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.
“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.
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.
BUHL — It isn’t hard for Chelsia Newton’s Ornery Goats to live up to their name.
As the animals gobbled their food Aug. 9, belching and snorting, Newton discovered the kids and the adults were in each other’s pens. She jumped into the enclosure to tie up the fence they’d broken through.
Shortly after, she discovered another goat, farther back, had its head stuck in the fence. This is a regular episode at the farm south of Castleford.
Yet, oddly enough, the goats weren’t entirely the inspiration for the farm’s name.
“My husband always tells me how ornery I am,” Newton said, “so he thought it would be a perfect name for my business.”
Newton didn’t get into goats for the meat.
“I initially got into them for renting out for weed control and weed management,” she said.
That was five years ago. But as she already worked a full-time job, she found the transportation of goats and fences was more time-consuming than she could handle. So she turned to raising them for meat.
Most are boers, South African meat goats now common in the U.S. But Newton heard that kikos are supposed to have better mothering skills and parasite resistance, so she got a few of those, too.
This year, she’s breeding 75 does.
“That’s really the most we’ve ever done,” she said.
Most of Newton’s production goes to auction in California, where she can get better prices and sell dozens of animals at once. But Newton sells some locally, too.
All goats from Ornery Goats farm are sold live, and Newton won’t transport to a butcher. The next group for local customers won’t be available until April or May.
But that could change. Newton welcomes locals who are interested to check Facebook.com/OrneryGoats or call 208-490-1251 to inquire. If she doesn’t have any goats available, she can probably connect you with someone who does.
Goats are usually 40 to 60 pounds before they are ready for butcher. Newton sells them for $2 to $2.50 per pound but varies her price on the market rate.
Ornery Goats had 110 goats in early August — including 50 being leased from another farm. Newton usually breeds the animals once or twice yearly. Most kid in December, with the offspring ready for sale in the spring.
“My eventual goal is to have four kiddings a year,” she said.
She’d also like to sell more animals directly to consumers and increase her herd to 200 goats.