Greener cow pastures
(Editor’s Note: This the second in a two-part series.)
David Gallino is your typical Nevada County cattle rancher.
He’s 56 years old, works an outside job to help pay the bills, and owns 160 acres near McCourtney Road that would produce a lot more money if Gallino sold it to a developer who would replace Gallino’s grazing cattle with a crop of brand new homes.
“We’re kind of dumb to be sitting on this … It’s worth a hell of a lot more to subdivide,” said Gallino, a 4th generation rancher.
Not that Gallino and his wife of 37 years, Barbara, want to sell their land. Ranching can be long, hard work – think of spending the wee morning hours on a cold day in February outdoors attending a cow who’s having her first calf.
But the Gallinos – who have been sweethearts since attending Nevada Union High School – love it. Going to work means hopping onto a horse just outside the door and heading out with their border collies into a wide-open pasture dotted with oaks and brimming with turkey, deer and other wildlife.
“On our days off, I just want to stay here,” said Barbara, who also has an outside job as a hairdresser, in addition to ranching. “Some people go to the mall. I stay home on the ranch.”
The couple hope to make ranching a little more profitable, hopefully sustainable as a way of life that young people could take up, by selling a product the Gallinos have always raised – grass-fed beef directly to customers.
“I think there’s a market for it,” David Gallino said.
He’s on a steering committee that’s met twice, so far, to explore the idea of selling “Culinary Cows” to Lake Tahoe-area ski resorts. Ranchers in Yampa Valley, Colo., are doing that, selling beef directly to Steamboat Springs-area ski resorts.
It’s in the very initial stages, but Gallino thinks Nevada County ranchers could sell at least some of their cattle this way.
Why do fans of grass-fed beef think it’s special?
“You know where the beef came from. You know what it’s been fed,” Gallino said.
Unlike feedlots – which commonly add such things to cattle feed as refined restaurant grease, poultry feather meal, and meat and bone meal from swine and horses – Gallino’s cattle only eat grass.
And brush. The Gallinos are public land ranchers. Each summer, they move their herd to the high country on a 67-year-old grazing allotment on Tahoe National Forest land northeast of Alleghany in Sierra County. In the woods, the cattle browse on brush such as sweet birch or deer brush. The Gallinos joke that “birch burgers” might be a good way to market their beef.
Here’s the operation in a nutshell: The Gallinos have about 100 head of cattle, some of which they keep on their 160 acres off McCourtney Road. They keep the rest on leased land in Shasta County because their Nevada County acreage isn’t quite large enough to support them all.
In the winter, when the grass isn’t growing, the Gallinos feed hay to their herd, which is almost entirely cows, with a handful of bulls for breeding.
Calves are born in January, February and March. On April 15, the Nevada Irrigation District starts ditch water flowing.
The facts on beef
Grass-fed cattle take two seasons of grazing; grain-fed take one season plus several months at a feedlot.
A grass-fed cow is sold to the feedlot at 650 pounds. It goes to slaughter at 1,050 pounds.
Grain-fed cattle often have synthetic growth hormones implanted at the feedlot.
Grass-fed meat is aged longer and cooked more slowly than grain-fed to make it more tender.
If you have questions about how to buy a grass-fed steer or cow directly, have it field slaughtered and butchered to put in your freezer, call David Gallino at 273-5978 or Ken Roberts at 272-7326.
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