Pure country

Albaugh Ranch raises local grassfed beef and lamb

Photo By kat kerlin

Albaugh Ranch, 5909 Tarzyn Road, Fallon, 423-3361, www.albaughranch.com.

As a wedding gift 14 years ago, Norris Albaugh gave his wife, Suzie, a cow named Lillie. It was sort of an introduction to the ranching life, with which she wasn’t familiar.

“He said, ‘She’ll always give back to you,’” says Suzie. “And she has.”

So has the ranching life. The couple raise cattle and sheep on the family ranch in Fallon. They mostly sell seed stock—semen, to the layperson—of native purebred shorthorn cattle. Their steers have been bought by the renowned Niman Ranch, and their beef has been served at famed foodie mecca Chez Panisse, begun by Alice Waters in Berkeley. As for their lamb, both Amber Sallaberry of the Great Basin Community Food Co-op and Ann Louhela of Nevada Grown have deemed it the best they’ve ever eaten.

Norris says the secret to the lamb’s flavor is they are hair sheep rather than wool sheep. Hair sheep don’t have as much lanolin, which contributes to the strong flavor of wool sheep. So the Albaugh’s lamb cuts have a milder taste.

“Most of our lamb customers, if they were born before World War II, they don’t like it—after World War II, they like it,” Albaugh observes.

All in the family

Three generations of Albaughs sit around the kitchen table at the home of Norris’ parents, Ron and LaVerne. There’s Suzie, his parents, and his children: Helen, 11, Wilhelmina, 8, and Waldo, 4. The kids munch on homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies as Norris, red-haired and blue-eyed in a western shirt with pearl-like buttons, is pointing at figures on a stack of papers. The papers show the 10 generation pedigree of one animal—a family tree, of sorts, for beef cattle.

“That’s the bull Grampa bred, and this is what he bought in 1965,” he explains. Norris’ grandfather, J.E. Albaugh, began raising shorthorn cattle in 1946 in Adin, Calif. They came to Fallon in 1969. Norris estimates that 60-70 percent of the cattle they now have share the same ancestors as what’s on this sheet of paper. They’re heritage cattle, comparable to heirloom seeds in the gardening world.

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Wilhelmina, who’d left the table, comes in from outside, sticking a yellow dandelion in her dad’s shirt pocket before skipping off into the next room. Norris twirls the dandelion between his fingers as he continues to explain.

“Heritage means they’re from a rare and endangered farm breed—that’s what it means to me.” He says preliminary research shows that heritage, purebred animals are more nutritious “than crossbred or these animals that more easily fit into industrial operations.”

It’s spring at Albaugh Ranch. New calves and lambs dot the landscape, extracting “awwws” from the Albaugh children. In such an idyllic setting, it’s easy to forget the science involved in this operation. Ultrasound readings measure meat tenderness. Organ dimensions show health aspects, such as susceptibility to parasites and immune system issues. And a lab analysis shows a 1 to 1 ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, higher than the average grocery store beef.

Grass roots

The ranch is not organic, but the animals are grassfed and free-range.

“The only thing that gets grain on this ranch are Mom’s chickens,” says Norris.

The Albaughs used to finish their cattle on grain, but when they switched to all grassfed, Norris says they started living longer, healthier lives. They also don’t have to be rushed to slaughter like corn-fed cattle, who can only take such a diet for so long before succumbing to ulcers, abscessed livers and other stomach ailments. Albaugh’s cattle are taken to the abattoir when they’re about two years old—nearly twice the age of some corn-fed cows.

“These cows live old, productive lives because the grass is healthier than the grain,” says Norris. “It shows in their longevity, and that’s what we have to offer is health.”

Special orders for Albaugh’s meat can be made through Norris, but it’s also available at the Great Basin Community Food Co-op and Wolf Pack Meats in Reno. At presstime, the meat does not indicate it comes from Albaugh, but Norris says it will soon begin carrying an Albaugh Ranch label on it.

“We encourage people to come visit because sometimes seeing is believing,” says Suzie, though visitors should call first. “There’s nothing to hide here.”