By Helen Cordes
Photography by Ralph Mitchell
On a sunny March day, the lush tableau at Wild Type Ranch near Cameron, Texas, is absolutely resplendent. Spring rains have finally broken the curse of the debilitating two-year drought, and now a thick blanket of grass glistens in ethereal electric green. The waters of Waller Creek sparkle, azure again, and violet and buttercream wildflowers polka dot the pastures where 100-some head of registered red and black Angus cattle munch peacefully.
As we bounce along in the back of a weathered pickup, affable ranch owner Sara Faivre-Davis lets me in on a secret. “Sometimes we pack a picnic and a carafe of wine and just come out here and sit,” she says. “We say we need to keep an eye on them . . . but we just plain love being with our animals.” And for her co-rancher husband Ralph Mitchell and their two young sons, Eric and Alex, the feeling appears to be mutual. Every time we stop to take in another vista, contented cows crowd the pickup for a pat on their sleek, soft coat.
Increasingly, more and more appreciative beef eaters are becoming savvy to the goings-on at Wild Type Ranch, and especially to their unique offerings, which include a beef CSA program and one of the region’s rare sources of humanely raised veal. “Our monthly CSA is getting to be our most popular item,” says Sara. And it’s no wonder, really. In every order of 20 or so pounds of prime beef that’s already priced well below retail, Sara and Ralph often throw in at least $15 worth of extra treats such as local raw-milk cheeses from Dyer Dairy near Georgetown and eggs from the colorful ranch flock. But the biggest selling point of Wild Type’s meat has everything to do with the flavor. With a PhD in genetics and agriculture, Sara carefully tracks the traits of every one of her cows in order to breed for the tastiest beef. She measures the flavor-rich marbling through ultrasound and taste tests every cut with recipes she eventually shares with customers. In fact, Sara’s expertise recently prompted a call from the White House to announce her appointment as board member to the Federal Agricultural Mortgage Corporation.
Wild Type’s guiding mantra is keep the animals as stress-free as possible. “Our calves graze outside, right by Mama, their entire life,” notes Sara. “Every animal here is raised with the same care, regardless of how long they live.” Sara and Ralph also believe in the spare use of antibiotics, as well as a staple diet of grass and hay for their herd. “Our animals are hardly ever ill, but if one truly needs a dose of antibiotics, we’ll do that rather than stress an ill animal,” Sara says.
Keeping a close eye on the animals’ environment is paramount, as well. When the long drought shriveled the grass supply, Sara and Ralph supplemented with hay and small amounts of grain. But sustainable-land practices have nurtured the weary grasses as they waited for the rains—fish-kelp fertilizer spray encouraged new growth, and strategic placement of hay in bald spots transformed dirt to green as the cows headed for the hay and donated their own share of grass-growing fertilizer on the spot.
But even as the customer list and loyalty grow, Sara and Ralph say it’s a struggle to expand the market to keep the business afloat. Most days find Sara on the road to farmers markets in Bryan, Georgetown, Round Rock and Sun City. “It’s the people part that’s the most rewarding,” she says. “It’s really life affirming to talk with customers and other vendors.” Still, each trip is a full-day investment—from early-morning packing and long drives, to post-market unpacking and bookkeeping. And keeping inventory responsive to customer desire is a tricky science. Sara pairs unsold inventory with community giving, and donates around 100 pounds of beef monthly to a Milam County food pantry. While the CSA program helps provide a steadier, more year-round income than market sales, Sara and Ralph also rely on the sales of their prized registered Angus cows to buoy the meat business.
Still, a sustainable, outdoor lifestyle is a dream come true for the two, and an idyllic life for Eric and Alex, who delight in picking offbeat cow names. “We give a name to each of our animals, and we know every one of them by sight,” says Sara. “Recently, the boys wanted to use planet names . . . though we did draw the line at Uranus. And they got to name one ‘Sponge Bob.’” Sara and Ralph, however, favor names linked to music—particularly names associated with the Beatles and Bob Dylan. “Eleanor Rigby just gave birth to Rocky Raccoon, and the Mighty Quinn has just been sold as a stud bull,” Sara reports. “John Lennon was great, but he’s in the freezer now.”
Wild Type Ranch
2039 CR 140, Cameron