My Interview with Blake and Helen of Balzan Beef in Wheatland, Wyoming
Did you submit a question to ask to our Cattle Ranchers last week?
Well you are in luck!
I had my first Rancher Interview this weekend with Blake and Helen of the Balzan Ranch, and I got to ask the questions you submitted, plus a few that I came up with too.
Q: What makes your beef different?
First, our beef is from Longhorn Cattle. It is a lean, very nutritious, and flavorful meat. Our cattle graze on only the best variety of grasses and legumes our ranch has to offer. Our herd is free range and our cows spend their whole lives on pasture. We treat them kindly and they are not introduced to outside diseases because they stay on our land and are not exposed to other cattle.
Q: Why do you choose to raise beef differently than producers who raise beef for the 'big industry'?
We believe Big Industry Beef is leaving a massive carbon footprint on our world , mostly through their practice of monoculture cropping (the method of dedicating entire fields to the growing of single-species crops such as corn and soy), which is necessary to produce the feed for their method of finishing beef in feedlots. This monoculture cropping often leaves soils depleted of nutrients with little to no native species, and with bare ground through through the winter. Additionally, feedlots are large areas of completely bare dirt, void of plant and soil life with large run-off lagoons that pollute nearby water and air. Cattle confined in feed lots are not aiding in the rejuvenation of grasslands, which we believe is an inherent role cattle need to play in the cycle of life. When cattle are kept in feed lots, they are no longer benefitting the environment. Instead they are contributing to air and water pollution. When choose not to contribute to this negative cycle of carbon emissions and pollution, by keeping our cattle on native-grass pastures for their whole lives instead.
Q: What are the top three things customers can appreciate about your beef?
1- Our beef is lean, because it is grass-fed and finished, and therefore it is very healthy for you. 2- Because of the high quality of forage we feed to our cattle, the texture and flavor are phenomenal. 3- Our cattle and our pastures are kindly treated, and our cattle live happy lives on our green pastures.
Q: What in particular makes your beef good for the environment?
Our longhorns affect the soil in a beneficial way when they are out grazing and doing what cows do. The cycle of fertilization and mineralization are accelerated and this allows new plants to grow and fix more carbon in our pasture soils. These cycles also increase soil water holding capacity, which benefits soil-life, plant-life, and nearby watersheds (because healthy soils and healthy plants reduce erosion and soil run-off into water-ways). When we graze our cattle, we aren't just looking to make a profit, we are looking to sequester carbon into the soil with that animal-plant interaction that is happening on the surface.
Q: What are some questions or objections you have heard from folks about grass-fed beef, and what information can you offer to address these questions/objections?
1- Grassfed beef tastes 'gamey'. If raised correctly and given the right quality and variety of grasses and legumes, and if the cattle are treated kindly and allowed to live a relaxed stress free lifestyle, with access to good clean and fresh water, the meat really is amazing in flavor and texture.
2- Grassfed/Longhorn beef is tough rather than tender. Cattle fed properly and treated properly yield a very tender and delicious beef- especially breeds like Longhorn Cattle, which have been raised on grass for centuries and have adapted well to it. Our beef in particular has a delicious flavor because most cuts have a surprising amount of grass-finished fat, skirting the muscle. It is truly all about how the animal is raised!
Q: What is your favorite part of raising beef?
Getting to see first-hand the benefits that raising beef can have on the rejuvenation of our land. There is nothing like eating properly raised grass-fed beef. The health benefits are incredible and it’s a lot more affordable and economical compared to boxed beef that claims to be of similar quality.
Q: Why have you chosen to pursue this life path of cattle ranching in Wyoming?
The Balzan family has had Longhorns for over 30 years! Their Longhorn herd started off as a hobby, and Robert and Julie Balzan raised their children on the wholesome beef, and shared it with family and friends. After Blake attended college and worked a couple of jobs in the field of rangeland management, he returned to the ranch with a dream to create something even more amazing for the community and his own family on his family's place. Helen also saw what potential it held and wanted to participate and help Blake see his dreams realized.
Q: What does the future of Agriculture look like in your mind?
In the future, Agriculture looks more sustainable on a larger scale to us, with more producers taking a holistic approach to farming and ranching. This way we will be able rejuvenate our planet and feed our earth through the plants and animals we grow. Large-scale commercial farming is very profit centered and takes from the planet without giving anything back. This creates a feedback loop that produces food containing less nutrients, which results in depleted human health as well. The future of Agriculture will need to abandon this negative feedback loop and return fertility and nutrients to the land and subsequently the food we eat.
Q: What hopes do you have for how your beef will affect your customers lives?
We hope that our beef impacts their health and wellness in a positive way- like it has for us. Also we hope to give them affordable and healthy meat, so they can economically feed themselves and their families. We would like to share with them the pride of knowing they are supporting something much bigger, that can impact the direction our planet is headed in, for the better. We hope they know that their choice in food is affecting our world in a positive way and that they know that what they are doing will help improve the health of our planet and everyone on it.
Q: Is there anything you want your customers to know?
We want our customers to know what we are doing and why we are doing it this way. We want them to know how raising and eating beef ethically is actually very important for health and the survival of our planet. We want our customers to know that they have options when it comes to where there food comes from and what the implications of their food are for their health and for the planet.
