News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Happy cows in Sisters Country

Sisters is surrounded by boutique cattle operations. Boutique as in generally small and appealing to a market of carnivores who want their beef local, humanely bred, fed, and managed. More and more our tastes for beef are only satisfied knowing that the cows lived a relatively stress- and chemical-free life.

In March we reported on the regenerative farming trend in Sisters Country. Part of that practice is intensive rotational grazing, moving a herd every two to three days to a new pasture allowing the vacated space to renew, naturally, sustainably, and quickly.

Some of the innovative cattle operations include 2Sisters Ranch toward Tumalo. They raise Wagyu beef, considered the ultimate for steak gourmets and made legendary in Japan where A5 Wagyu is on average $250 per pound in a restaurant, or $110 for a usual serving. 2Sisters offers a tomahawk steak of almost 3.5 pounds for $595. That’s not a typo.

Owners Brian and Renee Bouma and their daughters, Tiana and Cian, state that stress is the biggest contributor to reduced marbling in Wagyu. Marbling is desirable in Wagyu beef. Consequently, they interact with their herd with an ever-so-gentle touch – no ATVs, drones, or horses to move the cows. Only calm voices.

Their cattle’s diet is 100 percent grass — no grain, no hormones, no silage. This method creates umami, a category of taste in food. Brian informs us: “Umami is the fifth taste after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.” He elaborates: “Umami is a rich and savory flavor that is prevalent in full-blood Wagyu beef.”

Sisters View Ranch primarily runs a hay-farm business while specializing in raising grass-fed, purebred black Angus. The Fronk family is proud of their herd’s ancestry dating over 100 years with genetic lines originating along the Oregon Trail in Idaho. Their best sellers are “Family Packs,” varying in cuts and portions from 16 to 38 pounds, pricing out at $139 to $303 per pack.

Pole Creek Ranch is another specialty breeder. Riley Avery is the ranch’s “guru” and nationally known for some of the most prized Red Angus in the West. He exhibits his cows around the country including the Super Bowl of shows, the National Western Stock Show in Denver. “Smiley Riley,” as he is known, raises his cattle based on the principles of legendary animal trainer and activist, Temple Grandin.

Their beef is offered in a dozen variety boxes ranging from around 7 pounds to around 12 and fetch $125 to $150 per box.

Hobbs Magaret owns Sisters Cattle Co. He’s a new-breed cattleman whose motto is: Humanity cannot out-engineer nature. He’s kind of the go-to guy in Sisters Country when it comes to regenerative grazing and climax ecology, in which populations of plants and animals remain stable and exist in balance with each other.

“In order to accomplish our mission, we must bring harmony to the cattle, the land, and ourselves,” Hobbs advocates.

His expertise has gained 135,000 TikTok followers who generate about 1 million monthly video views. Rather than packaged cuts, Sisters Cattle sells shares in the annual fall harvest. A quarter share of 84 to 98 pounds of finished beef will feed a couple for about a year. A half share will cover a family of four, and a whole share of 336 to 392 pounds is suggested for an extended family. It works out to $9.40 to $11 per pound.

Cattle ranching is hard work. Mostly family owned and operated, the typical rancher employs one or more cattlemen, a ranch manager, a steward, and ranch hands. Land, buildings, and breeding stock acquisition can run well into a seven-figure investment.

Sisters Country is home to a dozen bovine breeds: Red and Black Angus, Charolais, Limousin, Polled Hereford, Shorthorn, Maine-Anjou, Simmental, Tarentaise, Wagyu and the picturesque Texas Longhorns and shaggy Highland cattle. They can be found as close as East Barclay Drive where in one of Sisters Cattle’s herds stands a Belted Galloway, a traditional Scottish breed. They have the distinctive large white “belt” at the center of their torso.

Cows have personalities, Pole Creek wants us to know. Hannah Montana is one of their best young breeding cows. Rebel, appropriately named, is the boss cow. 9Mile Loveable 8211, his breed-registration name, is royalty in the Red Angus world. He rates in the top one percent in the industry for marbling and rib-eye area (the most valuable steak in a cow).

The common thread in all these high-end beef operations is grass. Not just any grass. Oregon grass. Hay actually, with some alfalfa thrown in for more nutrition.

“Central Oregon with its high altitude, cool nights, intense sun, and rich volcanic soil has a relative feed value of 99 percent,” the Boumas report.

These are but four of several dozen such beef operations in Sisters Country, with its long and storied cattle-raising history.

 

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