You’ve probably heard the phrase “farm to table,” but just in case you haven’t, let’s review. “Farm to table” is the practice of being able to trace the path of what you eat from where it was grown (the farm) all the way to your mouth (very close to the table, and the reason the table exists anyway).
And then we have farm to table’s close cousin, “pasture to plate.” It’s lesser known and applies only to meat, yet the rationale is similar. There’s value in knowing where your food was grown, how it was raised, and how it traveled to you.
We recently explored the pasture-to-plate model through the lens of this month’s featured company in our ongoing Brands We Love series: Bootheel 7 Ranch. This is a fourth-generation family-owned and -operated cattle ranch that’s stretching its business horizons through wholesale, restaurant and direct-to-consumer sales in Wyoming, Colorado and beyond.
Now, back to exploring the model. We flip the order, starting with the plate and working back to the pasture. Try asking these questions the next time you’re buying or eating beef. The answers, or lack thereof, may expand your thinking about the meat you eat and might even change your shopping habits.
- How did this beef get to my plate?
- What breed was the animal?
- How, where and when was the animal processed?
- Who cared for the animal? Who handled all the other steps?
- Where did the animal live? What did it eat?
How did this beef get to my plate?
If you’re in Colorado, it may be that you encounter Bootheel beef at a restaurant like Blackbelly, Kachina Cantina, Urban Farmer or Lumen8. About 80% of Bootheel’s business is home delivery. You select the cuts of beef you want via the website, then Bootheel delivers—to a common pickup point, or directly to the cooler on your doorstep if you live on the Front Range in Colorado, or via nationwide shipping. Bootheel has shipped its beef to every state except Hawaii and Alaska.
What breed was the animal?
Bootheel’s herds are all Black Angus cattle, born and raised right at the ranch. Every year, head rancher Andrew Wasserburger breeds for specific traits—such as tenderness, marbling and flavor in the meat, all of which Black Angus are known for. He also aims to raise a herd of good-natured, easier-calving cattle.
How, where and when was the animal processed?
Before Bootheel cattle leave the ranch for processing—and that’s the only time they leave the cattle ranch—the team scans each animal’s rib cage to grade the meat. It’s an extra step for quality control. The animals that don’t meet Bootheel’s standards don’t go to the butcher, and their meat won’t be sold to restaurants or directly to customers.
307 Meat Company, in Laramie, Wyoming, handles Bootheel’s butchering in a conscientious manner, prioritizing calm for the animals and quick, humane harvesting. After that, Bootheel meat is dry aged for 21 days and kept at a cold-storage facility in Denver before it goes out to customers.
And it all happens fairly quickly. To meet a demand spike during 2020 and into 2021, and consistently deliver to restaurants, Bootheel made intentional shifts in its operations in order to have cattle ready for processing year round. As a result, customers commonly receive meat that’s dated within a month of when it was butchered.
The dating aside, it’s also important to note that the meat Bootheel sells is free of hormones and antibiotics.
Who cared for the animal? Who handled all the other steps?
Bootheel is a family operation through and through, though split in two.
The “country” half of the family, led by Andrew and Anne Wasserburger, lives at the cattle ranch in Lusk, Wyoming. They’re principally responsible for the health of the herd and ranch management, which includes delivering calves, branding, doctoring horses, fixing water lines, and rotating the cattle from pasture to pasture.
In fact, the Wasserburgers have been ranching on this land since 1916 when Andrew’s family homesteaded on the land and progressively expanded it, all the while withstanding a financial crash here or there, floods and droughts.
And then there’s the “city” half, led by Jake (brother of Anne) and Kelly Kugler, who lives in Parker, Colorado. This team keeps the books; manages relationships with butchers, chefs and restaurant partners; drives all things sales and marketing; and oversees delivery fulfillment.
Together, the Wasserburgers and Kuglers have six children, all of whom are involved in ranch operations to some extent—and plenty of cousin mischief when they’re all in one place.
Where did the animal live? What did it eat?
You might get jealous of the view. Bootheel 7 Ranch is on the high plains near Lusk, Wyoming, and its cattle graze on—literally—thousands of acres that the family has divided into pastures for responsible management of the land and optimal nutrition for the herd.
As Anne describes in a 2021 blog post, “[i]n grazing these lands, we embrace regenerative and sustainable ranching practices to achieve the simple goal that we, along with our fathers and grandfathers, have had: to leave the ranch better than we found it. …
We take advantage of the nutrients that livestock can offer to soil by allowing cattle to graze and fertilize during the most optimal months. Soil fertilized by grazing cattle increases both the nutrients and the amount of water the soil can retain. We also use cattle to reduce fire hazards by grazing down annual and perennial grasses, promoting new growth, and reducing dead underbrush.”
In addition to grass, for 30 days before processing, the Wasserburgers offer the herd a special flavor-enhancing blend of hay, alfalfa, corn, beets and spent grains from Colorado breweries.
It’s been enlightening to think more deeply about food supply issues by learning about Bootheel 7 Ranch and speaking with David Briggs of Sustainable Beef. We celebrate the brand and the people behind it for their commitment to quality and for coming alongside consumers who want to know more about the meat they eat.
Photos by Redbird Rose Photography.