From raising horses to promoting beef and starting a family, this rancher contributes to agriculture on all fronts.

Growing up on a Colorado ranch, Kara Smith has gone through most facets of the cattle industry and has found ways to both promote beef and prolong the ranching lifestyle for her children.

Photo by Kailey Sullins

Smith studied animal science at Texas Tech University, then received her master’s degree in ruminant nutrition from West Texas A&M University. She then moved into the animal health sector, working in beef quality assurance programs at the University of Idaho.

Keeping horses in every chapter of her life, from doc- toring cattle on the Colorado plains to learning new skills on a West Texas wheat cattle operation — where cowboys tie on hard and fast — she’s picked up horse knowledge from across the United States. Still, at the core she remains true to her values as a Colorado rancher’s daughter.

A few years ago, Smith returned to her family’s ranch, homesteaded in 1913. In 2017, she and her husband, Jeff, started Colorado Craft Beef, a direct to consumer beef business that operates in conjunction with her father’s 6,000-acre ranch.

A mother of two — Emma Grace, 2, and Addie Rae, born August 4 (just a week after her photo was taken) — Smith is raising her children in the ranching way of life and building upon a family occupation for generations to come.

My dad wanted boys. He didn’t get any, so we were his cowboys. The ranch stuff has always been my deal. I fell in love with it from the time I was a kid. It was more than just what I was going to do. It was a way of life.

When I first went to Texas Tech, I roped and ran barrels. But I realized that wasn’t where I wanted to be. My undergrad advisor, Kris Wilson, became my [horse judging and ranch horse] coach, and a mentor that actually shaped my career. I was on the ranch horse team with him for two or three years, and judged horses for him one year. When I went into grad school, he was a
big influence with the route I took to focus on the cattle nutrition side, versus focusing just on the equine side.

Here in Colorado, horses have to be sure-footed. Our sand is kind of like playbox sand. We don’t have a whole lot of hard ground. We raise most of our horses because of that. They understand where to put their feet and how to manage through the kind of ground we have.

Ideally, I’d like to have one be 15 hands if possible, but we have some little horses honestly that take a jerk from a yearling better than big horses. Most of ours [carry] Colonel Freckles bloodlines. I still have an affinity for that because they have good minds, but they’re also strong boned and strong bodied. I have to say, the ones I raise now have a little more finesse, though.

Anywhere from August to October we ship yearlings, and it does take a horse with a little bit more to them to go all day, every day. I like mine to have a really good long trot that can cover some ground. I’d rather have one that can go and cover country. Having to pedal one all day is agitating.

Land stewardship is huge for us. A ruminant cow is the best thing to utilize the ground we have, and the best time we have to utilize it is when it’s a growing, lush forage during the summer. One of the beauties of being a yearling operator versus having cows is we have the flexibility to move them.

Since we started Colorado Craft Beef, it’s been a new education. My husband translates all of my scientific knowledge into what a consumer needs to hear. I would bore a consumer with cow knowledge.

The opportunities we’ve had to talk to beef consumers I never would have had in academia. I think a lot of people don’t really understand the beauty of what cattle can do, compared to other protein sources. They can utilize [grassland] to produce the highest quality protein available.

Jeff and I were just chatting with Dad, and I asked, “Dad, can we run this place the way you have?” He looked at us and said, “No, you can’t.” It’s not because of mismanagement, it’s just changed so much. The whole industry continues to change so much that it won’t look the same for us, and it won’t look the same for our children.

There’s something special about shipping season, when you’re horseback at 5 in the morning, and you get to watch the sunrise from the most peaceful place on the planet. That’s a pretty lucky spot to be in.

I love what I do every day. Most people can’t say that. I get to pursue my passion.

This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue of Western Horseman.

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