EDEN — The eight grass-fed steers didn’t bolt in fear or call out in alarm as Keith Huettig and his grandson calmly herded them into the trailer.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Huettig said July 26, leaning forward against the bars of the corral.
He focuses on keeping the animals in a low-stress environment. At their pasture at Homestead of Magic Valley, north of Eden, few cars travel the dirt road. Hawks and dozens of other birds regularly circle overhead.
From here, the eight steers would go to a farm near Middleton, to graze on better pastures for the last six months of their lives. Huettig said the ride from there to the butchering facility in Nampa is less stressful than it would be from his farm.
“On graduation day, the steer has only a 15-minute ride versus a three-hour ride,” he said.
Because grass-fed beef cattle take longer to finish, Huettig raises lowline Angus and Devon cattle, which are about 25 percent smaller than the typical Angus.
“Some of the larger animals won’t fatten on grass,” he said.
Why this niche?
“I was basically a potato farmer until about 10 years ago,” said Huettig, 76.
Dreaming of retirement, Huettig learned that his sons-in-law didn’t want to farm, but would ranch. So he sold a portion of the potato farm in Hazelton to his nephews, and he began a cow-calf operation north of Eden.
“It was a small ranch, and I wasn’t making ends meet, so I started looking for value-added,” Huettig said.
He studied grass-finished beef at a three-day school, where he met his future business partners. Together, their operations sold grass-finished beef to companies such as Whole Foods.
But two years ago, the partnership dissolved so each businessman could more easily pass on the ranch to the next generation when the time comes.
Now, Homestead of Magic Valley has an agreement with Huettig’s nephews —Steven and Doug Huettig — who bought the potato farm and brought cattle to the Red Star Ranch.
The 180 cattle from both farms graze at Keith Huettig’s pasture in summer, and in the winter go to feed on cover crops at Red Star Ranch. The cover crop grazing nearly eliminates the need for winter hay feeding — 30 days instead of 150.
Get a taste
Grass-finished beef is typically leaner than grain-finished beef, making it an ideal choice for people like Keith Huettig who need to consume meats with less fat.
And in his opinion, it tastes better.
“What we’re doing here is more what beef is supposed to taste like,” he said.
The Snug Bar and Grill in Eden, owned by Suzy Harper, began using Huettig’s beef earlier this year for its Philly and French dip sandwiches. The meat quality is better than they previously used, chef Tawnya Hale said. And many ranching customers can taste and appreciate the difference.
Probably the easiest way to get an order of Huettig’s beef is to call him at 208-539-7261. He offers several different boxes of beef with free delivery. For example, for $120 including tax, Homestead of Magic Valley will bring you 10 New York strips and 10 top sirloin; or 19 pounds of grass-finished ground beef.
Homestead of Magic Valley also sells and delivers its frozen product at Countryside Market in Twin Falls. Because it’s in a separate freezer area, Huettig offers it there year-round even when the market isn’t open.
In Burley, the Wagon Wheel Produce stand sells his beef in the C-A-L Ranch parking lot from 2 to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
A ninth steer had been separated July 26 for a special purpose: Huettig planned to trade it for five Dorper sheep — a breed that’s a cross between Dorset horn and blackhead Persian sheep.
He’d had customers asking about lamb, and because they seemed easier to raise, he thought he would take on sheep breeding as his own project.
By Aug. 17, he had 19 head of Dorper sheep, with some lambs expected to be butchered and available beginning in November.