The Willis Family Lamb Ranch, Laketown, UT

October 23, 2012

Willis lamb

There are many reasons why Niman Ranch meat is better than the rest- how we raise our animals is one of them. How our animals are raised directly impacts the quality and taste of Niman Ranch meat.

The chefs that serve Niman Ranch meats often like to see where and how the animal is raised. Bringing chefs to the farms and ranches to meet the farmers in person gives them the opportunity to see first hand how humane animal care and sustainable farming practices impact the meat that ends up their menus. Several times a year, we are able to make that happen.

A few weeks ago a small group visited the Willis Ranch in Laketown Utah, to see how Niman Ranch lamb is raised. We began the tour at the Willis’ fall grazing ground located in the small corner between Utah’s Bear Lake and the Idaho and Wyoming borders. Here we learned about the work Clark Willis spearheaded on rangeland restoration. His work opened up the grazing land, which positively impacted the endangered Sage Grouse by providing an optimum habitat for breeding.

Water is vital to raising livestock and sustainable agriculture- without it, a ranch will not survive. Willis created a water system that pumps spring-fed water to a tank on the highest hill allowing for water to be moved via gravity to numerous locations – some at distances of nearly 10 miles. This helps preserve the spring-fed stream by keeping the cattle herds and sheep flocks from bedding down along the stream banks and spreads them to additional grazing areas.

An irrigation system also supports the forage and grains the Willis’ grow – pesticide free – to feed the lambs and ewes. They plant a diversity of crops for grazing: alfalfa, peas, grasses and small grains, and radishes which help aerate the soil. They also harvest a portion of these forages for the lamb diets.

We ended the tour with a BBQ lunch of Niman Ranch lamb racks, sirloin and sliders served with grilled potatoes, carrots and onions from the Willis’ garden, and a cheesecake from Patty Willis.

The Willis family represents the care and attention all of the 700 U.S. family farmers take in raising animals for Niman Ranch. We appreciate all they do.

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