Finishing cattle on grass is an art and science. Here’s where we swap stories about how to do it right.


Snow Storm Prep for Ranchers

Snow is piling up today in Northern Colorado.  Channel 9 in Denver did a nice piece on how cattle ranchers prepare, featuring our own Sylvan Dale Ranch.  The two cowboys in the video are Josh Ciardullo – cattle rancher now leasing grazing at the Ranch, and Dustin Call our Horse Operation Forman.  Two great guys.  The western lifestyle is alive and well at Sylvan Dale!


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My interview on Cowboy Up Podcast

The owner of the White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, Arizona, Russell True, interviewed me on his “Cowboy Up” podcast on February 19, 2021.  We talked about the historic characters in my novels, our family’s Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch where I grew up, using grass-fed cattle to improve the landscape, the Big Thompson River floods, and my teen-age trauma with Baronet Bars, our breeding-compromised quarter horse stallion.  You can tune into it here.


Sylvan Dale Beef Described in New Book on “Real Food.”

real-food-fake-food-coverOur ranch’s 100 percent grass-fed beef got favorable mention in Larry Olmstead’s new book contrasting fraudulent food practices with “real food.”  I’m bemused by the “real cowboy with a taut build and sun-weathered skin” who took the author on a tour of Sylvan Dale.  Larry Olmstead is the travel and food writer for Forbes Magazine, and his research on food industry fraud has been featured  on CBS, Time, USA Today and NPR.  The excerpt is quoted below:

…at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, overnight guests can get a more complete dude ranch experience, including horseback riding, target shooting, roping, fly fishing, cowboy songs, bonfires and much more.  But what makes Sylvan Dale different from dozens of other similar working guest ranches across the American West is that they also serve lucky visitors real grass-fed beef from the farm as part of their stay.  The ranch is owned by a brother and sister and their respective spouses, and the brother, David Jessup, gave me a tour.  We had to drive quite a ways out to where the cattle were grazing on open ranchland, just like they would have all across the West a century ago.

Sylvan Dale was begun by Jessup’s parents in 1946 and for more than fifty years just raised calves, which were shipped off to industrial cattle feedlots to fatten quickly through the miracles of alien diets and modern pharmaceuticals.  But about ten years ago the siblings noticed growing demand among local consumers—they are just outside of health-obsessed Boulder—for more natural drug-free beef.  So they began keeping and raising some animals of their own to butcher and sell locally.  Jessup, born and bred a real cowboy, right down to the boots, buckle and hat, with a taut build and sun-weathered skin, quickly became an ardent student and late convert to grass-fed, truly natural farming.  “At first, we used some grain to finish them because that was conventional wisdom, considered ‘normal.’  But then we really found out about the health benefits of purely grass-fed beef and how much better the kind of fats produced were, even compared to those fed just a small amount of grain.  Now we raise all our cattle ourselves, from birth to slaughter, and they eat strictly grass.”  The problem for consumers is that unlike Cook and Jessup, many farmers still sell beef finished on grain as grass fed.
Excerpt from Real Food Fake Food, Why you don’t know what you’re eating and what you can do about it, by Larry Olmsted, pp. 244-245.


The Future of Agriculture: Mark Shepard to Speak at Sylvan Dale Ranch Jan. 8-10

If you’re at all concerned about the food we eat and how we grow it, you’ll want to attend this special workshop with Mark Shepard, acclaimed author of Restoration Agriculture, on January 8-10 at Sylvan Dale Ranch.

Mark is one of the world’s foremost authorities on perennial eco-friendly agriculture.  Topics include soil restoration, multi-species grazing and water management, all keys to meet the challenge of sustaining Northern Colorado’s rich agricultural heritage in the face of unrelenting development pressure.

The program includes a site visit to Sylvan Dale’s Big Valley, where Mark will apply his concepts to a real-world project we’re calling “Living West.” It’s purpose is to establish collaborative enterprises in agriculture, housing and education that contribute to the preservation and rejuvenation of a 500-acre working landscape, sustained by renewable energy, recycled waste, and water conservation.image002

The workshop is sponsored by the Heart-J Center for Experiential Learning and Spring Kite Farm.  I hope you will join us by registering for this exciting event.  For the full schedule, click here.


David Jessup, Sylvan Dale Ranch


Time to bring the herd down from the back country


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Can you invent a term for what these pigs do? Enter our Naming Contest Today!

Unloading the pigs in the pasture


When Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm put his pigs to work making compost out of the manure and wood chips in his barn, he coined the term, “Pigerator” to describe what they do.

We need a new term to describe the work pigs are doing to one of our pastures at Sylvan Dale Ranch.

The pasture is an unproductive swath of sod-bound fescue just south of our Big Valley Lakes. The forage lacks variety because the fescue chokes out any other plants that try to sprout there. Our cattle graze it every year, but the soil is compacted and the growth is meager. This pasture badly needs regeneration.

