Paicines Ranch Holistic Management International conference.

Paicines Ranch for a Holistic Management International conference

People gather at the Paicines Ranch for a Holistic Management International conference.

To learn, to share, to problem solve, that’s why we were at Paicines Ranch in Paicines, California. Joined by ranchers, curious laypersons, land stewards and conservationists, we were part of a Holistic Management International (HMI) conference dedicated to teaching ‘ranching for profit’. The idea behind the conference was that by applying a tried-and-true holistic approach to ranching – that is, taking into account the needs of the environment, the animals, and the rancher – ranching can become a profitable and sustainable business.

To most people, the idea that ranching isn’t profitable might seem odd. The truth is, for a good number of ranchers, cattle ranching is a lifestyle more than it is a way to make a living, and many ranchers supplement their ranching income with “real jobs” – jobs that take them off of the ranch to earn money – to support their families and their often inherited lifestyle.

Out on the range at Paicines Ranch

Out on the range at Paicines Ranch. Paicines owner Sallie Calhoun talks about how they monitor grass conditions.

The problem with the cycle of part-time rancher is that it leaves cattle unattended, and unattended cattle tend to graze as they see fit. Which means they almost always overgraze, and overgrazed pastures tend to have lots of problems such as leaching carbon, erosion issues, and that ‘dead earth’ appearance you see in poorly managed pastures.

In other words, simply stocking a bunch of cattle on a pasture and letting them eat the grass right down to the dirt runs contrary to the natural, migratory herd processes that keep land healthy, and unhealthy land leads to unsustainable conditions which lead to declining profits.

That’s where HMI comes in. Their strategy? Bring full-time, successful, holistically goal-oriented ranchers together with conventional ranchers to show them that a comprehensive holistic approach to cattle ranching can help them improve their lives by improving their lands. The benefits: profitable businesses, happy full-time ranchers, healthy rangelands, and ultimately a healthy planet.

Chris Ketcham of Paicines Ranch

Chris Ketcham talks with pride about his experience with holistic grazing methods.

What does ‘successful holistic ranching’ mean anyway, and what does it look like? Good question. Looking at the pictures included here, it’s hard to tell. San Benito County where Paicines is located had an average annual rainfall this year, but almost all in the first couple of months of the rainy season. While the latter half of the season was one of the driest on record. Yet, according to Chris Ketcham, ranch manager for Paicines Ranch, “when you look under the thatch, there’s still green there.” And that’s saying a lot considering the dry conditions.

According to Chris, the changes he’s seen since he’s been using the rotational grazing pattern suggested by HMI are amazing.  Subdividing the grazing area of the ranch, some 6000 acres, into 40 smaller paddocks, ranging in size from as large as 300 acres down to 4 acres, and moving the 1800 head herd from paddock to paddock in a controlled migratory fashion has improved the diversity of the ranch. He also added that turning away from the old creed of the rancher, which he described as, “If it flies it dies, if it crawls it falls” was a boon as well. Now wildlife abounds and goes unchallenged, and the grasses are doing better than he could have imagined.

Green perennial grasses

Green perennial grasses. Native perennial grasses survive better than non-native annuals in the dry conditions when grazed properly.

This, you might think, is brilliant and you would be right. So brilliant in fact, migrating herds of animals have been doing it since there have been migrating herds of animals. And that’s the point. Holistic grazing practices means getting animal husbandry to mimic the patterns of the natural process. To move a herd of animals from fresh pasture to fresh pasture at a rate that assures they leave behind the essence of healthy soil – manure, compostable material – and enough living plant to rebound quickly and propagate the next time the rains come.

So how does this translate into profit? That’s more or less the easy part. When the land is managed well the grasses will grow more densely and have a longer season. That means increased animal capacity per acre, and more animal weight gain per season. And that, as they say, is money in the bank, taking the part-timer rancher one step closer to financial independence.

But the best part of all? So far, according to HMI case studies, a near complete ecosystem recovery is possible when holistic practices are used. From birds to snakes and everything in between, life is coming back to the rangeland and everyone is benefitting. Hence the “holistic” in Holistic Management International.

The 1800 cows of Paicines Ranch

The 1800 cows of Paicines Ranch in compact area to increase benefits to the grasslands.

Even though our cattle operation here at the TomKat Ranch is much smaller and we already use holistic grazing practices, we can still learn from the example set by Paicines Ranch and the many others doing the same. Each ranch learns and improves with time, and it’s that gained knowledge and willingness to share that knowledge that will make the difference as we adapt to new climate challenges. Thanks to Holistic Management International for bringing us all together and driving the dynamics of ranching towards a sustainable future.


