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The Last Day...

Often-times people don't want to think about the last day their food lived.

I get it.

It's heavy and it can leave us feeling guilty for sustaining ourselves as meat-eaters. AND it often-times leaves people outside the food system thinking that those of us inside the food system are just heartless, cruel, or numb, and that we have turned off our ability to care about what these animals are feeling and experiencing.

But I want to offer an alternative perspective and a different experience, because over the years I have come to realize it really doesn't have to be this way.

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Last week Tom Rardin invited me to go on a small gather to round up some their cattle to take into the processor.

It wasn't that he was asking me to come along and help, rather a favor he was offering to me- to let me come along, because this is something Tom and/or Bridger routinely acheive on their own, with little or no help.

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It was pretty amazing!

I haven't been able to have quite so many adventures involving cattle and horses this summer because I haven't wanted to risk getting injured while pregnant. The work we get to do with animals isn't usually very dangerous, but it can go that way in a hurry because these large animals obviously have minds of their own, and can therefore be somewhat unpredictable...

So, Chris and I decided I should lay off the ranch-hand/horseback work this summer and do something with less risk associated instead. The closest available job for this summer that fit the bill has been housekeeping up at Albany Lodge.

It has been a LONG summer of that... but you gotta do what you gotta do right?

So, when I got the invite to go on a cattle-gather with Tom on foot, I was SO excited!

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I love being around cattle and horses. There is a very honest simplicity about being on "animal time." Nothing else matters to these cows except what is happening in the moment and that can be pretty dang refreshing. (It can also be frustrating as all get out when you are in a hurry or trying to rush the animals. This is when things get dangerous, because livestock don't like to be rushed- and they start to feel threatened when we apply a lot of pressure, noise, or speed.)

I also love walking! I haven't been able to run much this summer... it is quite a different experience now- and I wouldn't call it enjoyable... Running with ease is one of the things I am looking forward to being able to do again here in a few weeks. I knew with how calm the Rardins' cattle are, we probably wouldn't be running any marathons either, so that was reassuring and I hoped that maybe I could still be of a little help even though I am rather slow and somewhat physically incapable at the moment.

Well it turned out just awesome! It was a great day of walking and observing, catching up, and being around some cattle with awesome attitudes.

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We met at Woods Landing and headed down to the lease the Rardin's have for this part of the Summer/Fall in Northern Colorado.

Tom calls this part of Northern Colorado a "Wyoming Annex" because it is pretty much just like a continuation of the Big Hollow, the Centennial Valley, and Woods Landing. I felt like we could have been in the Centennial Valley all day.

Tom said this pasture lease was from a friend they have had for years.

Bridger even went to school with their kids in a really small town on the edge of the Big Hollow called- Harmony, while he was growing up, so this family actually approached the Rardins about leasing this land for their herd to graze on because they knew the Rardins would take good care of it.

As we headed down the road in the pickup with the stock trailer on, we talked about all kinds of things. A lot about cattle and grazing, some sheep stuff (the Rardins used to run a large band of sheep on the East side of Sheep Mountain- years ago), a little poking fun at politics and law, some chatter about world travels, horses, and probably some stuff I don't remember too. There is always plenty to talk about with Tom, he can hold a conversation with anyone and make that person feel like a friend.

We pulled up to the driveway of the lease ground where the cattle were and Tom backed in the trailer while I made sure the gates stayed open.

Our first task, was to build a cattle trap.

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Tom said the lease ground was somewhere around 100 acres. Not very big for pastures around here, but trying to convice cattle to come off of their summer vacation in the mountains and jump into a confined space (the stock trailer) for a bit is not a task that requires little effort!

So we set up a small pen using metal panels around the back end of the trailer, and then another funnel-shaped pen outside of the metal pen to help guide the cattle into the metal pen- using electric fence.

We didn't electrify the electric fence, because the Rardin's cattle respect electric fence really well, so we just bluffed them for the day- counting on their assumption that the fence was probably hot.

Once the trap was set up, the search began. Tom and I made our way up the road to the top of a hill where we could get a good view.

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Tom had a set of binoculars so we could distinguish any sneaky large rocks disguised as cows, these binoculars saved us a lot of steps! He also had a bucket of alfalfa cubes. The Rardins cattle know the sound of the cubes in this bucket well. Our goal was to get within earshot of the cattle so they could hear Tom call for them and the rattling of these tasty green morsels in the bucket.

A Couple of Years Ago... This Was A Large-Scale Cattle Gather I was on, of about 400 Mother-Cows over about 3000 acres in Ten Sleep, WY

Most cattle gathering expeditions I have been on, have been quite the opposite experience from this. On these adventures, we would spread out over thousands of acres and ride strategically to drive and flush cattle out of hard-to-get-to spots and to a large corral, or through a gate to the next pasture. On these adventures, the cattle usually start to move away as soon as they see someone on a horse coming their way. Often times on large ranches, herds of cattle know where they are supposed to go when the horses come out because they have been moved in a certain progression year after year. It is an annual routine that they, sometimes, willingly follow.

