Add the view of cattle
grazing on lush green grass to the red cliffs and meandering waters of the
Animas River, and you have the northern gateway to Durango,
created by the stewardship of Kay and David James.
Open-space preservation is just one of their missions as they find themselves at the forefront of the movement to provide grass-fed beef raised with sustainable ranching practices. Both from Pasadena, Calif., the two met in college, where Kay studied education and David studied business management. Spurred by his dream to leave the glitz of Southern California, David spent summers wrangling cows in the Rockies. After they were married, the two set out with the goal to work in agriculture and raise a family on the land. They acquired the 550-acre ranch in 1961 and became involved in the development of hybridized cattle breeds. David eventually worked in sales, both domestically and internationally. He recalls his the effort to introduce dairy cows to the Philippines at a time when milk there was available only in powdered form. They made the decision to pursue development of a portion of their land, and subdivided a 100-acre parcel to develop what is now The Ranch planned community.
Over the next 25 years, the couple oversaw this endeavor, including the formation of a business to provide the properties with landscaping. They grew native plants and trees, an enterprise that lives on as James Ranch Trees, a business operated by their daughter and son-in-law, Julie and John Ott.
By the mid 1990s, they returned their focus to raising cattle. They were interested in the new discipline of holistic range management because of the benefits to people, animals and land. Their operation has the cattle range in relatively small numbers on public lands, then they are moved to the Animas Valley to finish for market on chemical-free pastures. The Jameses practice rotational grazing, which mimics the grazing pattern of ancient herds and improves the health of soil and water systems.
“The cattle are never fed grain; the grass-only diet leads to meat high in substances such as omega 3, which are felt to be health promoting,” said David James.
They avoid hormones or antibiotics, which in turn selects for healthier cows that do well without requirements beyond what nature can provide. The results of these practices speak for themselves: A loyal following of consumers and restaurateurs are eager to buy the meat.
The Jameses have also been on the forefront of direct marketing, a practice that allows consumers to buy directly from the producer, rooting local economies and connecting community members. This is the most satisfying part, Kay James said.
“I am so grateful to be able to see the joy people have in enjoying the meat, feeling that it is safe and healthful, and raised humanely with care for the environment,” she said.
James Ranch Beef is distributed locally at numerous restaurants and at the Durango and Telluride farmers markets. Contact them at 247-8652 or at jamesranch.net.
Marje Cristol owns Linnaea
Farm in Durango and sells cut flowers and goat-milk cheeses.
She also serves on the Durango Farmers Market board.
Reach her at 946-2712 or marje@LinnaeaFarm.com.