For more information:

Holistic Management International:
Paicines Ranch:
Morris Grassfed:


Grass-fed Petite Tender

From the Chuck

The petite tender (aka: teres major) is a small, seldom used shoulder muscle.

Shhh, this is our little secret: Due to lack of use, the petite tender is arguably the second most tender cut after the tenderloin. An excellent cut of beef for a dinner of 2. Can be pan seared, roasted or grilled. 

Recipes & Tips

Teres Major…ly…WRONG! (The verdict is in)

Braising tips –

< Back to “Understanding Our Cuts of Beef”

Grass-fed Skirt Steak

From the Plate

The Skirt Steak is cut from the diaphram. As a hard worked muscle group, it can be tough, but is renowned for its flavor. It’s often well marbled and distinctly grained.

It’s best to marinate the Skirt Steak briefly, then pan sear, broil or grill quickly (medium coals/flame). Make sure to cut across the grain before serving medium rare to rare.

Recipes & Tips:

From the Healthy Green Kitchen website -
Grass Fed Skirt Steak with Cilantro and Preserved Lemon Gremolata
Grilled Spice-Rubbed Skirt Steak

< Back to “Understanding Our Cuts of Beef”

Grass-fed Flat Iron

  From the Chuck

The Flat Iron is a top blade, or shoulder cut. Arguably the second most tender cut (considered by some a tough cut that needs marinating) if prepared correctly. Despite the ‘Old World’ sounding name, the Flat Iron is actually a new cut (developed in 2002). A must try for the adventurous amateur chef.

A quick light marinade is preferred. grill or pan sear quickly over medium-high heat. As with most grass-fed beef, serve medium-rare to rare and cut across the grain.

More information on this incredible cut:

Recipes & Tips:
Grilled Flat Iron Steak with Chimichurri Sauce (warning: lots of garlic!)

< Back to “Understanding Our Cuts of Beef”

Grass-fed Hanger Steak

From the Plate

Cut from the Beef Plate, the hanger steak ‘hangs’ just below the diaphragm close to the kidneys which influence the flavor mildly.

Often with an obvious grain. Can be tough, so a marinade is suggested. Grill or broil on medium-high heat and serve medium rare.

Recipes & Tips:
Cooking Skirt and Hanger Steaks (excellent pan/broiler advice)
Herbed Hanger Steak

< Back to “Understanding Our Cuts of Beef”

Grass-fed London Broil

From the Round

Our “London Broils” are large cuts of meat from the lean top round. Often over three pounds.

Best slow cooked on the grill, and accepts marinading well (preferred, overnight). Great for casual group cookouts where you’re not looking to impress, but satisfy.

Recipes & Tips
Grass-fed London Broil - Excellent grilling/tenderizing advice.
Cooking Grass-fed Beef: Episode 1 – Top Round “London Broil” (video)

< Back to “Understanding Our Cuts of Beef”

Grass-fed Flank Steak

Beef FlankFrom the Flank

A flank steak is cut from the abdominal muscle of the cow. It is a tough, but flavorful cut of meat best marinated then quick seared, broiled or grilled.

It’s the flavor that makes this cut stand out, but it is essential to remember to cut it thinly and across the grain on a diagonal.

Recipes & Tips:
Are Flank Steak and Skirt Steak Identical Cuts? - Professional answer to a common question.
Grilled Marinated Flank Steak
Grilled Asian Flank Steak…

< Back to “Understanding Our Cuts of Beef”

And a happy grass-fed Holiday to you!

What’s that you say? That certain Holiday is still more then a month away! OK, fair enough. But that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about gift-giving ideas. So, in that vein, why not consider a couple of unique recipe books featuring our favorite subject – grass-fed cooking?
What’s that you’re thinking? Sounds like a great idea! Good, then here are two terrific options from a wonderful source – Shannon Hayes of Sap Bush Hollow Farm in New York. We found these books ‘deliciously’ useful and thought they would make a fantastic gift giving (or maybe getting?) idea.

Recipe Alert: Holiday Prime-rib (make yours grass-fed!)

Here’s a great looking recipe for prime rib. And fortunately, we’ll are selling 5-6 pound grass-fed prime rib at the farmer’s market in Half Moon Bay this saturday – rain or shine!

Horseradish Crusted Prime Rib of Beef

Courtesy of:


Holiday Grass-fed Prime Rib

Yes folks, we have it – special holiday season grass-fed prime rib for sale at our usual Half Moon Bay and San Mateo farmer’s markets. So hurry, come on out and get them while they last!

And on that ‘seasonal’ note, here’s a handy little video to show you how to season and cook the perfect prime rib:

(many thanks to, and plenty more beef recipes from


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