But since the Rardins lease several different parcels of land, and these leases often change from year to year to allow pastures more than a year of rest, their cattle don't have the chance to learn the routine on any specific landscape over the years, and a different strategy has to be employed.

So rather than pushing cattle for this gather, we enticed them.

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It was clear that the cattle knew this drill as soon as they were able to see us.

We spotted a group taking a mid-day nap in the sun on the next ridge over and we headed down through the aspen-filled draw towards them. As soon as we popped up on the same ridge as the group, the cattle stood up and started heading towards us.

I laughed! It was just so opposite of what I had done in the past! It was somewhat comical to me. As we got closer, the cattle began to pick up the pace, racing each other for first dibs on the treats rattling away in that bucket Tom was carrying.


We fed and scratched these obedient gals while we glassed through the binoculars for the rest. This was only about half of the group, and we made the assumption that the rest of them probably weren't too far off, but were likely bedded down in the shade because it was already getting to be pretty hot!

We decided to take this group to the trap through the tree-filled draw we suspected the other half of the group might be in.

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The procession to the trailer was somewhat like a parade of red and black fur and horns. We stopped periodically to renew interest in the bucket of snacks and make this parade well-worth the effort for these ladies. Their willingness never wavered as we made our way down to the electric fenced area. The cattle slipped through our electric gate with ease but a few stopped at the openning to the panel-corral.

Tom tossed some alfalfa cubes into the panel-corral and in went the entire first group.

Nice!


We locked them in and they seemed to be enjoying this shady spot with great snacks, so we headed into a thicket of willows and aspens to try to locate the rest.

This part reminded me of elk hunting, except we were trying to be loud instead of quiet, which made me laugh again as we crossed a couple forks of a small creek and ducked along trails the cows had made through the thick-bunched willow branches.

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It turns out Tom's instincts were right on and it wasn't long before we almost walked right into a wide-eyed red heifer amongst the leaves.

She graciously accepted some treats and stayed put, flicking her ears back and forth and looking around for her buddies.

Tom called for the rest of the group, and we heard an answer back. We could hear that they were making their way through the aspen grove towards us with lots of swishing and sticks breaking, so we waited for them to come closer. They were on the other side of the creek from us within minutes and Tom enticed them to cross with a few more treats.

Then we were on our way again!

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This group was a bit quicker to jog on down to the electric pen, so we had to work a little harder to stay ahead of them.

When we got to the electric fence , two of the heifers were starting to get suspicious and they paused, until the group ahead of them started to get out of their sight, then they jogged on through.

Once we got to the metal pen, the first half went right in to join the rest, but those last two heifers seemed to say with their lowered heads, and wide eyes and flicking ears, "ahhhhhh I see what this is about."

Tom had gotten ahead of the group to open up the trailer door and let some cattle into the trailer to make more space in the pen.


The two suspicious heifers saw the pen and the trailer and they slowly turned around and started to walk away from the panel-corral.

Flashbacks of entire groups of cattle flying out of a pen all at once- came to my mind. So many times I have seen it happen where the cattle rushedly pile in, get too crowded and uncomfortable and all come flying back out of a corral with wild eyes, swearing never to return again. So I didn't want to move too fast or put too much pressure on these gals too early. Trying to put cattle back into a confined space is harder than putting them in on the first try- they aren't easy to convince twice!

Tom asked me to move in behind the heifers and urge them towards the pen, I did in a zig-zag motion trying my darndest not to make eye contact, or to come across as intimidating, (cattle hate being pressured by anything with predator-like behavior, like direct eye contact and being walked directly towards, at eye-level, in a straight line) and to my relief, the heifers turned around and proceed into the pen.

I quickly walked up and shut the gate and Tom said "Atta girl!"

I laughed and said, "Don't celebrate yet, it's not over 'till they are all in the trailer. I've jinxed myself too many times!"

That got a chuckle out of Tom too.

Because we were out of our home county, and out of our home state, we needed a brand inspection before we could legally transport these animals anywhere. So we waited for the brand inspector- who would take a look at the brands on Tom's herd and give us an official, notarized slip that verfied ownership of the cattle and gave us permission to move them. You can actually have your livestock confiscated from you if you don't have a brand inspection in Wyoming and Colorado- and you get pulled over for some reason.

It's a slight pain to have to do this every time we move livestock, and it costs money, but it prevents theft.

Here is what the Rardin's Brand Looks Like When Drawn

Here is what their brand looks like just after branding. As the calf grows the brand changes to just a cahnge in direction of the hair, so they can get to be hard to read, especially on fluffy, Highland cattle!

Surprisingly cattle rustling is still rampant in the west. I have even heard of people stealing one-week-old calves out of someone else's pasture... What the heck!?

This is why we have to have a permanent mark, a brand, on livestock like cattle, so it cannot be altered and ownership can be verified.

Unfortunately the states just east of us don't require brand inspections at all, so most of the time livestock theives head east. Once they make it across the state line, there is not really any way to track them... and the livestock are as good as gone to the original owner.

So, we always make sure to get the brand inspections done.

If you want to learn more about why and how we brand, you can read my blog post about it HERE.

