Editor's Note: "Meet the Farmer" is a new column that offers a brief profile of individual food producers in our region. The column will run each Wednesday through late October.
Jeff and Linda Mannix of Santa Rita Ranch bring the unique qualities of the Texas Longhorns to our local cuisine.
This breed of cattle has a long and colorful history. Originally brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus, they were known as "retinta" Spanish cattle. Turned loose by early settlers, the longhorn evolved through natural selection as a unique breed of cattle in northern Mexico and south Texas.
After the Civil War, the state of Texas was in financial ruin. Millions of stray longhorns roamed the southwestern part of the state, and enterprising cowboys began to round them up and drive them to the railheads in Kansas. The sale of these cattle saved the state, but by 1920 the Texas Longhorn was almost extinct. A few dedicated cattlemen saved 27 seedstock bulls and cows, preserving the longhorn at the Wichita Refuge in Oklahoma.
In modern times, dedicated longhorn breeders once again discovered the value of meat produced by these cattle. Because they evolved naturally, the longhorn carries most of its fat around the core organs - not in the muscle. This creates a cut of meat naturally lower in fat and cholesterol than Hereford or Angus breeds.
Jeff Mannix became interested in this unique breed because of its history, and then became enamored of the healthy quality of the animals. They don't need vaccinations, calve easily, live long and browse on forage other cattle won't touch.
Jeff and his wife, Linda, began ranching in earnest in 1992 in the Bondad area south of Durango. Originally, they sold meat only to close friends. They expanded to begin selling at the Durango Farmers Market in 2003. They raise all their cattle naturally on open-range pastures with no antibiotics, growth hormones or vaccinations.
While working within the community, Jeff discovered Steamworks Brewing Co. had a trash-disposal problem with their wet brewer's mash. Jeff began collecting the mash and feeding it to his longhorns. This gave the meat a rich, nut-like flavor. In return, Steamworks began buying Santa Rita beef to serve in their restaurant. It is a unique recycling program that benefits both businesses.
As sole owners of Santa Rita Ranch, the Mannixes put in long hours of work feeding and caring for their stock. They are a small, hands-on operation that welcomes guests any time at their ranch. They hope to continue the healthy lifestyle of small ranching in La Plata County, preserving open space and scenic beauty along with preserving their purebred longhorn herd on Santa Rita Ranch.
Marje Cristol has lived in Durango for 15 years. She owns Linnaea Farm in Durango, and sells cut flowers and goat-milk cheeses. Cristol also serves on the Durango Farmers Market board. Reach her at 946-2712 or marje@LinnaeaFarm.com.