Family Ranch

Cowgirl to Consumer

Jaimie Stoltzfus is among a growing number of ranch wives finding their niche through marketing ranch-raised beef direct to consumers.

Jaimie Stoltzfus is among a growing number of ranch wives finding their niche through marketing ranch-raised beef direct to consumers and educating them on the production of their protein and the ranching lifestyle.

Jaimie Stoltzfus is among a growing number of ranch wives finding their niche through marketing ranch-raised beef direct to consumers.
Raising their children in the ranching lifestyle and making sure they understand where their food comes from is important to Jaimie and Austin.
Photo by Jennifer Denison

As cities have sprawled and swallowed family farms and ranches, urban dwellers have become disconnected from their food sources. During the Pandemic, however, bottlenecks and closures of meat processing plants, supply chain issues and rising costs created shifts in buying trends. One of the positive impacts on the livestock industry was increased awareness and interest in purchasing locally raised meats directly from ranchers. Farmers markets, mobile processors, online marketplaces and social media connected people from ranch to table and it opened opportunities for ranchers, especially ranch wives, who handle most of the marketing and distribution.

“It is the closest thing to raising your own animals for meat,” says Jaimie Stoltzfus of direct-to-consumer meat sales. Stoltzfus ranches near Big Timber, Montana, with her husband, Austin, and their two children — Elliotte and Kaycen — and markets meat packages under her Cowgirl Meat Co. label. She is also the fellowship and sponsorship director for Art of the Cowgirl and actively connects ranch women with mentors in the agricultural industry and Western trades.

Direct-to-consumer meat marketing is not a new concept to her. She started Cowgirl Meat Co. in 2015 while she and Austin were working on a ranch in Livingston, Montana.

“We love having people out to the ranch, sharing our lifestyle with them and showing them the cow they’re purchasing. There’s nothing more personal than seeing the actual product and how it’s being raised.”

Austin Stoltzfus

“We’ve always been intentional about what we eat,” Jamie explains. “When I had my son, we became even more conscientious of what we ate and what we were going to feed our children. We had really good beef right outside our window, and I asked Austin if we could raise a pig, and he said, ‘Get two,’ so I got 10. I made a business out of raising meat, so I could share the high-quality protein we raised with friends and family who were interested.”

Ranch Regeneration

The Stoltzfuses met while attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, in the early 2000s. Austin grew up on a ranch on the Western Slope of Colorado, while Jaimie hailed from Mesa, Arizona.

Jaimie Stoltzfus is among a growing number of ranch wives finding their niche through marketing ranch-raised beef direct to consumers.
The Stoltzfus family works their cattle horseback, which is more natural for the cattle and causes less stress.
Photo by Jennifer Denison

“I didn’t come from an ag background at all; I was born and raised in the city,” she says. “When my parents divorced, I got into horses. They were my thing and helped me tremendously.”

Jaimie competed in rodeo and other events, but her main interest was ranching, and she seized any opportunity to help on friends’ ranches during high school and college.

“I always loved the idea of ranching and told my dad from a young age I was going to someday live and ranch in Montana,” she says. “Sure enough, here I am and it’s my dream come true.”

When Jaimie graduated from high school, she loaded her belongings into her pickup and trailer, including her horse, and headed to Fort Collins. While at CSU, she was involved in the equine program and worked for performance horse trainers to gain a variety of experience.

She and Austin married in 2009, just after college graduation, and moved to Harrison, Montana, where Austin was hired on at Sitz Angus. From there, they worked on outfits in Billings and Livingston, Montana, before relocating to their current operation, P Bar Ranch, owned by Tom and Kristi Patterson, outside of Big Timber. According to the owners, the working cattle ranch “operates with regenerative practices to ensure the rich biodiversity of the ranch and the surrounding greater Yellowstone ecosystem is sustained.”

Jaimie Stoltzfus is among a growing number of ranch wives finding their niche through marketing ranch-raised beef direct to consumers.
Just like her mother, Elliotte loves to be outside with the horses and she aspires to someday be a trick rider.
Photo by Jennifer Denison

“When we came to this ranch, I had considered letting go of my meat business, because it was getting hard to operate,” Jamie explains. “Then, we talked to the Pattersons about their vision for the ranch, and they wanted every beef on the ranch to be sold locally in a direct-to-consumer model. I told them about my meat business and they were more than supportive of me continuing because it’ was a mutual goal.

