The Hard Winter

The Hard Winter

When we mention that Keller Crafted Meats only works with humane ranchers, listeners often fixate on the idea of ranchers. They conjure up images of the Wild West, the open range, and teams of cowboys driving massive herds of cattle across the plains. But the ranching of today is dramatically different from that mythic vision. One event, in particular, was the catalyst for this change of practices. Keller Crafted Meats will explore the Hard Winter of 1886-87 and how it influenced how we raise cattle today.

Open Range

After the American Civil War, settlers from around the world poured into the West in the hope of making a living for themselves in the immense landscape. Along rail lines, towns sprung up, while others retreated into the mountains and hills in search of gold and silver. Many turned to agriculture, competing with the environment and the weather to raise whatever crops they could. By the most famous of all these western endeavors was open range cattle ranching. This period of time saw the proliferation of new breeds of cattle, and of course, the iconic cowboy.

The massive size of the untamed American west made it uniquely suited to this peculiar practice. Ranchers could drive hundreds, even thousands of cattle across the plains and mountains, stopping in prairies and meadows to fatten their cattle. Once properly fed, the cowboys would then drive these animals thousands of miles to the stockyards of Chicago.

The Cold Settles In

This system was successful for several decades, and more than one person became cattle magnates, earning their fortunes. Along with their profits, their herds expanded every year. But this trend came to a screeching halt in 1886. That year, unique weather and environmental patterns would put an end to open range ranching. That summer was hot and dry, ruining the lush prairie grasses that the cattle needed to grow fat. It also fried the hay that ranchers were storing for their herd. The dry season extended into fall, foretelling the onset of a long, harsh winter.

Throughout the winter, heavy snows fell. Making the problem worse, that January, a hot Chinook wind swept the plains, melting the top layer of the snow, and creating a sheet of hard packed ice. This kept the cattle from being able to scrape through the snow and get to the withered grass beneath. From starvation and freezing, cattle died off in the thousands, and their withered bodies littered the West. Without any stored grains and no way to keep them warm, ranchers and cowboys watched as their herds rapidly dwindled in front of their eyes.

The End Of The Open Range

As the snows melted, and the temperatures increased from 63 below zero to above freezing; spring brought about more than just the changing of the seasons. Ranchers knew that they could no longer trust the landscape itself to raise their cattle. After that winter, they would have to grow all of the food their cattle needed. Smaller herds would be kept within the confines of barbed wire enclosures. By the 1890s, the West was divided up and put behind barbed wire, no longer the wild landscape it once was.

At Keller Crafted Meats, we channel that free-range spirit by working with ranchers who humanely raise their animals, using grass-fed finishing, and practices that do not harm or stress the animal. The result is a higher-quality meat product, that has been responsibly raised and processed. Order today and enjoy meat as it should be.