We had a good stretch of time before the brand inspector showed up and luckily Tom had planned for it, just in case. He brought what he calls his "pony and calf," (an empty mineral-lick tub-to stand on- and a sawhorse) and a rope. We practiced throwing different loops with the rope; heel shots, flank shots, hoolihans, pig loops, and del vientos. Sometimes we might accidentally rope the aspens or clods of grass instead of the saw-horse, but it was all just for fun anyway and it passed the time well.

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Tom also brought his guitar and played a couple tunes. Including Something Comin' to Me by the Gibson Brothers.

The cattle seemed to enjoy their shady serenade.

As for me, I wanted to spend the rest of Fall right there...

But,

the brand inspector eventually showed up, he got us the necessary paperwork and we loaded the ones we picked out of the group for our Fall Harvest- onto the trailer.

We headed home and Tom dropped me back off at my car and he headed into town with the precious cargo.

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What a day!

. . .

Maybe this doesn't seem all that significant... just a shady afternoon walk- to some. But when you look at what the last day looks like for animals who end up as meat in the grocery store... there is quite a stark contrast.

Most beef at the grocery store (even if it's labelled as Grass-Fed) spends its last 60-90 days in a CAFO- a Confined Animal Feeding Operation, otherwise known as a Feed Lot. These operations are really efficient at reducing feed costs, and labor costs, but they cause some massive environmental issues and even though designated animal welfare practices are employed and enforced, I still wouldn't want to spend my last couple of months in a dirt/mud pen with several hundred of my counterparts, just waiting for the corn or hay truck to come around every day.

You have probably already heard me talk about why Feedlot/Grain Finished Cattle are not great to eat, but I haven't really addressed this issue from the cow's perspective.

Which would you choose?

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I wish I could just decide for myself that my last day would be spent up on one of the Rardin's leases in the grass and the shade, but even as humans, we don't get that luxury...

Still feeling guilty?

As producers of high-quality meats, we don't take our roles lightly. All of the ranchers on the Taste of the Wind team have had to make hard calls to prevent and end the suffering of the animals we are tasked with caring for. It's not easy, and it's not always fulfilling in the moment either, but it is worth it.

In the grand scheme, if we have lived a life that has reduced suffering (to any living, feeling creature) that would have occured had we not been there, I believe that is a life well-lived.

I truly beleive the Rardin's do just that, and I am grateful to them for doing so.

Bridger and the appropriately-named "Roja"

. . .

What are your thoughts on this?

How to do you justify your choices when it comes to picking what you eat and where it comes from?

I would love to hear your perspective!

Feel free to email me with any thoughts you have. I'm all ears when it comes to ideas on how we can improve the lives of the amazing animals who sustain us and the people we care about.


Want to support and continue the Rardin's mission of ethical treatment of cattle and landscapes across the West?

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There is still time to order your own Fall beef package from our wonderful local ranchers and their herds!

Place your deposit HERE,

And guarantee yourself and your family a freezer full of meat that

- makes you feel good from the inside out

- supports your local community

- fosters a quality life for animals that tend to get the short-end-of-the-stick when it comes to tranquility and enjoyment.

You can hear more about why what the Rardin's do is better for our environment, and animals on this episode of The Modern West from Wyoming Public Media HERE.

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Want to try a smaller sample of the fruits of the Rardin family's labor?

Try our Welcome to the Ranch Box

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A nice little variety of steaks, a roast, some ground beef, and a couple of our beef snack products.

You can taste the love in every bite!

We ship nation-wide (excluding HI and AK), so if you want a little Taste of Wyoming and you don't live in state, don't worry! We can still get one of our Welcome to the Ranch boxes or Bulk Beef Shares to your door.


What Others Are Saying About Rardin Beef:

"As a newcomer to the grass-finished beef world, I found the ribeye to be perfectly marbled with exceptional flavor (seasoned only with salt & pepper). It was also extremely tender when grilled to 135F. A perfect steak in my book."

- Ted C.

Laramie, WY

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"I’ve bought from taste of the wind for a couple of years. I have visited and watched BJ and Chris working with their livestock and am impressed with their knowledge/hard work they put in. Always a pleasure doing business with them, I make sure to stock up to take my haul home to Illinois. So worth the work to get it home. Quality and taste are beyond amazing. Will continue to purchase from them as long as I am able."

-Rei K.

Chicago, IL

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"Great beef product. Some of the best tasting beef I have had in a long time. Definitely will buy more in the future. Love it. Fast, Frozen, and Great." - Patrick H.

Lake Havasu City, AZ

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"Sustainable products raised with care. You can taste the difference in Taste of the Wind's products and they are much better than anything I’ve ever purchased in a grocery store." - Bri A.

Centennial, WY

Have you enjoyed our products so far?

Leave Us Your Own Google Review!

This is a HUGE help to us, and it helps other folks find our business.

We are SO GRATEFUL to folks who take a few moments out of their busy lives to write these reviews for us- THANK YOU!!!

A sincere Thank You from all of us at Taste of the Wind.

Without you, we couldn't do what we do.

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Until next week!

-Chris, BJ, and the Taste of the Wind Crew

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