rachelcows

Female rancher raises grass-fed beef for community

As college students we have all asked ourselves the exact same questions — “What are we meant to do with our lives? What do we want to do and who do we want to be?” Rachel Wilson knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life — she wanted to be a rancher and change the way cattle is eaten and raised.

Wilson, 29, has gone from growing organic vegetables in Italy to maintaining thousands of acres of land in her hometown of Beaumont. She has also founded her own business, “Wild Earth Texas,” where she sells 100 percent grass-fed cattle — all before the age of 30.

“I went to Texas State University in San Marcos and majored in agricultural business and management, with minors in horticulture and anthropology,” she said. “From there I came home to find out what my family did. My family has been in ranching for a very long time. That wasn’t my direct path, but I kind of came out here asking the ever-pressing question, ‘What do I want to do with myself?’ and it just came to me, this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Rachel Wilson goes about her daily routine on the ranch, collecting farm fresh eggs every morning. Wilson hopes to add pastured birds and eggs to her products list next year. Her herd of Hereford cattle, left, graze on her ranch.

Rachel Wilson goes about her daily routine on the ranch, collecting farm fresh eggs every morning. Wilson hopes to add pastured birds and eggs to her products list next year. Her herd of Hereford cattle, left, graze on her ranch.

Wilson, who was born and raised in the Golden Triangle, knew that Beaumont was the community she wanted to be a part of for the rest of her life, even after studying agricultural processes around the world.

“A lot of things were happening in Beaumont, especially with Lamar coming up and the Farmers Market was just starting,” she said. “All of these things were helping to bring Beaumont forward, bring it up and uplift it. That’s the movement I wanted to be a part of.”

After she graduated, Wilson traveled to experience living in different places while learning about different countries agricultural practices.

“I did some agricultural studies in Italy for a month,” she said. “We actually got to go on a farm and look at the different ways they do agriculture from crop growing, but mostly from an animal husbandry side. It was neat to go see what other people were doing.

“For about a year, I lived on different farms, but I didn’t really visit any other cattle operations. It was mostly about confirming the path that I wanted to continue. I stayed in Nashville for about three or four months. I stayed in Portland for a while. I was in Scotland. I was in Italy. I was all over, and at the end of my trip I came back and knew this was where I wanted to be, of all the places.”

The old Carroll Ward ranch, just off of LaBelle Road, 30 minutes west of Beaumont, is where Wilson’s family have been farming for nearly 195 years.

“Coming in and working with my dad and my family on the same land, it’s really special,” Wilson said.

Originally, Wilson started farming organic vegetables for a couple of years before transitioning into the grass-fed beef market.

“To get started for my grass-fed beef, it had a two-year lead time, so it’s a project that we started probably three years ago,” she said. “But then you have to wait two more years before you can start selling on the market.

rachelchicken“We’re a calf-cow operation, which means we just usually sell them at the point of weaning. We decided to hold some of them back and see what our beef tastes like. We were working on this genetic process, but we had no idea. So, we saved them out and processed our first steer, and we were like, ‘Wow, this is really good.’ We got really excited about it and then started tweaking this grass-fed program to get it exactly where we wanted it to be. I started selling it at the Farmers Market and restaurants, and now I have two freezer locations in town and do home delivery as well.”

Wilson said the entire experience has been an incredible learning curve.

“I had no idea, until I got into beef, because you always see the cuts at the grocery store — you start to scratch the surface, and it’s kind of like falling down a big rabbit hole,” she said. “From pasture management to genetics, to the weather and everything you’re doing, is affecting the quality and flavor of your beef. Once we realized that, it was about how we could tweak it, how can we work it. We’ve been working with our genetics now, and actually getting DNA testing on our bulls and things like that to see our grass conversion and test for marbling capability. The whole science part of it is one end, and then the management of your pasture and improving our grasses and constantly working within our ecosystem is another part.”

Wilson said she has been selling about half a steer a month, but hopes to be doing bulk orders by next year.

