BN Ranch produces premium, 100% grass and forage finished lamb from California pastures. The lambs are bred to make tender, delicious meat: Rambouillet ewes crossed with bucks that are a mix of Suffolk, Hampshire, and Texel.
BN Ranch lambs begin their lives on irrigated pasture fields. Lambing ewes are provided 24/7 care by experienced herders who ensure that newborn lambs bond with their mothers; that twins and triplets are given equal opportunity to suckle; and that ever-present predators keep a healthy distance from the herd when it is at its most vulnerable. Herders subdivide pastures with temporary fence to create smaller lambing pens where singles and twins are separated and it is possible to maintain a close eye on these groups.
BN Ranch lambs are born nearly year-round but the large majority are born from August to October. With the end-of-season regrowth of alfalfa fields as a primary food source, lactating ewes have abundant nutrition to support their new offspring. Pairs spend the fall and mid-winter on dormant alfalfa. There is symbiosis in this relationship: sheep are provided good feed, and farmers benefit from having their fields “cleaned up” prior to the beginning of the next growing season.
Compared with larger livestock like cattle, sheep have the advantage of portability and are often moved several times to different areas depending on where forage is available. Temporary electric fencing and portable water tanks allow herders to set up a pasture almost anywhere. In a typical year these sheep might graze on native rangeland, irrigated pasture, or wildlife habitat on the Sacramento Delta islands.
Sheep will be moved to native rangeland once winter rains soak the soil and the annual grasses and forbs have a chance to establish. That typically happens in February and lasts through April or May once the grass dries and hardens. At this time the lambs will be weaned and moved to rich irrigated pasture in the Delta where they will finish. Dry (non-lactating) ewes – with considerably lower nutritional demands - will be moved around for a variety of conservation grazing projects.
At this stage the first of the new crop of lambs have been shipped for harvest. To create uniform groups of animals that meet the demands of the market, lambs are weighed individually and sorted into groups of similar weights. Lambs from the heaviest group are shipped for BN Ranch on a weekly basis. The lambs for BN Ranch finish on transitional organic pasture owned by Farmland LP, a private investment fund dedicated to providing its investors returns on land it uses for sustainable agriculture.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GRASSFED?
The USDA defines grassfed as a diet that consists of 100% fresh grazed pasture during the growing season and stored grasses (hay or grass silage) during the winter months or in drought condition. Unfortunately, this definition allows for feedlot cattle to be fed harvested forage and qualify as grassfed lamb.
BN RANCH DEFINITION:
BN Ranch lamb spend their entire lives on pasture, grazing everyday. They are never fed grain, nor any other feeds that do not meet the USDA definition for grassfed. We use responsible land management practices to ensure they are always on the best grass for the time of year. Mature animals from nutritious grasses reach their optimal conditions for harvesting at different points of the year, depending upon the regional climate and biodiversity. To us, animals harvested under these peak conditions create genuine grassfed lamb that is consistently delicious.
DO YOU USE ANTIBIOTICS?
Bill's response to an inquiry regarding the use of antibiotics in the meat industry:
"I have always advocated for the use of antibiotics for therapeutic use, but only for that use. As you know, it is the rampant use of subtherapeutic antibiotics to stimulate growth and replace good animal husbandry that has created the antibiotic resistant pathogens and superbugs. We are totally committed to ending that use as well as the prophylactic use of antibiotics. As someone who spends much of my day, every day, personally taking care of our animals I cannot allow any sick animal in my care to be denied the healing benefits of antibiotics anymore than I would deny them to my own children. This does not mean using them easily or often. To the contrary, it means using them rarely and judiciously. But it does mean using them. This is true of all of our farmers and ranchers and we respect them for this way of thinking and have chosen to partner with them partly because of that approach -- providing the best possible care, every day, to each individual animal.
The next logical question is why don't you just identify the animals that have been treated for pink eye, foot rot, pneumonia, or any other illnesses that would respond to antibiotic therapy? Then, those treated animals, a very small proportion of the total, can be sold to the commodity market where almost every animal has received antibiotics and hormones/steroids. I firmly believe that if antibiotics are used therapeutically that they will be completely metabolized in an animal over a period of several months. Not the manufacturer's recommended withdrawal period (typically 7 to 30 days) but a much longer period---minimally three months. In the BN Ranch system, we agree to purchase all the suitable calves that a cow-calf operator raises, with the proviso that they identify all the treated animals without purchase price penalty. This encourages trust. In other words, there is no reason to cheat by slipping in a medicated animal.
We are taking the more difficult path of including the treated animals in our program and trying to educate the consumer that it's the right thing to do. Through this honest and educated approach we think that we can begin to redirect the public conversation towards a more sensible and accurate discussion around the uses of antibiotics in the animal food system -- inappropriate and appropriate.
Finally, on the antibiotic use subject, it is far easier to raise healthy animals on an all grass/forage system. It is also impossible to feed antibiotics subtherapeutically as well as other manmade compounds as feed additives to promote growth. This is just one more of the compelling reasons to raise and eat only grassfed beef. As Nicolette often says, "Much of the benefit of grassfed beef is avoiding what you don't want to have in your food chain."