Silvies Valley Ranch
Part II: Cattle, Goats, and Dogs, Oh My!
Because nothing at Silvies can be the same as everyone else, even their livestock is absolutely unique! I can’t wait to share with you just what I got to learn from their passionate staff about the animals that make up Silvies Valley Ranch.
Silvies Heritage Beef
The specifically designed line of beef at Silvies Valley is called “Heritage Beef.” A name that basically describes what it represents; a mix of old lines of cattle (Red Angus and Hereford), that are smaller and better able to fatten naturally on grass, clover and wildflowers. This is instead of grain, corn or alfalfa finished commercial cattle.
Maturing at a final weight of 1200 pounds in order to yield tastier, smaller cuts, these animals are also easier on the natural riparian meadows that they are raised on. Vice President Colby Marshall said it best, it’s “naked beef.” The processed cattle bred, raised, and grown on the ranch are free of antibiotics, hormones, corn, alfalfa, grain, chemically treated or polluted water, or any other artificial additives used as a “cover up for poor genetics.” Lean and not covered in fat, what you taste is “purely natural!”
Maintaining the organic and natural labels for their beef is extremely hard. In fact, for Silvies Valley Ranch, it is harder for them to keep this label than the average cattleman. Why? Well, they have to ship their animals to Dayton, Washington; the closest certified organic slaughter house. Then they bring the meat back whole to their restaurant where their personal chef uses a bandsaw to make the perfect cut for guests dining at the restaurant.
Not only is the slaughtering harder, but they also graze their animals on a combination of public and private lands. In order to be organic, they must re-certify every single year which includes a variety of testing, paperwork and more. I am above and beyond impressed that they would go to this much work in order to give their guests, a predominantly urban demographic, exactly what they want when it comes to their meat. They ensure that the animals are taken care of, processed, certified and more. In order to keep their organic status with the public lands, the staff at Silvies Valley proactively works with the BLM to make sure that they properly care for noxious weeds and other lands management practices in an organically approved way.
When a top veterinarian and former chief
of staff for a congressmen combine their passion for the ranching industry they grew up in, there are a variety of unique ideas and concepts they capitalize on to ensure the best for their guests and their livestock. For starters, using a concept based out of the University of Wyoming, they have created windbreak fences to reduce wind chill during calving season. This helps keep the cows and calves healthy, as well as keep them from shivering off their nutrition during the cold winter months of Silvies Valley.
American Range Goats
I have to admit, I wasn’t too sure what to think about goats. I hadn’t had much experience with the creature except for those times I made Round Robin Master Showmanship in my 4H days. Back then, meat goats were just starting to become a part of my local 4H county fair and, I have to say, I enjoyed them much more than the pygmy goats (I’m tall! They’re hard to show!) and the dairy goats. Colby was so excited to show me the goats that they had developed, a project of Sandy Campbell who, like everything with the ranch, has put in an extreme amount of research, education, and networking to find the ultimate component to their ranch.
A state of the art kidding barn, the same attention to detail that is given to everything on the ranch, is also given to the goat kids (as well as the calves). A variety of barns, vet assistants and more make sure that all animals are taken care of 24/7.
Goat meat is called “chevon” and is one of the fastest growing meat commodities with traditional Americans due to its tastiness, leanness, and low-cholesterol profile. The American Range Goat, a breed developed from four different varieties of meat goats by the Silvies Valley Ranch team, derive from the Kalahari, Boer, Savanah, and Spanish breeds of meat goats. The herd at Silvies Valley Ranch is the largest herd of Organic goats in the world.
Do not be fooled, I haven’t become a goat expert in just seeing these goats; Colby was not only very knowledgable and shared a lot with me, but he also gave me a handout that can be found on the Silvies Valley Ranch website.
What is unique about the Silvies Valley American Range Goat is that they are developed to mature to a weight of 300 pounds. They grow, mature and fatten on native shrubs, trees and weeds. These goats can be found roaming every day in large beautiful fields with natural water and a couple “buddies” with them. These buddies are some of the 110 purebred Hereford range bulls, expert and professional shepherds flown in from Peru who watch the herd, the shepherds herding dogs (typically collies), and, my favorites, the livestock protection dogs. It’s quite the party out in the fields every single day with all of those individuals enjoying the fresh mountain air!
Trained from a young age, the goats come when you whistle, enjoy the more invasive plants that the cattle don’t want to eat, and provide a great compliment and conversion of invasive plants. They are extremely easy on riparian areas.
Goats are seen not only in the restaurant but also on the golf course as they are caddies for the McVeigh Gauntlet Challenge Course! You can read more about the goat caddies in my Silvies Valley Part I blog.
One thing that I always keep an eye and ear open for when looking at a ranch or speaking with a rancher, is what they are doing for conservation. Too often I find that ranchers are beat down for nothing more than that the other side literally has no idea how much time that they spend working on the land to protect the native plants and animals.
So, what are they doing?
Silvies Valley Ranch has been working hard for the past eight years to return Silvies Valley back to where it was before the Hudson Valley Fur Trappers came through. If you know the story, or paid attention around the Lewis & Clark era of your school history class, than you know about the Hudson Bay Company. Beaver pelts were what they wanted and that’s exactly what they took! Nearly driving the beaver to extinction, they forever altered the natural course of river ways and streams.
That is until farmers and ranchers alike came in with conservation plans to save the land and the riparian zones, as well as the thousands of native species that called these watersheds home. Silvies Valley Ranch has taken an active role in making this happen. Projects are as far along as eight years and as recent as one year as they continue to work monthly on creating these conservation projects.
I was beyond impressed with the amazing way that the landscape had changed, and even more impressed that I could see the difference just one, two or even three years could make for a section of the stream as it wound its way through the valley. I look forward to seeing future research, documentation and presentations on the conservation programs in the coming years!
There are two types of dogs that work tirelessly on the ranch; Livestock Assistance Dogs and Protect All Livestock Dogs. The LAD’s are typically border collies and work with the fluidity of companionship with the “imported” Peruvian shepherds. One shepherd with two dogs and a whistle can move a couple hundred head of goats around the property with virtual ease. For anyone who has tried moving hundreds of head of cattle know how hard this can be; goats are much easier!
I am a huge fan of the PAL’s because, well, they’re a pal! Meet Blake, one of two PAL’s that were out working the herd when I was on my tour. Bounding up full of smiles and loving life, Blake wanted pets, scratches and to sit on my feet so I couldn’t go anywhere. Like any animal on the property, these dogs were all kindness but, as Colby explained, “You should see them topple a coyote!”
As kind as they are, I do not doubt that Blake and his companion, both about the size of a miniature horse could easily and willingly protect their family of goats. It’s these age old tactics combined with modern day technologies that really impress me with Silvies Valley Ranch. I look forward to more ways that this ranch continues to push the conversation about where our food comes from, conservation, and eastern Oregon resorts!