|von Gal Ranch is about Raising Natural Beef|
Meeting the challenge of growing demand while maintaining quality and affordability
As Americans grow increasingly curious about exactly what’s on their plates, where it originated and how it found its way to their freezers and pantries, one Alabama family farm is making those answers simple and plain when it comes to beef.
"We’re offering our customers the same beef we feed our family," said Nick von Gal of von Gal Ranch in South Montgomery County.
And for the past several years, Nick von Gal has worked to build a business that’s bringing their natural home-raised beef to other families in Alabama.
"December is a special time for us because this natural beef program actually started as a family Christmas gift," Nick explained. "Five years ago, my Dad asked me what I thought about him giving my brothers and me beef for Christmas. I told him I loved the idea, so Dad bought us each a freezer and told us the beef to go in it would be ready in February.
"We’d always kept out a steer or two for the family, but it was really great that we all had beef of our own to share with friends and extended family. We all thought it was the best gift we’d ever gotten.
"Of course our grocery bill went down, but what was really nice was we all had food we were proud to cook for guests, and anyone we shared our beef with wanted more."
And after years of traditional cattle management practices, Nick said it was again a question from his Dad that encouraged him to take a look at their operation from a new vantage point.
"From all the time I spent in 4-H, I could finish as fat and good-looking a steer as anybody, but one day Dad ripped the tag off a sack of feed and asked me what all those ingredients were after the grains. I told him what I knew about the weight builders and antibiotics listed, and he asked if there was a way to finish beef cattle without all those things. I was sure there was, but I didn’t have any idea how to go about it," Nick admitted.
From that conversation, Nick began his research and trials of raising natural beef.
"Over the next couple of years, I did a lot of reading and feeding. I changed the cattle’s diet, eliminated the hormones and antibiotics from our program, and shared the beef with anybody willing to tell me what they thought about it," he explained.
And the feedback Nick said was very positive.
"People wanted more. I went from getting a few calls a year about buying a steer for the freezer to getting two or three calls a month," he said. "It became obvious there was some demand for what we were doing, but the average person didn’t want a whole steer and most didn’t have the freezer space for it."
But in order for von Gal Ranch to sell retail cuts of beef, the meat has to face the same Department of Agriculture inspections as the meat found in grocery stores and restaurants.
"So it took more research and investment to reach a point where I could market and sell individual cuts of beef," Nick said.
And today all-natural beef from von Gal Ranch is sizzling, stewing and roasting in more and more homes and restaurants in Alabama.
"It has been a bigger undertaking than I imagined, but it’s also taken off more than I imagined it would. The challenge has been in figuring out how to meet the growing demand for natural, local beef while maintaining exceptional quality and keeping the end cost affordable," he said.
"I’m mixing a custom blend of natural grains, carefully managing our hay and grazing, and giving people in our area the opportunity to know where and how their beef was raised. It’s been amazing how many people want to know more about the food their families are eating," he remarked.
Several customers have even toured the von Gal Ranch for a first-hand look at their operation, visiting the fields where cattle graze and the walk-in freezer stocked with von Gal beef. Nick’s still surprised by how many people have asked to see the cattle, but proud they’re becoming more aware of the work farmers do to provide safe, affordable food.
"We’re subject to Department of Ag inspection at any time, and we rigorously test each animal to make sure we’re selling the best beef possible: grain-fed, dry-aged, hand-cut, vacuum-sealed and all-natural. And if our customers have more questions, I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk with them about what we’re doing," Nick said.
With the holidays in full swing, Nick and his wife Jessica are busy preparing for guests and celebrations and Christmas fun with their two-year-old daughter Galyn, but Nick said Christmas is a poignant reminder of the gift that changed their family ranch operation.
"As people get ready for their families to visit, and they call about getting more beef for their holiday meals and parties, I’m really honored that what started as a gift from my Dad is now a part of so many other families’ Christmas plans," Nick said.
For more information on their natural beef operation, visit www.vongalranch.com.
Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.