Ranchers in Malheur County find a niche in grass-fed beef

Desert Mountain Grass Fed Beef, a co-op out of Oregon and Idaho, is experimenting with a growing trend.


By Pat Caldwell, The Malheur Enterprise (OR)

September 5, 2019


VALE — Willowcreek rancher Matt Rockwell is betting on the finicky tastes of urban American beef consumers.


So is Riverside rancher Rob Elder and more than 20 other producers in Oregon and Idaho as part of Desert Mountain Grass Fed Beef LLC.


“We are a new co-op. Just been going for a few years,” said Rockwell.


The two Malheur County ranchers and their partners of Desert Mountain plan to take advantage of the desires of a growing number of Americans who want to know where their meat comes from and that it is free of hormones and antibiotics.


Rockwell, who is also the president of the Malheur County Cattlemen’s Association, said the Desert Mountain template is a simple one.


“In our group, we require that our cattle are owned from birth all the way to harvest. We don’t buy cattle out of the program and they are all natural. We are actually going after a non-GMO label,” said Rockwell.


The Desert Mountain cattle receive no hormones or antibiotics.


Rockwell and Desert Mountain use a special breed of Japanese cattle called Akaushi.


Known for their tender, juicy flavor, Akaushi are a smaller breed than the average American cow.


Rockwell, who runs about 100 head of Akaushi, said the grass-fed only program does spark higher production costs, but it also delivers higher profits.


The key to Desert Mountain beef isn’t just its grass-fed classification. Hamburgers and steaks made from Desert Mountain beef carry a richer taste, Rockwell said.


“You are also getting less fat in it. It is not going to have a big pool of grease in your pan when you are done so you get a much better yield out of it,” said Rockwell.


That’s because Akaushi is a leaner animal, said Rockwell.


The retail price of a pound of Akaushi, grass-fed beef runs...