Running a ranch with more than 800 head of cattle wasn't Brad Buchanan's original dream, but when the former Denver city planner bought Flying B Bar Ranch in 2006, it quickly became apparent he wanted new things.
"I like to understand and learn about the narrative of a place and be involved in the community, both agriculture and city," says Buchanan. Plus, he adds, "I'm an entrepreneur, and overall, I like to grow things."
When Buchanan bought the property near the eastern Colorado town of Strasburg, it boasted 520 acres and an old farmhouse. At first, he, his wife, Margaret, and two kids, Grace and Will, moved between their large home in the Park Hill neighborhood in Denver and this tiny house. The former was surrounded by people, cars and city life; the latter had views of tumbleweeds and a few distant houses scattered about the vast landscape. After commuting between the two homes, the Buchanans decided to take the plunge and go full farm life, selling their Denver house and moving into the one on the ranch. Wagyu bulls and Angus cows came shortly after, and over the last decade, the property has expanded to about 8,000 acres.
"This spot has been a cattle ranch since 1916, and when we first bought the house we were thinking of having cattle, but it soon became clear that the ecosystem here actually needed the cattle," says Buchanan, who quickly added livestock to his land. "So we started with 22 mama cows, and now there's over 800."
On a recent cold Saturday, Buchanan oversaw his ranch manager, Jonathan Tullar, and helper Dilyn Gregory drive a herd of about 290 weanlings (one-year-olds) up Yulle Road to a new pasture. The goal, he says, was to make sure the cattle are not only getting the best grass they need, but that the land is also benefiting from the grazing; the plot the herd was headed to needed pruning, manure and stomping in order to make it stronger.
"The grasses on different pastures are all different, and nature is constantly trying to return to itself," says Buchanan, who uses the animals to help the vegetation and land stay healthy. "In the last few years the grass has been getting stronger, which means the cows are getting stronger and the beef getting better."
All of the cattle on Flying B Bar Ranch are 100 percent grass-fed and graze in the pastures their whole lives. Sometimes they get greens from the wetter riparian zone of the property; other times they feed on new shoots from a field. When it's really cold and there's not enough fresh growth to satiate them, the livestock feed on triticale hay farmed on the ranch in turnip-rich soil. It's a lot of work to move the cattle from one plot to another, and the aforementioned two-mile drive that Saturday took about an hour to complete, with the assistance of three ranch hands and two dogs. But, says Buchanan, it's all worth it to have healthy animals that produce great meat.
"When we first bought the place, we had no idea we would work to this scale; we just wanted a few cows and had a romantic idea about ranching," he says. "But this ranch is a lot of hard work, a lot is weather-dependent, and there is a relentlessness to it. But that's part of the beauty of it, and we see the most beautiful things and have these really rich moments."
Another thing Buchanan didn't expect when he bought Flying B Bar was the flak some people gave him over being a city planner living outside the urban environment. Yet, says Buchanan, both rural and urban surroundings are key to having a healthy state, since both need to work together in the end.
"I took a lot of shit for living out here, and I understand that knee-jerk reaction," he says, highlighting the fact that he lived in the city for 22 years. "What I don't understand is how you could be a responsible planner for an urban place without understanding the rural place as well."
Buchanan worked as Denver's city planner from 2014 to mid-2018, and is now the CEO of the National Western Center Authority. His new job marries two things he loves: the city and the land. And while it might seem to include a tough commute, Buchanan says it's easy to drive the twenty minutes to the airport and catch the A Line into the city. There's rarely traffic, and the journey proves pretty peaceful.
You can order Flying B Bar beef online at flyingbbar.com. The Buchanans will ship meat, but also encourage people to come to the ranch and see the operation. After all, says Buchanan, everyone should have a good grasp of where their food is coming from. All of the animals are raised right in Strasburg, and when the cattle (over two years old) are ready for slaughter, he sends them to Atlas Meat Packing in Fort Collins, the most humane place he's found in the area. There the meat is processed before being sent back to the ranch to be cut and packaged, then put into the giant walk-in freezer on the property.
Order individual cuts or a whole portion of a cow, the latter being a pick-up-only deal. But a good deal in the end, Buchanan says, having calculated and compared the cost of factory-farmed meat found in grocery stores and his grass-fed, 50-percent wagyu and 50-percent Angus beef.
"If you went to King Soopers and bought all those cuts, it's the same value," he says. Better yet, he adds, get an extra freezer and stock it with a half-cow. "It's cheap to run, about $8 a year." Then you'll have some of the tastiest, most humanely raised meat around, at a lower cost and ready to be cooked into breakfast, lunch and dinner whenever you desire.
The Flying B Bar Ranch is located at 7300 Yulle Road in Strasburg. For more information, visit the ranch's website.