The Prather Ranch

“I believe that the place where an animal dies is a sacred one. The ritual could be something very simple, such as a moment of silence. No words, just one moment of silence.

I can picture it perfectly…” – Temple Grandin

I first visited the Prather Ranch in Siskiyou County, Northern California in 2009, soon after I joined Prather Ranch Meat Co. in San Francisco. We were a motley crew of urban meat mongers, hawking Prather steaks at the local farmers markets, building relationships with loyal carnivores (and recovering vegetarians), singing the meaty gospel as taught by our PRMC forefathers. I had no idea how much the trip would reveal.

The Ranch has a long history dating back to the late 1800s, when a Scottish family named “Prather” purchased the land to raise horses for the Spanish–American War. Later, it would become a settlement for frontier men in the 19th century. Old watersheds, rumbling chimneys, ancient barbed wire, and rouge arrowheads remain scattered across the property. Trees bare the carvings of children and lovers dating back to the 19th Century. This place truly is fertile grounds.

In 1964, nature lover and supermarket tycoon, Walter Ralphs, bought the Ranch with a vision to create a holistic environment for pasture and beef rearing. He set in motion a sustainable operation that not even he could have fathomed at the time. Geographically isolated in the shadow of Mt. Shasta, surrounded by snow peaked mountains, Prather’s location makes it unlike any other cattle ranch in California. This historically rich land is now home to some of the most unique bovine on Earth.

Few words can describe the feeling of arriving at the Prather Ranch—driving through the high desert terrain as the rough hardened vegetation gives way to pristine green pastures and a lush rolling valley.

Arriving at the ranch is almost as beautiful as meeting the people who work—and in several cases live—there. Formidable husband and wife team Jim and Mary Ricketts, ranch managers since the late 1970s can be found walking amongst the cattle, and both actively participate in the weekly cattle harvest. Mark Estes, Head Cowboy and the real McCoy—at first glance you think you’ve been teleported right back to 1890, once you talk with him, you quickly realize you’ve met an expert in animal husbandry and so much more. Corrine Douglass, Cut Room Production Manager, and one of the more charming creatures at the Prather Ranch, Corrine can kick shit with the best of them.

From the outside, this small community of workers comprised of locals and professionals (not mutually exclusive titles) who study and align themselves with the holistic treatment of pastures and the humane treatment of animals resembles a large extended family more than a business.

Since its inception, the Prather Ranch has taken sustainability seriously. Not sorta-kinda sustainability. Not “we buy our feed in the USA not China”. But the hard, unadulterated sustainability the movement writes about. They grow the vast majority of their feed on site, graze their animals on 50,000+ acres of certified organic pasture, stock their water sources with bass and catfish, protect salmon breeding grounds, work with the Nature Conservatory to ensure the protection of their natural resources, and provide fulltime employees a roof over their heads and a “locker beef” every year. This isn’t sustainability as a marketing strategy. For the folks at the Prather Ranch it’s an ethos, a way of life.

The Ranch’s list of accolades, awards, and articles stretches from the peak of Mt. Shasta to the door of its fully integrated abattoir. But like an itch that must scratched, the bottom line must be confirmed:

Does the beef taste good?

In short, yeeeeeeee haaawwww! Paint me blue and call me silly, you better believe it does.

To begin with, the beeves are a “closed herd”—one of the most unique aspects of the Prather Ranch. This means that since 1975, the genetics allowed to enter the herd have been hand selected and tested for marbling, tenderness, and taste. The prize bull seamen is integrated through artificial insemination.

Operating this way is time consuming and expensive. In order to maintain their herd size and meet demand, the Ranch must forecast animal husbandry at least two years out. The Ranch can’t just buy beeves at auction, graze them for a few months, harvest them, and slap the Prather Ranch label on them—which is unfortunately the status quo for many large, so-called sustainable ranching operations.

Each animal is born and raised on the Ranch in a low stress environment, without the use of antibiotics or hormones, and surrounded by the comfort of friends and family throughout their lives. They are pasture raised and spend their last 90 days finishing on a healthy mix of grass, timothy hay, alfalfa, and barley. They eat no corn, no soy, and no animal by products, ever. Beeves are slaughtered between 18–24 months. After passing through the Ranch’s onsite Certified Humane abattoir—built with Temple Grandin’s design in mind—the animal receives a quick and respectful death. One-by-one, each treated as an individual, the beeves are then hand dressed, hung, and dry aged, for 14–21 days.

During the dry ageing process, each beef looses up to 20% of its body mass: tissues and muscle fibers break down, the beef’s flavor intensifies, and the meat itself actually becomes denser. After aging, the Ranch breaks down each animal and tags each individual package with the animal’s ear tag number, which can be traced back generation-to-generation, pasture-to-pasture. This is a practice you wont find at your local grocer or anywhere else.

Visiting the Ranch forever changed my community, my perception of the meat industry, and my relationship with food. I’ve had the pleasure of consuming every part of these magnificent animals. Every morsel of goodness starts with the best intentions and practices. It tastes of care for the land and the animal, executed with absolute sincerity.

Respect for life, humane treatment of animals, holistic management of land, and unparalleled passion for “the best” tasting beef, are unmistakable qualities of the Prather Ranch. I feel so lucky for my little part in their story, but mostly to have meet the people and animals that make the Prather Ranch so special.

If you ever get a chance to visit them, do it.