The Country Natural Beef Story
Back in 1976, ranchers Doc and Connie Hatfield knew there had to be a better way – a better way to deliver the naturally raised beef products that consumers wanted, and a better way for ranchers to remain economically and environmentally sustainable.
“We looked all over the West to find a place where people, cattle, land and dollars could all work together in harmony,” reflects Connie.
Ultimately, they moved their ranch from Montana’s Bitterroot Valley to eastern Oregon where they found the open spaces they needed to run a viable ranching operation, plus a wide array of consumer marketplaces on the other side of the Cascades.
In 1984, Doc and Connie started conducting consumer research in places like Portland and Salem, and working with a group of their new-found ranching neighbors to produce naturally raised beef for these marketplaces.
The group agreed to form the consumer-driven beef marketing cooperative — Oregon Country Beef (now called Country Natural Beef), which originally was comprised of 14 ranching families.
Our consumers know where the cattle come from, and they know the people who produced it
– Doc Hatfield
The venture called for little financial commitment on behalf of each ranch — a good thing considering how financially strapped they were back then. Each participant chipped in a few head of good calves to get things moving forward, and for the first few years the co-op produced about three head of cattle each week.
All that changed in1990 when a Japanese restaurant chain started buying about 60 head a week. To help defray the cost of meeting the new demand, the Japanese firm agreed to pay in advance $200 per head to help defray feeding costs.
Since that time, consumer interest in naturally raised food has increased exponentially – and Country Natural Beef, with its focus on economic and environmental sustainability, has been well positioned to tap into this growth.
Today, Country Natural Beef is one of the nation’s leaders in natural beef production. The cooperative consists of close to 70 family ranches located in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico, North Dakota, Colorado, Texas, Montana, Arizona and Hawaii. These families own more than 100,000 mother cows managed on millions of acres of private and public lands. And, they have developed important working relationships with leading restaurateurs and retailers across the nation.
“Our consumers know where the cattle come from, and they know the people who produce it,” adds Doc. “They know what the producers’ land ethics are. They know the product will taste good every time. They know that the cattle are treated well. They know that we embrace humane animal-handling practices. These things have allowed us to remain economically and environmentally viable, two of the goals we set out to accomplish more than 30 years ago.”