Off Ranch, on to another generation
August 30, 2013
Ranches and islands are a pretty rare combination. However, the Off Family Ranch is located on an island in Colorado's San Luis Valley. It's where fourth-generation family member David Off is continuing his family's beef production legacy.
"Our ranch was formed by the Rio Grande River," David said. "The river splits and then comes together again about five miles downstream. The ranch sits on part of the island created by that divide. We're located 8,000 feet above sea level on the flood plain, which is good for growing grass."
The Off Family Ranch covers 500 acres where about 200 mother cows produce an annual calf crop. The Off Family Ranch was designated as a Colorado Centennial Farm, an honor given by the State Historical Society to farms and ranches which have been owned by the same family for more than 100 years.
"My great grandfather John Off and grandmother Marie homesteaded the ranch in about 1872, raising short horns. As a child I remember having Herefords on the ranch. Since then we've transitioned through a couple of breeds, including Limousine," David said. "Now we primarily raise Gelbvieh/Angus cross. I've partnered with my father, Gordon, for most of my adult life and took over the day-to-day operations between 10 and 15 years ago. My mother Suzanne gets full credit for being our behind the scenes manager. She also comes from a fourth-generation Del Norte family ranch."
David's sister Shawna is a registered dietitian and resides with her husband Kent in Durango. She assists with the ranch's direct marketing activities and organization of beef sales. His brother Kevin has developed nearby Grande Island Bison Ranch where he has produced bison for more than 15 years.
David notes that his family's ranch is one of few small Colorado ranches that have survived over the years. Operations at the ranch have evolved with each generation, adapting to changing industry conditions and market demands. David and his wife Keri and their son Ryder now produce growth hormone and antibiotic-free natural beef. From the time their calves are born and up to harvest time, their cow-calf pairs spend their days in pastures eating grass.
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"The beef we sell contains no artificial hormones of any kind," David said. "We don't give our calves anything artificial to promote growth. Our cows live their life grazing on green grasses or being fed hay we put up ourselves, and drinking waters that flow down from the San Juan Mountains. We also use national forest grazing lands in summer. When its harvest time, cattle are processed near the ranch, so there's very little stress in the harvest process."
The geographic area where the ranch is located only receives about seven inches of rain annually. Snowmelt from the surrounding high mountains provides most of the water which the Off's use to irrigate pastures. David says the ranch's location itself, along with fertile soil and his family's careful preservation of the land quality throughout the years, has helped maintain the ranch's livelihood through several generations.
"Weather is always a factor in our business," David said. "We're currently in an extended drought which makes it challengeing to grow grass in an arid environment. I'm sure my predecessors went through some periods of drought as well, but through the years our family has done a good job of not overworking the soil or pasture land, which helps keep the ranch sustainable. Keeping the land healthy is always important."
David says he inherited his father's creative problem-solving abilities which come in very handy as he continually evaluates opportunities to make the ranch business more efficient as well as profitable.
"My dad has been very good at making day-to-day operations efficient. Some of today's technology has made our job easier, but the cost of production seems to be increasing faster than the market value of our product," David said. "Maybe our calves are worth twice what they were 30 years ago, but fuel, machinery and equipment costs three or four times more than it did then, so it's more difficult to make a profit. You just have to be efficient."
Keeping the Off Family Ranch as a family venture is very important to David, his parents and siblings. He feels very fortunate to be a part of his family's legacy. Even though ranching is a tough job, David has high hopes for the ranch into the future.
"It's a gift to get up every morning and work on the land and with the animals," he said. "It's nice not having a boss telling you what to do day-to-day. I enjoy being a good steward of the land and maintaining a sustainable environment. You have to become everything from a business person to a veterinarian to a welder to a ditch digger to make it all work. I hope my son will be able to take over the operations one day. I have no plans to sell out to development, at least while I'm still around."
David's advises fellow ranchers not to be afraid to grow and try innovative ideas in order to improve the quality of your operation. He knows it's not always easy to move past traditions that are tried and true.
"But there are new opportunities out there. If they don't work, don't get discouraged. Go back to what works for you. Sustainability would be one of the most important aspects to keep in mind," David said. "You cant extract all your soil's resources and expect to stay in business. Be sure to think about what you're doing and make an effort to keep your soil productive. Your grazing animals will naturally give your plants and soil everything it needs as long as it is allowed to rest and recover between pasture rotations. Through smart grazing practices you'll have more resources available to your animals. Management and sustainability are two of the most important factors for today's ranchers and farmers to keep in mind."
For more information about the Off Family Ranch you can visit their website at http://www.beefbison.com.
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