California rancher, cattle feeder and meat processor focuses on consumer preferences.
We’ve all heard the saying: “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.”
In the beef industry, we could turn it to say: “Everyone talks about producing for the consumer, but just a few do anything about it.” Dave Wood, of Harris Feeding Company and Harris Ranch Beef Company, is one of those few.
Wood, one of this year’s Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame inductees, has helped build the Harris cattle-feeding operation into one of the largest and most progressive in the country. At the same time, his vision and leadership paved the way for Harris Ranch Beef to become a widely recognized and respected name in branded-beef products.
Wood has spent his entire career with the Harris operation, working his way up since accepting a position as a feedyard pen rider after graduating from Cal Poly–San Luis Obispo in 1970. He moved up to feedyard manager in 1978, then became the company’s chief operating officer and, since 1989, has served as chairman, beef operations. Wood also owns extensive cow-calf and stocker operations, completing the circle of pasture-to-plate beef production.
Harris Feeding Company, near Coalinga, Calif., is the largest cattle feeder on the West Coast and 16th largest nationally, finishing about 250,000 head of cattle per year, with a one-time capacity of 120,000 head. In 1985, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with the Food and Drug Administration to implement a residue-control program that included testing for chemical residues in feedstuffs. And while FDA no longer provides oversight, the company continues to test incoming commodities and finished rations on a routine basis.
The company takes pride in its animal-welfare practices at the feedyard, which include installation of shade structures and an automated sprinkler system to control dust and keep cattle cool. 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.
The feedlot produces roughly 50,000 tons of certified organic compost each year, which is sold to area farmers to fertilize organic vegetable and fruit crops. Wood chips generated from local orchard trimmings are applied to drovers’ alleys and cattle-working areas to provide en-hanced footing for cattle and horses and to mitigate fugitive dust. Emphasis is placed on securing feedstuffs from local farms, when available.
The feedyard procures a portion of its cattle through its “Partnership for Quality” program, which Wood developed in response to consumer demand for consistent, high-quality beef. The program 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 helps develop specifications for calves targeted to Harris Ranch Beef Company’s high-quality product lines.
The Harris Feeding Company is the exclusive supplier of cattle to Harris Ranch Beef Company, one of California’s largest meat processors, producing roughly 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.
Harris Ranch utilizes the most advanced food-safety technology and practices available, and regularly receives high marks from third-party auditors in all areas of production. The Harris Ranch HACCP intervention program employs the use of multiple-hurdles technologies at both the production and processing levels. The company has a strict residue-control program that exceeds USDA standards for antibiotic-residue testing. Since implementing the program in 1985, the company reports no violations of its own standards for antibiotic or pesticide residues.
Harris Ranch brands include Harris Ranch Natural Angus Beef, from Angus cattle selected for fine-textured marbling, and Harris Ranch Natural Beef, a non-breed-specific line of products available in USDA Choice and Select grades.
The company is a leading innovator in value-added beef products, and Wood helped introduce a line of more than 20 fully cooked microwaveable beef entrees, including BBQ short ribs, beef stew, pot roast, steak chili, tri-tip and others. Harris Ranch received NCBA’s “Best New Beef Product” award on two separate occasions for its pre-cooked beef entrees. Harris Ranch markets its beef products primarily in the Northwest and exports products to numerous Pacific Rim countries (Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines), Mexico, Canada, Ukraine, UAE and others.
Harris Ranch is known for working closely with its retail and foodservice partners to develop products that meet consumer needs and expectations, and they take that process a step further, by serving consumers (approximately 1,600 meals each day) directly at the Harris Ranch Inn and Restaurant located near Coalinga, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Feedback from restaurant customers, Wood says, has helped the company refine its beef-production and cattle-procurement practices.
Returning to the pasture portion of the pasture-to-plate theme, Wood began raising cattle at a young age, getting help at age 12 from his grandfather to secure a loan and purchase 20 cows, and the herd has grown since. He currently owns Dave Wood Ranches, managing cows and yearlings in six western states. In addition, he has a yearling and cow-calf operation in partnership with California rancher John Lacey, this year’s Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame Industry Leadership Award winner. He is also a partner in a 70,000-head feedlot in North Platte, Neb.
Wood is active with industry associations and has held numerous leadership positions, including chairman of California Beef Council, Calif- ornia Cattle Feeders Association and National Meat Association, Cattlemen’s Beef Board president and president of Cattle-Fax. He has served on executive committees at the California Cattlemen’s Association, U.S. Meat Export Federation, Cattlemen’s Beef Board and California Beef Council. His industry awards include the NCBA Environmental Stewardship Award and NCBA Foundation Vision Award, and Harris Ranch was named NCBA Cattle Business of the Century in 1998. Additionally, he has received NMA’s distinguished E. Floyd Forbes award and the Richard L. Knowlton Innovation Award for outstanding contributions to the meat industry.
But among all his accolades, perhaps Wood’s greatest achievement is growing a company that produces beef that makes consumers happy.