“We were hired to run 200 head of stockers and yearlings on the ranch,” she continues. “Once they’re weaned, they come to us, and we run them until they’re 2 years old before we harvest them, which is pretty unique. We like the extra winter on them, because they store extra fat, which makes a better grass-fed beef product.”

While the cattle are a source of income, the land sustains the cattle and operation.

“Our focus is on land improvement more than anything,” Jaimie says. “We see our cattle as a way to improve the land and take it back to a natural state. Years ago, herds of bison passed through here and grazed it really hard and then they were gone. That’s how the land was designed to be grazed, and we’re taking it back to that state with regenerative grazing practices.”

“The more intensive we graze the land — every year we try to make our pastures smaller and our rotations more frequent — the grass comes back stronger, and our cattle are more finished than they were the year before. We test the nutrients in our beef and see them improving every year with higher nutritional value.”

Jaimie Stoltzfus is among a growing number of ranch wives finding their niche through marketing ranch-raised beef direct to consumers.
As her beef sales increased, Jaimie added pasture-raised pork to her products.
Photo by Jennifer Denison

With the health of the land and cattle in mind, the Stoltzfuses prefer to do their cattle work horseback because it keeps the cattle and, ultimately, our end product.”

Austin adds that, with every ride on a horse, the horse’s value increases, and with every ride on a four-wheeler, the four-wheeler’s value decreases.

Promise for the Future

In March of 2020, when the world started shutting down, interest in horses, ranching and all things Western increased. Due to the fragile food supply chain, consumers were actively seeking out locally raised meat products directly from producers and relationships tormed between ranchers and the public. As Jamie’s business grew, she added lamb for a time, pork, chicken and sustainably sourced wild-caught Alaskan salmon to her menu.

“I think COVID actually helped us tremendously, because it really made people aware as to where their meat was coming from,” Jaimie says. “The movement [to buy directly from ranchers] had already started, but the pandemic increase it tenfold. I believe as ranchers and consumers we need to keep our meat regional and local as much as we can. It not only creates relationships between ranchers and consumers, but we also don’t have to rely on outside sources for our food and wonder where it came from, how long it has been on the shelf and what’s in it.

Austin and Jaimie’s children – Elliotte and Cason – are involved in every aspect of the business and gather eggs to sell at farmers’ markets.
Photo by Jennifer Denison

“Our meat is the purest form you can get, and it comes with a personal connection,” she continues. “I can tell you the tag number of the animal and how it was raised, and guarantee it’s not processed with a bunch of outside animals. It’s a great way to buy quality meat raised by people who care about the animals and the land, and you’re supporting the ranching lifestyle.”

Jamie markets her meat at local farmers markets. She also delivers locally and ships anywhere in the contigious United States. Her clients include private individuals and families, a local resort and grocery stores. She enjoys the comfort that comes from creating personal relationships with her regular customers, and the chance to run her own business from the ranch where she can work closely with her husband and children.

In between being a wife, mother and business owner, Jaimie also coordinates the fellowship program and sponsorships for Art of the Cowgirl.
Photo by Jennifer Denison

“The kids go everywhere with me and are involved in moving cows, feeding the animals, taking animals to the processor and making deliveries. They also sell eggs at the farmer’s market,” she says. “It’s so valuable for them to experience not only working the land and taking care of animals, but also the business side. People underestimate what kids are capable of doing.

“We love having people out to the ranch, sharing our lifestyle with them and showing them the cow they’re purchasing,” she continues. “There’s nothing more personal than seeing the actual product and how it’s being raised.”

The direct-to-consumer movement opens the door for ranch families to start their own businesses and supplement their income, especially when the cattle markets are down.

“We essentially created an occupation for Jaimie and me, Austin says. “We would never be able to afford to buy a piece of land and this ranch has given us a great opportunity with this style of marketing and management. You have to be pretty open minded because this is not the traditional ways of doing things. We’ve been on this place for a few years, and it just feels good. I know we’re improving places on the ranch for the future.”

For more information on Cowgirl Meat Co., visit cowgirlmeatco.com

This article was originally published in the January 2023 issue of Western Horseman

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