Keeping it local
From wine and almonds springs an organic beef business
Berton Bertagna and Robert Vanella grew up together raising cattle and other livestock through Future Farmers of America and the 4-H Club. After graduating high school, they continued their partnership, jointly operating a 300-acre almond orchard, as well as continuing to raise beef cattle and other animals as a hobby—much to the appreciation of friends and family with whom they shared the spoils.
So, it was only natural for the two to go into the livestock business. One night, while on vacation together with their families in the Baja Peninsula, and chatting about just that, Bertagna and Vanella saw a group of short-legged cows cross their path. The animals proved inspirational. In 2011, Bertagna and Vanella launched Baja Vaca Ranch.
Keeping things local, free-range and healthy, and leaving a minimal footprint are top priorities at Baja Vaca. All of the cattle—there are 40-50 head as well as 15-30 lambs at any one time—are born of their existing local stock, or bought from a neighboring almond farm that also raises cattle. They live out on pasture near Black Butte Lake on a grass-fed diet with no added growth hormones, steroids or antibiotics.
“One of the other reasons we wanted to do this is because we grow our own hay, and everything that these animals eat. It’s either on our own land, or hay that we produce,” Bertagna said.
Baja Vaca also makes use of a mostly unused local feed source: almond hulls—turning a would-be waste product into valuable food source. “Almond hulls are really high in nutrition and cattle love them,” Bertagna said.
Baja Vaca delivers primarily to local families, and has recently begun branching out to select regional locations. Custom orders make up the bulk of the sales, though there are select cuts available at Bertagna’s wineries as well as Vanella’s feed store in Durham.
“Because we wanted to keep it local, we were fortunate enough that Chico State Meats Lab is cutting our beef in their USDA meat facility,” said Bertagna, a fourth-generation farmer and owner of several local wineries. “We wanted to keep that small footprint. They’re born right here local, they’re raised local, we transport them 20 miles to the Chico State lab where they’re cut, wrapped and processed, and then they end up on someone’s doorstep here in town. We’re talking about a 30-mile radius that they never leave.”
Bertagna says he and Vanella would be excited to raise more animals, but plan to continue treating the business as a side project for now. “We have fun doing it. If more people are buying more meat, we’ll raise more. If it just stays where it’s at, we’re happy where it’s at.”