Who We Are

Meet The Bovines
Meet Uncompahgre Farm’s herd of red and black baldies- bringing together the best qualities of Hereford and Red and Black Angus. A critical aspect of regenerative agriculture is making sure we have the right animals for the pasture- suiting breed, size, and even temperament to the fields and managing them properly to improve the land. Hippo is the herd bull, a pure red angus with a gentle demeanor and the full curves of his namesake. The gals are adapted to the high elevations of the Western Slope (necessary to avoid brisket disease), and rather than needing corn to gain weight, their smaller frames are better suited to being grass-fed. In addition, they have a lighter impact on the landscape, tolerate our high desert temperature extremes, and they’re pretty calm- for the most part, though sometimes things get a little western.

Meet Your Rancher- Caleb Valdez
Born in rural New Mexico, I grew up around livestock as my family trained horses and were farriers, and my brother worked on El SueƱo Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. This is where I first developed stockmanship skills- reading the swiveling ears, eye rolls, and head tosses of the cattle, projecting calm to the milling herd, applying and releasing pressure from horseback to get them to head in the right direction. When I was in third grade, my dad worked a ranch in Northern New Mexico that was so isolated I had to be home-schooled, which in reality meant I spent my days ranching. Eventually we moved to Cortez, CO, where I lived and breathed rodeo riding, 4-H steer competitions, and basketball. My nickname on the team was Cowboy, and I can still hear my coach yelling from the bench “Cowboy, Cowboy!” as I ran for a layup. After high school I thought I needed to make something of myself, so I left. I worked to pay my way as I bounced around different universities, and finally I landed a career. As the first in my family with a degree and a steady job with benefits, my parents were proud, but the work didn’t excite me- I was caught in those golden handcuffs. I kept punching the clock so I could travel and buy skis and bikes, but my computer felt far removed from the land. Needing a change, I packed my bags and left for CA in 2018 to be on the Redding Hotshots to fight wildland fire. This was one of the worst fire seasons on record, but the stress of the extreme fire behavior helped me forge lifelong friendships and learn to make decisions quickly. I also finally had enough saved to buy some cattle. Once I get an idea in my head, I like to go all in, and I suddenly found myself leading four cows and a bull away from sales on Craigslist, and me still with a fulltime job and not an acre to my name. For a landless start-up with my savings invested in the herd, I hoped to knit together a pasture rotation by leasing smaller fields owned by community members. That meant I was due for some nerve-wracking door-knocking- would folks think this was a hare-brained scheme? Luckily I met Frieda, a spry 87-year-old who’d worked cows, horses, and land all her life, and she took a gamble on me. Her encouragement kept me going, and our community-based pasture rotation grew to include land leased from ten other community members. Just as the herd is growing, so is the Uncompahgre Farms community, and I’m incredibly grateful for the continued support. The goal is to improve the land, treat the animals well, and provide you with the quality, grass-fed beef you deserve!

What We Do

Farm chores change with the seasons: feeding hay in the winter, calving in the spring, irrigating through summer, putting up hay in the summer and fall, and installing, fixing, taking down, and moving fence in any and all weather- that’s an essential part of avoiding overgrazing and making sure the animals have the positive impact on the land. While I move the cows between fields, they’re never piled into a big rig and driven hundreds of miles to be crammed into a feedlot, they get to stick to what they know best- eating grass. Because I’m still starting out and don’t own land yet, maintaining fields locally also means paying a fair lease to community members for pasture, keeping green space green and providing a local source of beef, so that folks can actually see how and where the cows are raised, and even visit. If you’re interested in learning more, or maybe even lending a hand at the farm chores, please reach out!

Why We Work Hard

I started Uncompahgre Farms with three big goals in mind:

  • Provide a better way to buy beef, one which is healthier for the cows, the consumers, and the community
  • Reconnect folks to their food and each other
  • Improve the land through regenerative agriculture

For the community

When you go to the grocery store, those styrofoam trays of meat won’t be able to tell you where the cow grazed, what plants they preferred, what kind of weather they were born in. One of the main reasons I started Uncompahgre Farms was because I wanted to know where my food was coming from, and I want folks to feel the same connection. When you buy beef directly from small producers like Uncompahgre Farms, you don’t have to wonder what you’re buying. My cows graze in open pasture their whole lives, flourishing without antibiotics or hormones before being dry-aged for up to 21 days right here in Montrose and packaged for you. The fields are leased from community members who share the goals of improved land, better beef, and a more connected community. If you’re in the area, please reach out! I’d love to introduce you to the herd, walk the fields, and hear what we can improve. If you have time, it would be great if you can stay for dinner. After all, we have a motto to live up to- eat well, play outside!

For the cows

As you might know, most cattle end their lives in feedlots, crammed cheek to jowl and fattened quickly on corn and grain. Because of the unsanitary conditions, these cows have to be pumped with antibiotics and hormones, unhealthy practices for them and the unassuming consumers. While this system is profitable to a few, there is a growing movement to develop a better way to provide beef, one which is healthier for the cow, the consumer, the producer, and the land. I don’t know if I have the answer, or if there is even just one solution, but as someone who eats beef I wanted to at least do my part. I make sure my animals are living the way they evolved: eating grass, raising their young, moving as one with the herd under the big open sky. I try to treat the animals humanely every day of their lives, and I wouldn’t raise them any other way.

For the land

Like many of you, I love the outdoors, my time in the mountains never decreases but just changes with the seasons- mountain biking, hunting, and skiing. I tried to be a conscientious recreationist, but even when packing in/packing out and leaving no trace, I realized I was wanting to not just enjoy the land but to really do something to improve it. I was also learning more about the harms of factory-farming, and I came across regenerative agriculture, which aims to produce more nutrient-dense foods while restoring the land. Besides letting cows be cows, contentedly grazing in the field, regenerative ag practices like rotational grazing can actually help reduce the impacts of climate change. Essentially, when a cow grazes, that plant sends energy to its roots to take in more nutrients. This helps the plant grow, and it also increases how much carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil. Meanwhile, the cow is leaving natural fertilizer (aka organic manure, aka cow pies, aka the secret ingredient to rich, resilient, productive soil!). This vital organic matter adds nutrients, revitalizes plant growth, reduces soil compaction, increases water infiltration, and builds up the soil to store more water and carbon, so plants become more productive and the field more resilient. Because rotational grazing means moving the cows often and allowing fields to rest, the practice takes more time and effort. I’m intimately aware of how much polywire fence I have to build, and ecosystem improvements will be measured not in days but in years. This will be a challenging lifelong task, but I know I’m in good company- so many ranchers are working just as hard to do right. Uncompahgre Farms is just a small operation, and I know I can’t save the world on my own, but I’m just happy to be doing my part, one cow, one customer, one field at a time!

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