have a good life,” she says. “Our cattle have only one bad day.”

In addition to the beef business, Elin runs a guest operation out of her ranch featuring a variety of horseback-riding adventures, including working cattle on the ranch. The horse adventure business gives her the opportunity to share her life and lifestyle with others.

“It’s a gift,” Elin says of her life. “That’s one of the reasons I like to share it with people. They get to come here and get a taste of it.”

 

For more information about Music Meadows Ranch and Sangres Best GrassFed Beef, visit www.sangresbest.com.