Text by Sue Burns | Photos by Charity Rockey
There is no shortage of beautiful sights in the Central Valley. Sprawling fields and orchards, almond and peach blossoms shading the landscape, lanky cornstalks waving gently in summer breezes, tractors rolling in the distance — all remind us of the constant cycle of the seasons and life. During these strange, contemplative days of the coronavirus, we look outward from our homes for reassurance that life will — gradually — return to normal.
Livestock is a large part of this cycle in California, the fifth-largest producer of cattle in the U.S. Ranchers manage 38 million acres of privately owned and public ranchlands on more than 13,000 cattle ranches.* Lindvall Ranch, sustainably raising grass-fed cattle in pastures just off the beaten path in the Springville area, is one of them.
Joseph and Timothy Lindvall founded Milo Farms in 2000. The teenaged brothers raised chickens and turkeys on natural diets. They did their own slaughtering and sold to customers at local farmers markets. It sounds like an everyday thing for kids from a ranching family to do — but they weren’t from a ranching family.
Growing up in Springville with four brothers and a sister, Joseph was always interested in agriculture. He and his siblings were homeschooled by their father, a teacher. Their curriculum was bolstered with activities in the kids’ areas of interest. Joseph displayed curiosity about agriculture, so they began raising calves procured from nearby dairies. He read volumes on raising cattle, particularly grass-fed beef.
Always the entrepreneur, the youngster purchased his first laying hens and began selling eggs to his neighbors at age 10; he made his own magnetic business cards. This grew into the business that Joseph and Timothy started in 2000. During the first years, Joseph invested whatever money he could into more equipment.
At 15, he discovered the Stockman Grass Farmer magazine, which became a primary resource for all things grass-fed beef; he subscribes to this day.
It didn’t take long for a local rancher to notice the boys, and he invited them to help with delivery of cattle, where they were able to brand, ear tag and sort the livestock. Impressed with their work ethic, the rancher hired them as helpers when extra manpower was needed. Those first real experiences with cattle ranching provided Joseph with important learning opportunities. (Not insignificant was the fact that being homeschooled provided flexibility for the boys to work at the ranch while continuing their education.)
In 2006, Timothy transitioned to a career in landscape management and Joseph put his focus on raising grass-fed beef, changing the business name to Lindvall Ranch in 2010. The business is a small operation, raising about 20 cattle each year. It’s not Joseph’s full-time gig — he’s been a paramedic for many years — but he puts his passion into holistically raising and finishing his cattle on grass.
Lindvall believes that his comprehensive mindset is the biggest differentiation between his and other ranches. “I start my thought process at a lower foun-dation,” he said. “Most people think first about what is good for the cattle. I start with the land — if I steward the land properly, I can feed the animals well, which leads to feeding people well.”
Lindvall’s experiences raising animals are evidence of this philosophy. He is focused on what his animals’ natural habitats are and how they thrive, and providing that environment for them
on the farm. This has been his frame of reference for how to raise an animal with respect and care. “I value all life and when you can facilitate all types of life holistically thriving together, everyone wins.”
The ranch has two pastures, one at 800 feet elevation near Springville and one at 2,000 feet (about 7 miles away). The green season starts and ends earlier on the lower pasture and later on the higher pasture, allowing him to capitalize on the elevation change and the different microclimates. The lengthened green season gives the cattle more opportunities to consume grass throughout the year.
While there are more valley ranches that grass-feed now, grass-fed and finished cattle are still less common. Most cattle are finished on grain, confined and fed a grain diet for 30 to 90 days before slaughter in order to “fatten them up.” Lindvall Ranch cattle are “grass-finished”; they receive no grain at all. This is a critical defining factor and is especially important in the final months because loading the animals with starch changes the vitamin and mineral content of both their meat and fat. Findings from the grass-fed beef industry find higher levels of vitamin E and omega 3 fatty acids in grass-fed and finished cattle. Demand is increasing as consumers become better educated about the environmental and nutritional benefits of raising cattle this way.
Grass-fed beef is Lindvall Ranch’s only product. Cattle are typically processed in the spring by a professional company that treats the cattle humanely and with as little stress as possible — of paramount concern to Lindvall. “Respect for the animal that gave its life to be food on our tables is extremely important, not just at processing, but throughout the animals’ lives. As we align ourselves with natural processes, we can truly have that respectful relationship with the animals, the land, the environment and people, which is why our tagline is ‘Happy Land. Happy Cows. Happy People.’”
The meat is sold direct to consumers in bulk whole sides; it is cut, packaged, frozen and boxed for pickup at the processing facility in Exeter. Customers don’t delay getting their orders in as they are taken on a first-come, first-served basis until sold out. If a whole side sounds like a lot of beef, you’re correct — on average, it weighs around 300 pounds and could supply a family of six with a full year of beef. Customers often join with others to divide the purchase.
Lindvall Ranch is a family endeavor.
It’s important to Joseph and wife Leah that their kids experience ranching in the hills. For Leah, whose family purchased regularly from Milo Farms before the two met and married, it’s a constant learning experience. “I married into the business and I love it. Watching Joseph in his element with our kids and communicating with our customers are my favorite aspects.”
Reuben, 7; Ezra, 6, and Rhema, 3, are young, but they are involved in all aspects of running the ranch, from raising their own cattle to helping dad back up the trailer. His holistic philosophy of ranching, caring for the environment as well as the livestock for the good of all, has already been ingrained in their minds.
When queried about the benefits of buying local, Lindvall said, “Where do you start? There’s the connection to the land and people, of course. I like to know my farmer, and local would just be my first choice … back to environmental impact think about the fossil fuel aspect, the carbon footprint left when animals and grain must be transported many miles to market. Staying local, the fossil fuel impact is very low. Then there’s quality control; when your family is selling local to your own community, you want to bring friends and neighbors the best product and total transparency about the whole process.
I love to talk to people about how we do it, why we do it — it’s really important to have that understanding.”