A few weeks ago, Lolo’s Mom met Bob from Coffee Pot Ranch at the Roseville Farmers’ Market located in the Fountains Shopping Center. She mentioned our blog and asked if we could interview him. Bob one-upped her and told her to bring Lolo by the ranch to visit the animals, see how they are raised, and ask whatever we wanted. Last Wednesday we did just that.
We prepared some questions ahead of time like, “How large is your ranch? What is your take on antibiotics for your animals? What do your animals eat? What is the most challenging aspect of running your business? Where are your animals slaughtered?” We still asked these questions, but our time on their ranch was relaxed, easy going, and open just like Bob and Shirley. Instead of conducting our formal interview, we spent quality time with them discussing such things as how they met, the Australian Shepherds they raise, and the history of Sheridan. What follows are bits and pieces from our visit that stood out to us.
Coffee Pot Ranch raises cattle, pigs, lamb and broiler chickens. There have two pallets of chickens that are rotated on pasture daily, with about eighty in each. They scratch and peck at the ground so much that the ground under their pallet has no grass left. You can literally see where the pallet and the chickens had been the day before.
They have two brooders with another eighty chicks in the barn. The chickens spend four weeks in the brooders then spend four weeks in the yard. After eight weeks, they are processed. This means they are able to bring chickens to the Farmers’ Market once a month and usually sell out in a few days.
Across the barn from the brooders are two roosters that Bob got attached to and ended up keeping as pets; which I thought was pretty cool.
Coffee Pot Ranch sits on twenty acres, but during our visit it was fairly quiet. The pigs, sheep, chicken and dogs were there of course, but only a handful of cattle. Their bull “P.T.” (which stands for “Pancho Two” or “Pancho Tambien”, take your pick) was one that greeted us. There were also a couple of cows and a newborn calf. The rest of their herd was at their neighbor’s property, helping to keep their forty acres mowed for them.
Due to all the red tape that has caused a shortage of small production slaughter houses in the U.S., they drive to Reno (250 miles round trip) every two weeks to drop off their large animals for processing at Wolf Pack Meats run by the University of Nevada – Reno. I’ve exchanged emails with Wolf Pack Meats in the past and they informed me they have one of the most humane slaughtering processes available. I asked Bob what he thought and he simply said, “they are as humane as you can be, which is another reason that we use them.”
The chickens are processed at New American Poultry in South Sacramento. Here is an interesting article on New American Poultry’s attempt to expand; “City’s Beef With A Poultry Processor.” The location they purchased for expansion is located near the Sacramento SPCA. The SPCA took issue with an animal slaughtering operation being next to one that was rescuing animals, so they lobbied the city council and got them to vote it down. Unfortunately, these kinds of decisions ensure it is difficult for small farmers to find locations to process their product, which limits alternatives to industrial meat. Sorry for this tangent though, back to Coffee Pot Ranch!
Coffee Pot Ranch does use some concrete in their pig pens. Shirley explained that there is a misconception about concrete being all bad. For the pigs, it helps keep their environment sanitary, which reduces sickness. Despite some concrete for the pens, their pigs still have plenty of access to dirt and mud.
They do not give any of their animals antibiotics and find health issues to be rare. If an animal does get sick they quarantine it until it is healthy again. Since they have a closed herd they simply don’t see a lot of disease.
When the sows are ready to have a litter, they are brought into the medicine room where they walk up a ramp to a “finger crate”. The finger crates prevent the sow from accidentally crushing her piglets while she nurses them, but she can still get up. This reduces fatalities and injuries to the piglets. The sows nurse their piglets in the crate for five weeks, then they go back out to the pig pen. Bob and Shirley deplore the gestation crates used in industrialized pig farming.
Their beef and lamb is 100% grass-fed. They are the only operation at our local Farmer’s Markets that is doing farrow-to-finish for all their meat. This means that all of their animals spend their entire lives on their farm. They discussed the importance of the trait of mothering. They are very reliant on the animals to care for their offspring as this, of course, is directly related to the health and welfare of their animals. The cows, sows, and ewes they have on the farm are from the same genetic lines with proven mothering qualities. When they bring in new animals who were not raised on the farm, its more of a gamble as to how they will perform as mothers once offspring arrives.
On the business side, 95% of their sales are through the farmer’s market. They sell at four year round markets; two in Placer County (Roseville and Auburn) and two in Sacramento County. The other 5% of their sales are walk ups at their farm. They currently have more demand than supply right now so they are trying to get back to 30 cattle, 20 sows and 30 to 40 ewes, which they feel is ideal. The most challenging aspect of running their business is making sure they have a place to get all their product processed in a timely manner.
Seven years into their retail meat operation they are over halfway to running a financially sustainable ranching operation, which is their long term goal. We want to thank Bob and Shirley for taking us on this tour of their ranch and letting us ask whatever we wanted. If we are going to eat meat, I believe this is the kind of farm that should be providing that meat.