Ranch Diaries: I’m starting (another) new business. Will it work?

I’ll soon be delivering our grass-fed beef to the processor myself, and connecting directly with customers.


Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first two years of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

A month ago, I came home from the Women in Ranching gathering in California inspired to create my own business enterprise. I told Sam what I was thinking: Although it’s great to work together on ranch business, I wanted something that was my own project.

I helped market grass-fed beef in Colorado when I spent two seasons on the San Juan Ranch in 2010. I thrived on the face-to-face interaction involved in selling a product I could stand behind. In the past, my idea for our Triangle P enterprise included something along those lines: a label, our own grass-fed beef, traveling to farmer’s markets. But our business model isn’t set up for that complicated plunge, and I let the idea go.

  • Hoot grazes outside while Sam eats lunch in the camper.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • My favorite part of spring is riding through the new calves.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • My four chicks from last spring are all grown up, although they still think I'm their mother.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • Spring flowers are showing up on the ranch.

    Laura Jean Schneider
  • This is the second calf for this Triangle P Cow.

    Laura Jean Schneider

But that’s exactly what Sam suggested after a few days of mulling around my request: a grass-fed beef business. His approach looked a bit different: I’d sell the animals on the hoof and deliver them to the processor myself. Then the consumer would pay for processing and pick up their beef. It wouldn’t involve direct retail marketing of packaged meat, but I’d still get some face-to-face interaction with customers by offering ranch visits, and be able to promote something I was passionate about.

I was in.

I faced the math first. Could I make any money doing this? After adding up my expenses and overhead, and giving myself a modest profit, it seemed feasible. What about the USDA’s recent decision to remove their grass-fed labeling? Was it even worth using “grass-fed” as a marketing device?  Since there’s a familiarity surrounding the term, I concluded it was. I looked up every grass-fed beef producer I could find in New Mexico. What about my company — Big Circle Beef — would make my product attractive?

Growing up on garden vegetables and home-processed wild game and beef made access to good nutrition easy. But most grass-fed beef today sells for luxury prices, cost-prohibitive for many of the families in my area. I felt strongly about changing that dynamic, and ultimately decided I could stand out in two ways: I could offer locally-raised grass-fed beef that could compete with even Wal-Mart’s grass-fed prices, and secondly, I would offer a variety of animal sizes to better help consumers economize.

I joined the Southwest Grassfed Alliance. I created a website. I set up a Big Circle Beef Twitter account and a Facebook page. I’ve put in my application to EatWild.com. I have some of our Gap 4 Natural steers from last year ready to go. I’m excited to sell folks on more environmentally friendly beef that’s butchered straight off the range like all beef was in the pre-feedlot era.              

But what if this endeavor is a total wash? What if, despite the tremendous amount of effort I’ve put into this project, I have to fold it? The chance is there, always there, running amok with my confidence. But I love what I’m doing, and that doesn’t have a monetary value; it transcends dollars and cents. I’m choosing to go forward with belief in my abilities. If I don’t try, I’ll never know if I’ll be able to make a go of it or not.

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