The traditional remedy is to spray the old grass with herbicide to kill it, then plow, disk, harrow, reseed, and fertilize, then let the new pasture grow for a year to get established. Unfortunately, this method harms soil fertility. As an alternative, we tried mob grazing with cattle. By packing a large number of 1300 lb. cows into a small area of pasture, we hoped the churning impact of cow hooves would damage the fescue enough to allow a new seed mixture, broadcast on the ground and “planted” by the cows, to germinate and add some variety to the pasture.

It didn’t work. That fescue sod is tough!

Enter the pigs, courtesy of Spring Kite Farm, a new Sylvan Dale agri-partner. Michael Baute and Meghan are young farmers based in Ft. Collins, Colorado. For several years they have successfully grown vegetables to supply local customers and restaurants, and were looking for more land to lease in order to expand operations and introduce pigs, chickens and goats into their mix of offerings. Sylvan Dale Ranch raises grass-fed, grass-finished beef, along with enough hay to fuel our horse heard and get the cattle through the winter. Why not join forces with Spring Kite Farm and together, create a truly holistic, comprehensive agriculture operation?

At some point during these discussions it dawned on us that pigs might be able to do what the cows couldn’t: churn up the pasture enough to weaken or destroy the fescue as a prelude to re-seeding. Pigs don’t just graze, they root. Those amazing snouts might turn enough soil and gobble up enough of those pesky fescue rhizomes to open up the sod for new plants. Worth a try. We decided to start small to see if it works

You can see the results in this video Pretty impressive, we think. Pigs doing the work of machines. What should we call them? What should we call the work they are doing? We’ve started googling synonyms for “plowing” and for “pigs” to come up with ideas, but we haven’t got there yet. Here’s where you come in.

We invite you to a naming contest! Use the “Comments” feature on this blog to send in your entry. A distinguished panel of judges will select the winner!


Carbon Ranching at Sylvan Dale Ranch

A couple of years back, we learned about "carbon ranching" at the Quivira Coalition conference, and decided to experiment with adding compost to selected areas of our pasture. Carbon ranching, building up soil carbon, is supposed to enrich the soil, increase forage yields, and enhance water retention. Makes you feel good too, as it pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and helps reduce the planet’s greenhouse gas burden.

First, we needed some baseline data. We sent some soil samples to Kinsey labs, which gave us the percent humus. More samples were taken by Professor Richard Conant at Colorado State University, to measure carbon content. I’m not quite sure of the relationship between humus and carbon, but from these baseline figures, we’ll be able to know whether carbon and humus are going up or down after several years of soil treatments. Read more


Water Quality Improvement at Sylvan Dale Ranch

Can ranches and farms in the Poudre-Big Thompson watershed improve the quality of water used by Front Range urban dwellers?  That question is being addressed by a pilot project at Sylvan Dale Ranch, a 3,200-acre working guest ranch located at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland, Colorado.  Read more

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Meet Our New Bulls

Mr. Alexander

Mr. Alexander

Kolohe Bull

Kolohe Bull

Mr. Alexander and Kolohe joined our Sylvan Dale herd in July 2013.

Some breeds of cattle do better than others when it comes to getting fat on grass.

Come meet our new bulls; Mr. Alexander is a registered Red Devon bull, an English breed preferred by many in the grass-fed beef world for flavorful, tender meat.

Kolohe (Koh-LOH-hay), which means “rascal” in Hawaiian, is a registered Lowline Angus bull, the original angus breed before it was selectively modified over the years for maximum weight on feedlot grain.

Both breeds produce smaller offspring than most cattle used in commercial feedlot operations. This means fewer pounds of meat per animal, but more pounds of meat per acre. The reason: these breeds need a lot less forage to mature.

In other words, they are more efficient in converting grass to meat, so you can have more cattle on a given amount of pasture.

Most of our cows are a mixed red angus breed, also known for tenderness. We’re eagerly looking forward to the offspring produced by this combination. Check back in two years to see the result.


Heart-J Beef Score High in Tenderness

The results are in, and our pure grass-fed beef scored a win.

Every year we retain one small rib-eye steak out of most processed animals to send to a local meat lab to be independently tested for tenderness. Out of forty-one steaks tested, forty scored as tender. The breakdown is as follows:

Very Tender (Shear test score less than 3) 61%
Tender (Shear test score 3-4) 27%
Medium (Shear test score 4-5) 10%
Not Tender (Shear test score greater than 5) 2%

We’re pleased that our Heart-J Beef score high in tenderness, it confirms we’re on the right track in our beef-raising practices. For a more complete discussion of the factors that contribute to tenderness, see The Grass-Feeder’s Dilemma.

Of course, tenderness is a consideration mainly for steaks, about 25% of the cuts in a side of beef. Ground beef—about 40% of what’s included in a bulk purchase—is always tender, because it’s, well, ground.

And the remaining 35 percent of the cuts, mostly roasts and stew meat, are wonderfully tender when properly cooked, slow and over low heat. Six to eight hours in a croc pot is great.

For cooking tips, download our free Heart-J Beef Cooking Guide.