Home on the Free Range

Story by Madeleine Tilin Photos by Ralph Yznaga, Patty Robertson & Black Bear Farms

We’re lucky here in Austin. Although our city has become one of our country’s most desirable and fastest growing metropolitan areas, we still have ready access to a host of exceptional small farms and ranches that have chosen to nestle their businesses within the rolling hills of Central Texas. And this season, many of them have made it a priority to help bring good food to our holiday tables — food that exemplifies their passion and commitment to a lifestyle that nurtures our surroundings.

The farmers and ranchers featured in this article intimately know what it means to devote their time and energy to a way of life that requires hard work, integrity and a deep connection to our natural world. Not only that, but they’re also transparent in their practices and approaches, allowing us to feel good about our choices to bring beef, poultry and other products to our tables to serve and share with family and friends.

This holiday season, consider supporting one of these local farms or ranches as you plan your menus. Doing so will bring you closer to your own surroundings by honoring the local food ways of Central Texas and our hardworking neighbors that cultivate and sustain them.

44 Farms44 Farms

963 Private Rd. 44, Cameron 76520

(254) 697-4401, 44farms.com, 44steaks.com

Steaks and grill packages available

Bob McClaren doesn’t miss a beat as he narrates the story of 44 Farms. He has a passion not only for raising the highest quality beef from Black Angus cattle, but also for showing other farmers and breeders in the region how to be sustainable.

Although 44 Farms has been in the family for more than a century, McClaren’s path to the ranch didn’t begin until he was in his mid-30s, after two successful careers as a lawyer and president of the Houston Astros. With the Astros, McClaren experienced a great sense of community as he watched families and friends spend quality time together at the games, and, although it might not seem related, he says it was an experience that helped nurture his zeal for farming. “That ties into why I like production agriculture. It’s the people that make up the community. They work hard seven days a week taking care of cattle. It’s challenging but so rewarding,” McClaren says. Similar to player development in baseball, managing a herd of premium angus cattle also involves much of the same tracking of statistics, nutrition and exercise.

44 Farms is proud to create better quality food products, using genetics rather than chemicals. “Great genetics make a big, big difference. We can produce better food through genetics without chemicals,” McClaren says. 44 Farm’s goal is to produce as much prime beef as they can. For the producer and consumer, it’s better and more nutritious. “We have to make sure we deliver it the right way, and the industry will continue to grow,” McClaren says.

Collaboration rather than competition is the ultimate goal. “We’re in the business to help cattle producers be sustainable. That starts with economic stability. No business can survive if it doesn’t make a profit.” McClaren would like to see the perception of beef production change from that of a commodity to the act of raising and caring for a high quality product. The rancher will profit by addressing the needs of its consumers while giving the cows a happy life in which they can thrive. Looking to the future of the beef industry, McClaren believes ranchers must be students of natural resources, with animal welfare being the highest priority, delivering traceable, high quality products.

You can shop for 44 Farms premium beef, seasoning and other products online. Be sure to check out their home meal kits and gift boxes, which are perfect for the holiday season.

Windy BarWindy Bar Ranch

14305 E. US-290, Stonewall 78671

(512) 474-2855, windybarbeef.com

Griller packages and pasture-raised chicken available for delivery or pickup

Michael Klein of Windy Bar Ranch is just as comfortable standing in the middle of his pasture, cowboy hat atop his head, surrounded by his Black Angus cattle as he is practicing in a court of law. A trial lawyer during the week, Klein spends his weekends at his ranch in Stonewall, 65 miles west of Austin.

Ranching is an outlet for Klein, who is proud to raise his pasture-fed cattle, free of antibiotics and added hormones. Between court cases he checks on each member of his herd via an app that helps him stay on top of tenderness and marbling — the superior qualities that give each bite of his beef its award-winning flavor profile. He’ll proudly share his process, too, explaining how his cattle have come to produce a consistent and scientifically bred beef that he says won the “Best-Tasting Beef ” in Texas award in the 2019 American Royal Steak Contest.

