Teton Talks: Where We Source From and Why – Part 1

Ever since 2009, when Teton Waters Ranch was founded at the base of an abandoned potato farm in Idaho, we have been on a mission to create a regenerative, healthy and humane food system by being better for the animals, the planet and you. In order to do so, all of our processes must start and end with animal welfare, environmentalism and consumer experience in mind. We pride ourselves on the fact that these priorities lead to a final product that is in fact, better for our consumers by containing proportionally higher levels of healthy fats such as Omega-3 fatty acids and CLA’s – which are believed to reduce heart disease and cancer risks. 

It is vital to our mission to partner with ranches across the nation and world that share the same morals as our company. The success and growth of our company comes from the strong relationships we have built with the ranches we choose to partner with. Teton Waters Ranch’s own, Ethan Chutkow – VP of Operations, answered a few questions to give our consumers an inside perspective on where we source from and why. Continue reading to learn more.

Ethan Chutkow, Teton Waters Ranch VP of Operations

Interview Questions:

What does Teton Waters Ranch look for when finding ranches to source from?

As our company has grown, the foundational vision we outlined for ourselves over a decade ago has only been further validated by consumer demands and by modern agricultural trends. Indeed, the care for the land, the care for the animals, and the production of the finest grass-fed beef available is what Teton Waters Ranch pursued from the beginning on our ranch in Teton Valley, Idaho. But while the demand for our products has outgrown what that ranch could supply, we now still only partner with ranches that have the same production ideology as our original ranch. Consumers are becoming more educated on the benefits of true grass-fed and grass-finished, and the importance of regenerative agricultural practices. This gives us validation that we are at the right place at the right time, offering consumers, ranchers, and our planet a solution to rectify short-sighted agricultural practices of previous generations.  And it tastes better, and makes you feel better. It’s a win-win-win-win…

What standards must your partnered ranches meet? Why are these standards so important to Teton? 

Specifically, the most basic standard that sets us apart from others is our definition of “grass-fed.” We believe that grass-fed cattle should only eat grass. That means no grain nor grain byproducts, which are acceptable in other programs, but not ours. Layered on top of that is the humane treatment of the cattle.  Our core animal welfare standards are aligned with and third-party audited by Certified Humane.  Their program requires the strictest of humane treatment practices for the entirety of the animal’s life.  Beyond that we believe cattle need to be roaming the pastures and grazing, not eating from feed bunkers nor confined to any feeding pen or feedlot. As the cattle are able to behave naturally and eat the nutritious grass they are intended to eat, they grow strong and healthy. Healthy cattle don’t need to be administered antibiotics or growth hormones.  Those are not permitted in our program. It seems simple, but if cattle are provided the right nutrition from a healthy mix of nutrient-rich grasses, they don’t need to be doctored. Another win-win.

What are the benefits of sourcing from ranches that meet these agriculture and animal welfare standards?

The benefits are three-fold. First, the environment benefits. As cattle graze the land, they are dropping and spreading manure. This provides nutrition for the grasses and the insects and microbes that live in the ground. Working together, this system of ruminant animals, the insects and micro-organisms in the pasture, and the grasses themselves create more soil, and richer soil.  This then creates healthier grasses, which makes for healthier animals, which makes for healthier nutrients in the soil. And thus the cycle continues. A healthy pasture means atmospheric carbon sequestration (reversing the core cause of climate change), increased water infiltration (when it rains it goes into the ground instead of running off and polluting streams and rivers), and creating rich soil, which eventually eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticide use.

The second benefit of sourcing from ranches that meet our standards is that the animals will be healthy. Cattle that are allowed to roam, graze and behave naturally live as they are intended. I love the excitement of cattle when they are moved onto fresh pasture and the ensuing sound of them taking in mouthfuls of fresh, green grasses. The sight of cattle lounging in the shade of a tree in the pasture midday reminds me why we are doing what we do.  At midday in a feedlot, cattle are baking in the sun, panting, trying find some space to themselves, to no avail. The contrast is stark.

The third benefit of sourcing the way we do, is our ability to guarantee you are getting nutrient-dense, grain-free, antibiotic-free beef to feed your family. An animal that grazes on nutrient-rich forage ends up producing healthier, more nutrient-dense meat.  As Michael Pollan says, “you are what you eat eats too.” If you eat conventionally raised beef in the US, you are indirectly eating predominantly GMO corn and soy, which has been grown in mono-cultures that deplete soils, rely on synthetic inputs, and are nutritionally deficient.  These animals don’t receive the nutrition they need so need to be administered antibiotics and growth hormones. In fact, most conventional grain-fed programs don’t even wait for the animal to be sick before treating it with antibiotics.  These industrial farmers know that the feed they are using will make the cattle sick, so they put all their cattle on a “subtherapeutic” antibiotic treatment.

How does Teton’s sourcing process set them apart from other beef companies?

Well, as I mentioned above, not all “grass-fed” is created equal.  I’ve seen a lot of “sponsored” articles out there that claim “all beef is grass-fed.” The argument is that all calves are born onto pasture and thus eat grass, which is mostly true. They are drinking milk from their mothers and eating some grass for the first five or six months of their lives before being separated from their mothers and kept in confinement eating a grain-based diet for the rest of their lives. To call this “grass-fed” is deceptive, in my opinion. Other “grass-fed” beef companies feed their cattle hay or processed grass pellets in feedlots and call it grass-fed.  That doesn’t line up with our definition of grass-fed either, and also seems deceptive. At Teton Waters Ranch, we believe in transparency and authenticity; it seems that sets us apart from other beef companies. We want people to know what TWR cattle are eating and how, where they come from, and how they were treated. We are proud of our process and what we offer.

Transparency with our consumer is extremely important. Check out our Teton Waters Ranch Supplier Map to find out exactly where we source from! Stay tuned for Teton Talks: Where We Source From and Why – Part 2.