Each steak has a story and the power to spark new ones

A great steak takes years to produce, moments to enjoy and a lifetime to savor the memories it helps secure.

A taste bud tickling wisp of savory aroma announces its sizzling arrival just moments before delivery to the table. The knife is met with little resistance and the first juicy bite delivers the rich, buttery flavor the aroma promised.

It’s not a good steak; it’s a great steak. The kind used to celebrate a promotion or anniversary or to impress a first date. The kind that, according to research, cements these joyous occasions in our memories and helps us recall them vividly in the future. Scientists have found smell, unlike any other sense, is processed in an area connected to portions of the brain linked to memory and emotion making. Which may be why smells trigger much stronger memory and emotion responses than the other senses.1

The smell of beef cooking may very well be intertwined with some of life’s happiest moments. The charcoal-infused fragrance of hamburgers browning amidst licks of flame on a grill might conjure a relaxing summer afternoon with the kids, or maybe the tailgate from that one epic game. Perhaps the enveloping cloud of scent rushing out from an oven opened to reveal the perfect roast recalls memories of lazy Sunday dinners with beloved grandparents.

Those who produce the beef that nourishes so many minds, bodies and memories can add pride to the list of emotions the smell and taste of a truly great cut of beef evoke. While it takes mere minutes to cook the perfect steak or hamburger, it took them years of planning and generations of hard won experience to ultimately produce each nutrient-packed, delectable bite. The overwhelming majority of those responsible for producing beef are families. According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, 91 percent of beef cattle operations were family owned as were 80 percent of feedlots.2

Cattlemen, cattlewomen—and even cattlekids and cattlegrandparents, if you will—immerse themselves in protecting, nourishing and improving the land and livestock entrusted to their care. And they’re getting better at their trade every day. While Junior may be taught the same technique to toss a loop and catch a calf as his grandfather taught his mom, the rest of modern ranching has seen overwhelming change. Scientific research has built on generations of cowboy ingenuity to effect improvement in areas ranging from how cattle are corralled and handled to health protocols to land management.

Ranchers embrace research and science. Each decision they make has the potential to impact their entire income for the year, or even years to come. The more they know about each decision, the better they’re able to manage risk in a business where weather and markets can leave them feeling out of control.

The long game

A quality product takes time to produce. That certainly holds true for beef. Years upon years of careful selection for the best genetics pave the long path to that sizzling prime cut. Herds are shaped and reshaped to line up with consumer demand and better utilizes resources. And only time tells if they’ve made the correct decision.

It’s nearly a full two years from the time a bull is purchased on a frosty January day to when a rancher can wean and market a calf produced by the sire. From there it can be up to another year before harvest and the true test of success. During the multi-year journey there are many opportunities for a calf to be derailed from achieving their genetic potential. It’s an endless challenge for ranchers to keep their cattle thriving. Water, minerals and feed must be plentiful and of high quality, health challenges must be predicted and—hopefully—prevented and adjustments must be made to counter the challenges Mother Nature heaps at their corral gates. It’s a challenge many producers are happy to wrestle.

High school sweethearts Jim and Terry Wilson have bravely navigated the rough waters of agricultural production for decades, gradually building a legacy-worthy 60,000-acre ranch capable of supporting 950 head of cattle. The V Ranch can be found in the rugged red hills north of the sulfur-laden bubbling hot springs town of Thermopolis, Wyoming. It can be unforgiving country, with scant rain in the summer and raging blizzards in the winter, but it’s home and they treat it as such—all 60,000 acres.

“This is our backyard and we take care of it accordingly,” Terry says. “We take pride in the fences, pride in the fact we manage the land in a way so that wildlife and livestock can coexist and thrive.”
Jim and Terry enjoy educating those that visit their home—especially hunters who reap the benefits of their conservation efforts—about the fragile ecosystems they manage and the efforts they make to preserve and often restore them.

Water has been the basis for many of their efforts. Kirby creek runs through a good portion of their ranch and had suffered years of mismanagement when they purchased the land. They were determined to improve the creek’s condition. They enrolled large swaths of the riparian areas in the Conservation Reserve Program and planted more than 500 willow cuttings to help secure fragile soils eroding from the banks among other conservation efforts. They also use water to help manage grazing and protect Kirby Creek and other delicate waterways. Cattle concentrate their grazing near water sources, so by installing tens of thousands of feet of water pipeline and distributing water tanks throughout their pastures they’re able to draw livestock away from fragile riparian areas.

Just as the land they manage is seen as an extension of their backyard, the beef they produce is seen as an extension of the fare they offer on their own table. Each steak originating from their herd is of carefully curated quality that is further embellished by their dedication to responsible and compassionate production. Fortunately, the Wilsons aren’t anomalies. They’re just one of many families who take great pride in stewarding beef from pasture to plate. We look forward to introducing you to several of them in this series.