In a city where celebrated chefs and sophisticated consumers have come to inform the best practices for food suppliers, Windy Bar Ranch consistently meets these standards and has been providing beef to local hot spots like the JW Marriott, Fairmont, Salt & Time Butcher Shop, Dai Due and Contigo for the past 35 years.

As Klein will tell you, his cattle graze freely on grass pastures within a rotational grazing system, which allows manure from the animals to act as natural fertilizer in place of commercial fertilizer. It’s a closed loop where the cattle’s manure is used to fertilize the same grasses where they graze. A healthier process every step of the way, it’s better for the environment and more sustainable, while also being better for the cattle, the flavor of the beef they produce and, ultimately, better for customers.

You can order Windy Bar Ranch griller packages, beef and pasture-raised chicken online, or stop by the beautiful property in Stonewall to pick up any of their locally raised meats.

BearBlack Bear Farm and Apiary

512-944-0441, blackbearfarmandapiary.com

Broiler chickens and turkeys available

“Sometimes you just have to go for it,” Paige Powell says as she describes how she and her husband, Corry, decided to start Black Bear Farm and Apiary. Despite having no farming experience, Paige, Corry and their three children transformed an undeveloped 15 acres of land in Dripping Springs into a small but thriving homestead in just four years. Now the land is outfitted with a Jersey cow, a handful of pigs, 400 chickens (both egg layers and broilers) and turkeys, 15 beehives and two peacocks named Bonnie and Clyde. All are raised within an abundant open space and are fed without the addition of antibiotics and hormones. “I like being able to show my kids, my daughter in particular, especially when people thought we were crazy, that we’re going to do it anyway,” Powell says with optimistic determination.

Though the Powells have had their challenges — their youngest son survived a brain tumor earlier this year — Black Bear Farm seems to be thriving. The family is the proud producer of ethically raised, great-tasting chickens and turkeys, as well as a bounty of eggs and honey. They also tout to-die-for cinnamon roll creations, made with dairy from their cows.

You can see firsthand how their dream became a reality on “Farm Fridays,” when the Powells offer private farm tours and special

events. You might even get an impromptu tour by 10-year-old Brooklyn.

Find out more about how to book a tour or get a delivery of fresh eggs, chickens or turkeys just in time for the holidays by following the farm on Instagram at @blackbearfarm.

Richardsons FarmsRichardson Farms

2850 County Rd. 412, Rockdale 76567

512-635-3961, richardsonfarms.com

Turkeys, dairy and meat available

As a longtime veterinarian, Jim Richardson has spent most of his life taking care of animals and is now a big proponent of teaching others to support the humane practices he employs as the owner of Richardson Farms. The Richardson family has been in the farming business for generations, and they take pride in the large, open pastures where their livestock roam as they please.

Richardson Farms employs regenerative agriculture methods in an effort to produce better, more healthful food and also to restore depleted soil through nutrient dense plants. “A lot of commercial agriculture deals with depleted land,” Richardson says. “But, we can grow lots of crops with biologically alive soil that doesn’t require chemicals so we can feed people good food.” Using sustainable, conservation-minded practices like this, Richardson Farms is able to offer top-of-the-line grain products, dairy and meats, like pastured pork, grass fed beef and pasture-raised turkey, ready for many holiday dinner tables.

In May of this year, around 200 2-day-old baby turkeys arrived from a hatchery to this bucolic setting 45 minutes east of Round Rock in Rockdale. Situated along the San Gabriel River, the poults (baby turkeys) are moved to a brooder — a cozy heated space — where they can stay warm and grow for 15-20 weeks until they can make it on their own.

You can order their premium turkeys online, or, if you prefer, pick them up at the farm. You can also peruse the farm’s new dairy store that features unprocessed, untreated milk directly from their cows. Their products can also be purchased at surrounding farmers markets or tasted at some of Austin’s restaurants, like Barley Swine, Odd Duck and Texas French Bread, to name a few.