Q: When did you realize that you wanted to be a rancher?
Blake has always wanted to create something successful and something in which could be shared with others, ever since he grew up on his family's ranch. Helen has always been passionate about the health of our planet and a better way of doing things. Helen has also been a health nut for a long time and she has been concerned about the way that conventional food is produced. Helen saw the opportunity of working with Blake and his family as an opportunity to actually get involved in agriculture and in creating the future she wanted to see.
Q: What world/community issues keep you awake at night?
We worry that family and community structures have fallen apart, and we worry about the implications of this on the general morals and ethics of our society. We worry a lot about our contributions to pollution and plastic waste as humans. We really strive to think critically on a day-to-day basis. This is a value we hope will increase in the minds of average Americans across the nation.
Q: How does ranching relate to these issues that you worry about?
We believe that we are so lucky because we get to live our down to earth way of life. In producing and sharing our beef, we are trying to promote and share that sort of life with others. Our morals and ethics are an important part of what we do every day.
Our beef is in plastic, which sucks. But as small farmers and ranchers, we are big into conserving and re-using and repurposing anything possible so as to save money and pollute less. We do our very best, and will continue to find ways to do better and waste less. We are in a small town, and our community sort of mind set and working together as we have to do to exist in this community, we eliminate segregation and racism, and political conflict. We only work together for the greater good. We hope that eventually consumers will start buying healthy and sustainably raised meat and sustainably farmed grains and vegetables. We hope this leads to more small farms and ranches being able to provide good, wholesome food to their communities.
Q: Do you feel that you have a positive impact on our world by raising beef?
Every positive thing anyone does- no matter how small- results in a massive impact. If everyone were to do small things every day, we could all change the world. Even though we are a small ranch, we know we are contributing in a big way for future generations. We want to spread this mindset by our lifestyle, leading by example and sharing openly with others.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you face as a beef producer?
Finding a good, local meat processing facility and team has proven very difficult for us. Providing sufficient high quality feed, can be challenging, especially during the parts of the year when we receive really harsh weather. Balancing our methods of rotational-grazing and sustainable-hay-growing practices, so that we can treat our land kindly, rejuvenate it and make it as healthy as possible while running a sustainable business on it proves challenging as well.
Q: How do you mitigate these challenges?
Most of our local meat processing facilities are booked at least one year out, so they are tuff to get into, but once we find a good processor we work very hard to build a good lasting relationship with them. When our customers order their beef in advance and help us plan as far ahead as possible, this really helps us get quality beef to our customers in a timely and efficient manner.
As for providing the cattle and the land with what they need year-round, we monitor our pastures constantly and make adjustments based on what we observe. We are constantly improving our infrastructure so our pastures get sufficient rest from grazing and moving our cattle onto fresh grass is a low-stress and easy endeavor for everyone involved.
Q: Do you hope to stay in the Beef-Raising Industry? Why?
Yes!! It is so much fun.
Hearing our customers rave about the quality and the taste and texture of our beef and the excitement customers show makes all the hard work worth it! The knowledge that we are helping people improve their health and well-being while giving them and economical option is really gratifying. Doing our small part that we know will result in big change in the future is amazing and it feels good knowing that we are giving back to the land, and that we are treating cattle as valuable creatures who have a bigger part to play in our ecosystem and our community, rather than just to be fattened as quickly and cheaply as possible, and sold off to large companies. These amazing animals help us to achieve personal health and wellness and they are the most effective tool we have to achieve a future of healthy land.
Q: What is your favorite cut of beef and how do you like it cooked?
We like all the cuts, it's so hard to pick just one!
Cooking beef is so fun because with each cut you can do different things and there are so many methods of cooking them which result in a completely different outcomes. It’s just fun to experiment with all the cuts!
We especially enjoy creating something flavorful and tender from the less popular cuts that often get a bad wrap. There is really no bad cut of beef and cooking our way through them all has been a fun adventure.
Q: Do you have any funny stories you would like to share with your customers?
Last summer there was an older back cow who needed doctoring. So Blake and his father Robert grabbed their ropes and Helen grabbed one too, just for the heck of it. Helen didn’t know a thing about roping and she had only messed with it a little when she was younger for the fun of it- with friends. So all three loaded up and headed down to the field where the cow was. Blake and Robert got the cow to a corner of the pasture and they tossed their ropes at the same time to try to catch her, but their ropes intercepted each other and failed to make a catch. Helen was standing with her rope on the other side of the gate and cow decided to run over in Helen's direction. Blake and Robert yelled “It’s up to you now Helen!” So Helen started swinging her rope, and the cow did not want to be caught at that point so the cow started running faster. Helen ran towards the cow while swinging her rope and then let her rope fly. From 20 feet away while running at a running cow Helen somehow threw a perfect loop which fell around the horns with surprisingly-great precision. But the cow did not stop, and she proceeded to drag Helen- on the end of her rope. Helen held on though, as they both went through a big mud pit and then some how my rope ended up slowing the cow down so they could get her treated. Helen will never forget this experience, as she had no gloves on, and she was wearing her traditional footwear of choice- a pare of Birkenstock sandals...