The Secret of Flavorful Beef
By Lesley S. King
What makes a difference in a good cut of meat…” says Rick Kingsbury of Pecos Valley Grassfed Beef, “is what we do.” He’s referring to the whole method of growing, finishing and processing meat. “I’m not going to say that other meat is bad, it’s just that our way really adds flavor to it.”
Rick has spent many years contemplating the best way to grow beef, and the hard work has secured his business a strong following at the Farmers’ Market and at regional restaurants. Born on a farm/ranch in western Massachusetts, he became a large-animal vet-technician, but returned to the ranching business. “I think it’s really important. It’s good for the whole world. People need to have quality meat,” he says. After raising cattle in southern New Mexico for several years, he settled in the Pecos River Valley near a little-know village called Ribera. It’s a quiet place, surrounded by tall mesas, with irrigated meadows stretching in all directions. To the west lies the 223,000-acre Pecos Wilderness and to the east stretch the Great Plains.
Rick’s unique philosophy takes full advantage of this setting. Rather than feeding cattle on grass for awhile and then sending them off to the feedlot to fatten, as most growers do, he grazes a special kind of cow that allows him to bypass the lot, where stress and additives are the norm. Instead he lets the grass itself do the work.
The secret is Scottish Highlander cattle—big, hearty, comic-looking animals with curly-haired foreheads. “They tend to put on fat in meat just by eating grass,” says Rick. Indeed, these cattle are unique, and when crossed with Black Angus, the way Pecos Valley does, they are especially successful. “They have all their natural instincts and work the land well,” says Rick. “They’ll cross the river and feed up the hill and through the willows. They do the country a lot of good.” He sums them up by saying, “These animals can live on rocks and scenery. But they don’t have to because we have a lot of irrigated pasture.”
This leads to the next innovative part of his formula. Rick partners in Pecos Valley Grassfed Beef with Michael Kaufman, a Ribera local who does a variety of types of creative business all over the world. Utilizing his skills as an entrepreneur, they’re able to help other area ranchers and farmers while helping themselves. “We lease or buy land that’s been latent for years and use it,” Michael says. The land lies in a verdant corridor along the Pecos River, with good water rights. Lots of hay is grown in the valley and they buy that for the cattle when they need it as well. “It’s rare for anyone here to use pesticides,” Michael notes. “The idea is to support local businesses and local people.”
In the winter, the cattle graze this green corridor, while in the summertime, they go to the high country, to feed on the gramma grass that grows for miles to the east. But the business isn’t an easy one. The northern New Mexico climate always presents a challenge. The 2007 season was a good example: Winter and spring brought much moisture, but the usual summer monsoon never came. “So everything we gained was lost,” Rick says. “The grasses here usually kick at that time of year.” Consequently, they ended up having to start feeding hay in October and continued through the winter. “It really adds a lot to your feed costs when you do that,” says Rick. But, like any good rancher, he keeps his chin up, enduring such unexpected circumstances. He tucks the memories back in his mind, saddles up his horse and rides through the herd.