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Where the Longhorn cattle feed

Thursday, August 8th, 2013 | Posted by

By ANDREA GRANAHAN / West County Correspondent

I’m back in the saddle again

Out where a friend is a friend

Where the Longhorn cattle feed,

On the lowly jimsom weed

Back in the saddle again.

— Gene Autry

At the Twisted Horn Ranch near Valley Ford, the Longhorns eat sweet Valley Ford grass, not jimsom weed, and David Beck is the cowboy who is back in the saddle again.

He grew up on a ranch that raised black Angus cattle, and he earned his living hauling hay until he met Kristine, a software geek and “suburban girl,” on a Little League field in Petaluma. Both were single parents of two young boys.

“That was the only place I ever went besides work,” said Kristine Beck. “He was my son’s coach.” Chemistry sparked, romance bloomed and they married, blending their families.

“Then one year we went to the Grand Canyon on a big three-generation family trip,” she said. “He saw some Longhorn horns mounted and was fascinated.”

Kristine decided to find him some cattle for a birthday surprise after discovering discovered there were no mounted Longhorn horns in Sonoma County. She located

Kristine Beck feeds Rocky. Photo by Kent Porter

Kristine Beck feeds Rocky. Photo by Kent Porter

a Longhorn cattle breeder and bought two calves, working in secret with a friend to halter break them. On David’s birthday she presented him with Rocky and Bullwinkle, saying, “Grow your own horns.”

That was in 2008. Bullwinkle was a contrary animal and ended up in the freezer. When they tasted the beef, they were astonished at its flavor and decided to buy more steers. Rocky, a more affectionate animal, is a family pet to this day.

Their herd grew to the current 26, and when Kristine lost her job, they turned to ranching full time. They have a sustainable operation, leasing 80 acres of grassland for the Longhorns.

While not certified, their animals are organically raised, feeding solely on grass, getting no antibiotics. They use horses to herd them because Longhorns do not like noise.

“They can’t be pushed, only persuaded,” said Kristine. “They have to think that what they do is their own idea. They are much smarter than other breeds and can be wily. You have to know cow psychology to manage them.”

Longhorns were brought to the New World by the Spanish. Some escaped, others were domesticated, Kristine said.

“They survived because they were hardier than other breeds. They eat less, they are disease resistant, and they live a lot longer than the British and European breeds.”

A Longhorn can live between 20 and 30 years. Cows can be bred until they are 20, while other breeds stop at 9 or 10. The Becks have recently added cows to their herd of steers.

“I finally demanded some girls,” said Kristine. The Becks have two cows whose first calves will arrive in late fall. They have no bulls.

“Bulls are very hard on fences, and we are surrounded by dairy cows,” Kristine said.

The ranching couple takes their steers to a USDA approved slaughterhouse in Petaluma and in the Bay Area market their beef at goodeggs.com. They also sell half or quarter shares of a steer at twistedhorn@comcast.net.

Kristine said they find a ready market because Longhorn is one red meat you can eat without worrying about cholesterol. It is lower in cholesterol than white meat chicken (61.5 grams vs. 85.7 grams per serving). It also is high in omega 3 fatty acids, making it perfect for athletes or people with cardio problems.

All that from a breed that almost became extinct because ranchers turned to cattle that were easier to fatten, especially when fed on grain.

“Six ranchers in Texas saved the breed with a special breeding program,” said Kristine. “We have eaten other grass fed animals and none taste as good. It’s not true the flavor is in the fat. With this, the flavor is in the meat, but because it is so lean, it cooks 30 to 40 percent faster. You mustn’t overcook it.”

How does she feel about full time ranching?

“I’m hooked on ranching, and you couldn’t get me back in an office again.”

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Andrea Granahan is our Bodega area correspondent.
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