Photo by Hope Hunt
It might seem that an organic cattleman and robust capitalist would have nothing in common. But, cattleman Paul Schwennesen of the Double Check Ranch in Winkelman, Ariz. strives to embody both.
Schwennesen is on a tour touting his ranch and the American Way. In cooperation with UNL Extension, the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition sponsored his visit to Nebraska. He stopped in North Platte April 6 to talk about his operation to a group of about 20 people.
Schwennsen and wife Sarah own and manage the Double Check Ranch between Phoenix and Tucson .
Schwennesen was outfitted in cowboy hat and boots, but there was no aw-shucks-ma'am air about him He is highly educated, holding two undergraduate and two graduate degrees; one from the Air Force Academy and one from Harvard University.
He is a former Air Force officer. He has traveled extensively and one of his primary interests is history and government.
He believes government should stay out of the way of business, particularly the cattle business.
He said he wants to run cattle like "our grandfathers did" and to "give back more than we take away" to the land. He said organic ranching combines both goals.
Schwennesen believes what when businesses are left free to respond to consumer demands, the need for regulation diminishes.
Over the past several years, an increasing number of consumers have been scared by the presence of genetically modified vegetables produced by big agricultural companies such as Monsanto. One of the causes, Schwennesen believes, of the distrust consumers have for big businesses is that big business has stopped listening to the consumer.
Schwennesen strives to do otherwise. He runs a "vertically integrated cattle operation," meaning he controls his product from birth and he direct markets his beef to the consumer.
His operation has its own packing house.
He runs a 10,000 head cow/calf operation on 215 acres of land, 40 of which are irrigated. He sells to seven farmers' markets and 17 resorts/restaurants, averaging $1,500 a head, he said. He grosses over half a million dollars in sales with a net annual income of $100,000-$150,000.
His cattle are free range and hormone-and antibiotic-free. He seeds oats, barley, wheat, and rye annually in his pasture land, where he finishes the cattle without any corn.
When an audience member asked about what he does about lice infestation, he said he'd never seen any. He said his cattle "don't get sick and when they do, they get better" without antibiotics.
He consistently rotates his herd from pasture to pasture and said, "when cattle move, parasites can't flourish" because movement interrupts the parasite life cycle.
In addition to Schwennesen’s land being designated an important birding area by the National Audubon Society, his environmentalism includes recycling as much as possible.
For example, he mixes cattle offal with wood chips to make compost/fertilizer. He also turns beef tallow into biodiesel fuel, which he mixes with regular gasoline to power his pickup. He uses the straight biodiesel fuel in his farm equipment.
Schwennesen spoke of the need for ranchers and farmers to be free of governmental control. He said his operation is proof that organic cattle production can be profitable. He said government regulation inhibits innovation and creativity. He wants "agrarian freedom," he said.
He believes that business responds to consumer demands. Cheap foods were wanted 60 years ago, but that overriding desire has now given way to consumers' demands for healthier, more localized food production.
Schwennesen's presentations throughout Nebraska are designed to spread the word that organic cattle production is both environmentally sound and profitable.
This report was published April 20 in the print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.