Yampa Valley Beef owner Wayne Shoemaker prepares to help a cow deliver a calf Wednesday at the Bar A Ranch. Ranch employee Whit Gates is prepping the cow by attaching a calf puller. The newborn calf could someday be processed and sold under the Yampa Valley Beef brand.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Yampa Valley Beef owner Wayne Shoemaker prepares to help a cow deliver a calf Wednesday at the Bar A Ranch. Ranch employee Whit Gates is prepping the cow by attaching a calf puller. The newborn calf could someday be processed and sold under the Yampa Valley Beef brand.

S. Routt rancher takes over Yampa Valley meat label

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Bar A Ranch calfing

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Ranch employee Whit Gates corrals a birthing cow toward a shelter, where Gates and Wayne Shoemaker will deliver the calf.

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Yampa Valley Beef owners Wayne and Sonja Shoemaker stand at what they call the headquarters of the Bar A Ranch in South Routt County.

Got beef?

Local beef producers:

- Yampa Valley Beef

<p>yampavalleybeef... (not yet operational)

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- Greener Pastures Ranch

greenerpasturesranchbeef.com

875-0777

— Wayne and Sonja Shoemaker hope the new calves at Bar A Ranch stay in the Yampa Valley for a while - forever, actually.

The Shoemakers have bought the Yampa Valley Beef brand, and they plan to sell all-natural beef that is raised and processed locally.

They aren't ready to go all-out.

"What we're doing is experimenting on, you might say, a giveaway basis : getting some samples out for folks to try," Wayne Shoemaker said.

The Shoemakers run Bar A Ranch, which consists of more than 12,000 acres south of Yampa in Toponas. Barb and Alfie Fisher, who are in the manufacturing business "back east," own the ranch, Wayne Shoemaker said.

The Shoemakers, working with their daughter Lisa Lawson, will buy cattle from the Fishers and sell the meat through Yampa Valley Beef at yampavalleybeef.com, which isn't yet operational. The company is starting with just ground beef. The Shoemakers haven't set prices.

"We plan on loading this product in the next few weeks, getting it out there," Wayne Shoemaker said. "The focus is going to be on grill season. We hope to get that in the hands of consumers pretty quick."

The key is to give locals a product with which they can identify, Wayne Shoemaker said. He and Sonja monitor everything, even the beef processing at Mountain Meat Packing in Craig.

"When you watch over it from the time it's born to the time it's put into the package, you know exactly what the meat is about," Sonja Shoemaker said. "You know there's nothing bad in it, and nothing will be bad for you and your family."

Yampa Valley Beef: before

Yampa Valley Beef once was a co-op of 24 ranchers selling locally produced beef, Routt County Extension Agent CJ Mucklow said. The group started in 1998 and fully shut down in 2003, he said.

The group could never quite make a profit, Mucklow said.

Former Yampa Valley Beef member Mary Kay Monger said transportation was one of the toughest factors. They had to process and store meat in Craig, she said, which added too much overhead.

"We couldn't afford to pay anybody, and that's what we needed: somebody who could spend the time," Monger said. The restaurants and customers were loyal, she said, and selling the meat wasn't a problem. The group was breaking even, but that's about it.

Yampa Valley Beef members agreed to a deal with Shoemaker about a month ago. As part of the agreement, Shoemaker must return to those ranchers for more beef if demand outpaces supply.

"I think it's awesome," Monger said. "I'm sure he can make it work. It was just hard for us, being a corporation. There were too many people. I think this will work better. I really do."

Demand in the valley

Mary Jenkins and her husband, Tim, own Greener Pastures Ranch, which also produces all-natural beef for locals. They have been providing the meat for three years, she said.

The market has been good, Jenkins said.

"It's been really satisfying to serve our neighbors and give them something that's grown here and raised here," she said. "Our customers come back time and time again, wanting more. It's been very good business. We feel good that we can stay local."

The affluent community in Steamboat Springs is a boon for sales, Jenkins said.

"You have a ready market here of people that are health-conscious. : That expands to all parts of their life," she said.

Wayne Shoemaker said he wasn't sure what kind of customer base he would seek. In its previous incarnation, Yampa Valley Beef sold to restaurants in Steamboat. Shoemaker said he would look at that, as well as offering his product to guest ranches and individual buyers.

"We're going to try to focus on the, you may say, the attraction of Steamboat, with the tourists folks that come to town that would maybe pay a little more money for a burger," he said.

Green Pastures was selling its ground beef online for $4.39 to $4.99 a pound Thursday. Customers also could buy six 13-ounce rib-eye steaks for $90.

Jenkins wasn't worried about the competition, saying she thought there was room for another provider. Green Pastures sells mostly through greenerpasturesranchbeef.com.

Jenkins offered Shoemaker advice: "A good product is everything."

The product

Bar A Ranch houses about 700 Angus-based cattle, Wayne Shoemaker said. Yampa Valley Beef will offer grass-fed and grain-fed beef.

The Shoemakers said they don't feed the cattle animal byproducts or give them growth hormones. They are working toward U.S. Department of Agriculture approval for an all-natural label.

Keeping the meat consistent could be a challenge, Wayne Shoemaker said. He and his wife have tasted the first batch of beef, and they're proud of it.

"It's a big commitment to have a product and sell it to somebody," Sonja Shoemaker said. "You want it to be the best you can offer. We would be willing to show folks around if they're interested in taking a look."

- To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234

or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

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