Grass fed beef, from farm to table
By Marg Jackson
One of the largest ranches in the region focusing on providing fresh farm-to-table grass fed beef, Orvis Cattle Company has been known by a few different names and was initially a sheep ranch.
That, according to Susan Harper, who is one of several family members involved in the operation. They are now a wholesale beef provider and do business locally as well.
“They contact us through our website Orvisbeef.com,” Harper explained of how customers get in touch with the firm to order beef, which is sold in quarter and half carcass lots. “Our beef is cut and wrapped at Medlen’s House of Beef in Oakdale. Our beef is also available at the Historic Murphys Hotel.”
Roughly, a half beef will equate to about 200 pounds of meat; the quarter beef about 100 pounds. Many are repeat customers and the beef can be ordered up to a year in advance.
Operating the ranch along Highway 4 in Farmington, Harper said this has always been a family business, going back generations.
“The historic Snow Ranch was formed by William Snow and Lydia Jane Board in 1873, and was run as a sheep ranch until the early 1900s. Local veterinarian C.B. Orvis married Ada Snow and introduced the first registered California Hereford herd in 1918,” Harper explained. “C.B. and Ada’s oldest son William Snow Orvis married Grace Harper. Grace and Bill took over operation of the ranch, and had four children. At this point the name changed to W.S. Orvis and Sons. Bruce Orvis and Jim Orvis ran the ranch together until the mid-1970s.”
In the mid-70s, the ranch was divided, and was run as Orvis Cattle Company, and Jim Orvis and Sons.
The family history indicates that the veterinarian – C.B. Orvis – came to tend to a sick animal and not only took care of the animal but also ended up marrying the daughter, Ada, helping establish what would turn out to be a multi-generational family business.
“We operate as Orvis Cattle Company,” said Harper. “The ownership of the company is Roma Orvis and cousin Donald Harper.”
As far as a ‘typical day’ on the ranch now, Nora Grace Harper, who is the daughter of Susan and Donald Harper, oversees the day-to-day operations.
“The work on the ranch is seasonal. Calving begins in the fall. Each fall day Nora checks and tags new calves,” explained Harper. “In winter Nora manages the breeding season on the ranch, and brands the calves.”
Work in the early spring sees the calves gathered and weaned.
“In summer part of the herd heads to mountain pasture in Bear Valley. The remaining cattle graze on irrigated pasture and native grassland,” Harper said of keeping some at the Highway 4 location.
No antibiotics or hormones are given; the cattle feed naturally and all are USDA inspected.
Harper added that eight family members are involved in the operation, all playing an important role in keeping the ranch running smoothly.
“We are a registered Hereford herd, and this was our centennial year,” Harper added. “We raise Hereford Bulls, and we run a grass-fed beef program.”
She said the family is proud to have continued the longstanding tradition of the ranch and providing top-quality grass-fed beef for those in and around the 209, ensuring a fresh and tasty product.
The family has also occasionally opened the operation as a way to share information and educate the public.
“We do not have an organized program for tours, but we have hosted international livestock groups, and California high school and college field trips for many years,” said Harper.
As with all ranches and farms, it always seems that there is more work to be done, always an animal to tend to, always one more project that needs to be completed. But Harper said the end result, providing the highest quality beef they can for their customers to enjoy, makes all the time and effort worthwhile.
“We enjoy the legacy that we are working to continue,” she said.
For more information, call 209-559-2122 or visit www.orvisranch.com.