Bruce Ball and his son, Kevin, didn’t get into the cattle business to get rich. They did it because they love cows and working the land.
Over the past 12 years, the owners of Yakima Grass-fed Angus have gone from an 80-acre hay farm to 180 acres of non-GMO hay, alfalfa and sorghum to feed their roughly four dozen head of Wagyu Angus F1 cows.
The herd was even larger until a few years ago, but the Balls decided they wanted to focus on quality over quantity. Not just the quality of their beef but their quality of life.
“The main reason I do this is that I love working outside and caring for these animals,” said Bruce Ball, a retired emergency room doctor.
“This is hard work, and not everyone is cut out for it. We work from dawn till dusk seven days a week, and we’re always trying to pencil everything out. But there’s something about going out to the pasture at night after all the work is done and spending time with the cows. To me, that’s what makes life worth living.”
Make no mistake: the happiness and well-being of the cows is priority No. 1 at Yakima Grass-fed Angus. The owners prefer freeze branding over hot branding. They perform bloodless castrations and use low-stress handling facilities, such as rounded chutes and squeeze tubs. They also vaccinate the cows and apply a pesticide fly rub to prevent pink eye.
Perhaps the most humane practice employed on the farm is fence-weening, where the six-month-old calves are placed on the other side of a barrier from their mothers to ensure a more gradual transition for both animals.
“Any steps we can take to make the lives of these cows more comfortable, we will do it,” Kevin said. “We have done a lot of research about modern, low-stress handling techniques, and we believe our approach helps set our product apart. We’re just trying to do things the right way, and part of that is providing our cows with a responsible upbringing.”
The Balls take pride in running their farm the right way, and the proof is in their product. While most ranchers send their cattle to market before their second birthday, Yakima Grass-fed Angus grass-feeds its cows until they are 28 months — sometimes even 32 months old.
“The marbling is just phenomenal when they get to 28 months,” Bruce said. “It’s more expensive for us to do it that way, and it’s also harder for them to gain weight at that age. But for us, it’s all about the quality.”
The consistent texture and flavor of the beef have become the primary selling points for the business, whose customers are mostly from Central Washington and the Puget Sound area. Online sales are steadily increasing, while the west-side farmers markets have become another key revenue stream.
Kevin’s girlfriend, Tasha Gagoush, takes the lead on farmers market sales and his mother, Patti Ball (Bruce’s ex-wife), manages the ordering, invoicing and balance sheets.
Operating a cattle ranch and hay farm with only four people presents its share of challenges, to be sure. But when you love what you do, like Bruce and Kevin Ball, the intangible rewards are immeasurable.
“Our customers like knowing that the beef they are buying came from cows that were born and raised on our farm,” Kevin said. “We know exactly what they have eaten for their entire lives and we know they have always been treated humanely. That really does set us apart in the market, and we are very proud of that.”
This story appeared in the Capital Press in December 2021.