The more you know

You'll hear ranchers like the Waddingtons refer to their ranch as a "cow-calf operation". They are describing the first step in the beef lifecycle, whereby mother cows produce calves on an annual basis. Those calves are raised, nursing their mothers and grazing until they are about 500-700 lbs. At that point they are ready for the feeding stage, where they grow to slaughter weight on a balanced diet of forage and grains. Learn more about the beef lifecycle

The Waddingtons

Yakima, WA

Have you ever wondered what cattle eat on a ranch? Oddly enough, you can probably relate.

"Just like you would do as a mother, you provide the nutrients they need through a well-balanced meal."

That meal, of course looks a little different for cattle.

"They are eating grasses and legumes, alfalfa and clovers. Then we make sure they have a free-choice salt and mineral package. Fresh drinking water is a big thing. They need to have a very clean source of water."

Read on to learn more about how Justin and his family raise beef here in Washington, while making the best use of the resources available. 

The Waddington Family

Three generations of Waddingtons work together on the ranch. From Left: Cody, Holly, Riley, Heidi, Crystal, Justin, Marilyn, Tim, Tyler, Charity, Liliana, Tristan, Tucker, Heston, Samantha, Aimelyn


Rotational Grazing

How exactly does a rancher like Justin make sure his cattle have access to that balanced diet? One strategy the Waddingtons use is rotational grazing. 

"We rotate through small pastures," Justin says. 
"The cattle utilize more of the available feed [grazing a small pasture], they move on to a new paddock, and we follow behind with irrigation."

In addition to cattle getting the nutrition they need from grazing, the pasture gets the rest it needs to provide feed for cattle again and again. Ranchers monitor the health of their pastures and quality of regrowth to make sure their management is sustainable for the future.

The future

Roughly 97% of ranches in America are family businesses. A core value of this heritage is the desire for the next generation to carry on and take the ranch into a new era. Justin's children are young and he doesn't know if they plan to carry on the ranching tradition, but his sentiment about it is likely shared by many in his position:

"Whether they want to do this, that will be completely up to them. But they are going to know how to do it. They are going to know how to work."

- Justin Waddington, Yakima rancher