Locally sourced, Naturally grown
SAWYER – It started with about a dozen head of cattle to feed the family healthy food.
That was about five years ago. Today, Jennie and Leif Anderson of Bluestone Ranch, Sawyer, have a herd of cattle and a team of hogs they direct market to area consumers looking for locally sourced, naturally grown meat.
“Neither of us grew up ranchers or farmers,” said Jennie Anderson, who manages the livestock operation. “I always had a dream to live on a farm. I always wanted cows and every kind of animal.”
With cattle, pigs, poultry, a couple of dogs and horses and some barn cats, Bluestone Ranch is just the kind of busy place she envisioned.
“I find it even more rewarding than I ever thought it could be,” she said.
The Andersons, who have six children ages 1 to 10, purchased the ranch south of Minot with plans to raise much of their own food.
“We were going to do beef for ourselves. It blossomed,” Jennie Anderson said. “Quickly we produced more than we could feed our family with.”
That’s when they turned to direct marketing. The meat is processed through a state-inspected plant. Packaged for Bluestone Ranch, the beef and pork are delivered directly to customers or through a Minot distribution point once a week.
The ranch raises Scottish Highland cattle and some British Whites. The Scottish Highland are slower growing but produce a flavorful, lean meat, Anderson said.
She grew her herd to about 65 cow-calf pairs. Animals are raised hormone, GMO and antibiotic free. They are grass grazed in summer and fed forage crops, typically purchased from area farmers, in the winter. Anderson said she is particular about her forage and seeks out higher quality feed.
Bluestone Ranch is a member of the American Highland Cattle Association and participates in its Quality Highland Beef program.
Her hogs are supplemented with a barley and field pea mix that Anderson said has netted good results.
“We are getting just a really nice, soft clear white fat. It has a completely different fat profile than your commercial,” she said.
Anderson started her hog operation with Berkshire pigs, which have been popular on hobby farms. The ranch since has gone largely to Mangalitsa, a woolly, hardy breed that is excellent at foraging year-round. The ranch also invested in the Hungarian red Mangalitsa, which isn’t related to other varieties currently in the United States so reduces concerns related to inbreeding.
Mangalitsa take a year to finish compared to six months for some other breeds, but Anderson said their great dispositions and ease of raising them make them worth it.
The ranch sells both the meat and Mangalitsa breeding stock.
Because she didn’t have the farm background, Anderson said she’s learned through research, conferences and consulting with her farmer and rancher neighbors.
“A lot of it is trial and error,” Anderson said. “I did my research as to what would produce well on grass. We are not farmers so I didn’t want to put up a lot of grain. That isn’t how I wanted them to be raised either.”
Her ranching philosophy comes from a desire to raise her family well.
“I am doing it all myself with six kids but that’s part of the beauty. I love having them involved in all aspects of ranch life,” Anderson said. “They all have jobs. More important to me is raising kids that have a strong work ethic and are independent and can help out around the farm. The icing on the cake is just serving our community with healthy foods.”
The children collect eggs, help care for the animals and 10-year-old Thor is looking to start his own egg business. Their poultry operation consists of a variety of free-range heritage breeds that produce an array of colorful eggs for family use and for sale. They also raise ducks that provide eggs for their use and for customers who are unable to consume chicken eggs.
Bringing some value-added into her business, Anderson sells rendered pork fat, candles made with lard and beeswax and decorative art created from horned cattle skulls.
The more challenging end of the business is marketing, Anderson said, although Bluestone Ranch has built up a customer base that is adequate for its production level. Marketing is mostly conducted through word of mouth and online at bluestoneranch.com or Facebook. Some product also is available at Twisted Creek Farm and Ranch Supply in Minot.
Because the goal was to raise food for the family, earning a living was never a focus. Leif Anderson also has a construction business.
However, Jennie Anderson said she considers profitability in looking at input costs, deciding which animals to cull and in making other management decisions.
“With every beef I process I want to have a better animal. You want to put a better finish on it,” she said. “As I am growing my herd, I am selecting for genetics that are going to produce high quality meat. I am very driven. I am very passionate about animals. I absolutely love creating quality meat. I love animal husbandry. It all kind of fits together.”
The original goal to produce healthy food and create a positive environment for their children has been met too.
“It’s been very joyful. It’s just been a good experience watching our children grow and seeing it all come together,” Anderson said. “We are just doing life with our family and enjoying the journey.”