“There’s always a vision,” she said. “You always have to have goals of where you want to be. The first thing to do is to smooth out production, to get the best product as consistently as we can. We’re very close to that. The next thing, we’re stretching out to doing pastured birds. We’ll be offering pastured chickens in the fall and maybe a branch of a different species. I know there is a lot of demand for other products, to diversify the line a bit, and then get into a grocery store.

Right now, we are working on smaller distributions, but we’d really like to get out there more in our community. We want bigger volume, serve more to the community, and branch out through the Golden Triangle.”

Wilson’s beef can be found at local restaurants and freezer locations in town.

“You can go to Monica’s restaurant over there on Calder,” she said. “She sells it and we’re on the menu as a beef option. You can have it cooked there or there is also a freezer location inside. We also sell at the Gather Paleo-Café and Market in Port Neches. We have a freezer location there, too. Then we do free home delivery every Wednesday and we’re at the Farmers Market every Saturday.”

Wilson said the concept has been really accepted by the local community.

“Our beef has been accepted not just because it is grown locally, but because it is good,” she said. “It’s a representation. One thing we’ve learned is that every single thing plays into a factor of the taste. That’s a big difference between conventional beef and grass-fed beef. You’ve heard, ‘You are what you eat.’ Well, you taste like what you eat, too. That works out well for the mainstream cattle business because they can take 200 cows from all over the state, put them on the exact same regimented program and get a very similar product.

“For us, our flavor is different because our grass changes from month to month. Every single steak you have has the potential to be different, or for more consistent product, you can say. ‘OK, the clovers are this way, they are going to be sweeter.’

“It’s going to be tasting different season to season. Every single month we learn what the grasses that month taste like. We supplement with some alfalfa that we bring in to try and sweeten it up to get some consistency across the board, but every single time it’s a learning process and we’re going to be learning for years to come.”

Wilson said she practices what she preaches by living off the land as much as possible.

“I fish and I hunt,” she said. “There is a lot of good foraging that you can do here. I practice herbalism off the land. I bake. I homestead. I try to live as much off the land as I can. That means raising my own food, even though it’s not for sale, and (living) the lifestyle I set out — not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.”

Wilson said she has gotten great responses from her beef and encourages people to try it.

“There’s a vibration to it,” she said. “There’s health benefits of eating grass-fed beef. Grass-fed meat is a leaner meat just by nature. It has a different type of fat in it and it will have less fat on it than conventional beef. There are the health benefits of it, but then there is the flavor of it. And then beyond the flavor it is more complex. We have a dry-aged beef, it has a fuller and beefier flavor to it. It doesn’t have a milder veal taste to it, which comes from an older animal. On average, our animals are eight to nine months older than what you’ll find in H-E-B, so that gives it time to develop and be a real animal.

“Then you have the heartstrings part of it. I know that I am supporting a local rancher. I know that I am eating food that came from 15 miles away. With that, you get a better nutrient density. You’re eating more locally. You’re eating what grows around you. It’s like how a tomato from your garden is going to taste better than one you get from the store. There is a flavor difference. There is a heart difference. There is a locality.”

Rachel Wilson prides herself in being from Beaumont, selling healthier meat to her community and living life as she was intended to, on the ranch.

To learn more about grass-fed beef and try it, visit Wild Earth Texas on Instagram and Facebook, stop by their booth at the local farmers market on College Street under the municipal pavilion, Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., or visit one of their local restaurants and freezer locations.

rachelfreezer

A new generation

Rachel Wilson said there is always an undercurrent to being a female in a male dominant field, like ranching, but she doesn’t let that affect her work.

“In the last few years it has really changed actively,” she said. “Some of the larger cattle operations and some of the larger land operations, all of the next generations are female and they are all around my age. The Clubbs, which have a very reputable cattle operation, a very large cattle operation in the area, the next generation is a female. Her name is Jay Storm.

“Then the Whites Ranch down near High Island is one of the larger cattle operations in the area, the next generation is also a young female. So all of the major ranches will be going through a shift here in the next 20 years or so.

“As long as you’re doing your job and doing it right, then you hold your own and you don’t let the feminine bias affect you. You do your thing and just go on with it.”

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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