A stone's-throw from California’s largest feedyard, diners at the Harris Ranch Restaurant can enjoy one of the superb beef entrees that result from a quality-focused, pasture-to-plate production system.
Last week, Drovers/CattleNetwork partnered with our friends at Novus International for a tour of cattle operations in California’s Central Valley. The primary goal of the tour was to provide Novus employees from across the company’s divisions a first-hand look at the beef and dairy operations that use their animal nutrition and health products.
One highlight of the tour was our visit to Harris Ranch. The group stayed at the Harris Ranch Inn, outside Coalinga, dined at the restaurant and toured the nearby Harris Ranch feedyard, a showplace for animal care and beef-quality assurance.
You might recall that in January 2012, arsonists set fire to 14 trucks at the Harris feeding facility, and the domestic terrorist organization Animal Liberation Front claimed credit. As a result, the company is justifiably cautious about whom they allow to tour the facility and the scope of their access. Fortunately, due to our group’s close alliance with the beef industry, Harris treated us to a comprehensive and informative feedyard tour.
The feedyard has a one-time capacity of about 120,000 head and finishes about 250,000 cattle annually. The company ships trainloads of corn from the Midwest, to blend with alfalfa hay and other natural ingredients for feedyard rations. As an integrated feeding, processing and branded-beef company, Harris also supplements cattle with vitamin E to help extend beef shelf life.
Harris takes pride in its animal-welfare practices at the feedyard, which include installation of shade structures and an automated sprinkler system to control dust. The Central Valley location is dry, with only about five inches of annual rainfall, and summer daytime temperatures are high, making shade and dust control more important than in some other feeding areas. The feedyard contracted with Colorado State University animal scientist and animal-welfare specialist Temple Grandin, PhD., to help design handling facilities and conduct employee training programs on proper animal-handling techniques.
Among our tour group, several of whom were making their first visit to a feedyard, comments focused on the surprising cleanliness of the facility, comfort of the cattle and efficiency of feed delivery and other tasks.
The feedyard procures a portion of its cattle through its “Partnership for Quality” program, which involves about 70 western ranch families who manage about 50,000 cows. Harris Ranch works with these producers to develop cattle genetics, management practices and a source-and process-verification program for calves they ship to the feedyard. An advisory committee made up of cow-calf producers help develop specifications for calves targeted to Harris Ranch Beef Company’s high-quality product lines. This program accounts for about 30,000 of the cattle Harris feeds and processes each year.
The Harris Feeding Company is the exclusive supplier of cattle to Harris Ranch Beef Company, California’s largest meat processor, producing 200 million pounds of beef products annually. Based in Selma, Calif., Harris Ranch was one of the first to successfully develop and market branded-beef products and particularly, branded natural beef products. The beef company utilizes the most advanced food safety technology and practices available and regularly receives high marks from third-party auditors in all areas of production. Since 1985, the company has employed a strict residue-control program that exceeds USDA standards for antibiotic and pesticide residue testing.
Our tour of beef and dairy operations reminded us of an unfortunate dilemma farmers and ranchers face with regard to transparency. Members of our tour group agreed that if members of the public could see what we saw throughout the tour – sincere dedication to animal health and well being and commitment to food quality and safety – they would come away with an overwhelmingly positive impression of beef and dairy production. Unfortunately though, a small minority of extremists are determined to manufacture negative publicity and even commit acts of terrorism against animal agriculture, forcing owners and managers to lock gates and limit access.