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Sonoma Mountain Beef Company: It's What's For Dinner!

Jamie Mickelson
Jamie Mickelson
By Paulette Swallow with Jamie Mickelson

The next generation of renowned Kunde Herefords are making their way into a new market in 2016, and 5th generation cattle rancher Jamie Mickelson is paving the way through the Sonoma Mountain Beef Company, which she established in 2014.

I first met Jamie the summer of 1999, when she was 9 and I was 16. We both stood in the middle of the show ring with our steers. I had won the FFA Champion steer and Jamie, in her first time out the gate, had won the 4-H show with one of her family’s Hereford Steers. We were now competing for Supreme champion overall steer. I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to stand in the ring several times for the supreme drive – to this day I can tell you that Jamie was by far my best and most respected competitor! While I walked out of the ring that day with the Purple ribbon, Jamie walked away with something just as valuable. She made her first mark with her family’s Hereford genetics in the show ring, and gained the respect of competitors around her. Jamie continued to uphold her competitive nature through hard work, respect, and continuing to improve the family owned business of “Sonoma Mountain Herefords.”

GIM News: Let’s go back to 2014 when you graduated from Cal Poly with a Masters in Agribusiness. At that time, did you already have a vision of owning your own meat company?

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Sonoma Mountain Beef Company was born out of my passion to offer higher quality, humanely raised, locally processed, delicious beef. Even though I had been raising and caring for beef stock since I was 9 years old, including a 4-H project raising market beef and as a Future Farmer of America, I never thought I would start my own business. I graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Ag Business from California Polytechnic State University, helped manage the Cal Poly cattle herd operation, and taught beef husbandry to undergraduates. But it wasn’t until my last week at Cal Poly that my mom and I had a heart-to-heart conservation about my future and she told me that she believed that I could run my own beef business. After graduating in 2014, I moved back to the North Bay and I knew the timing was right for me to expand the family’s beef business and develop my own branded beef enterprise, now known as Sonoma Mountain Beef Company.

Since then, fueled by my desire to raise superior cattle and my love for not only rearing but showing quality Herefords, I’ve built my own registered herd of Hereford cattle along with my Sonoma Mountain Beef Company market cattle. All my stock are raised in natural grasslands and finished on a 90-day ration of grain, which produces beef that offers superior full-flavored taste and juicy tenderness. I’m committed to the highest quality ranching standards, and for this reason, my cattle are raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones. I’m also a Beef Quality Assurance producer, which certifies that my herd is managed properly, treated humanely, and with a commitment to quality. I run my cattle in conjunction with my family’s business, Sonoma Mountain Herefords, a registered Hereford seedstock producer which markets their cattle as breeding livestock throughout the Western United States.

GIM News: So grain fed beef, using Hereford genetics? Why this, when we seem to be surrounded by a demand for Organic and grass-fed beef?

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Sonoma Mountain Beef Company’s base of cattle is sourced from my family’s high quality Hereford genetics. In order to make it into my program, superior carcass quality is a must and I believe only Herefords provide the quality that I demand since they have excellent meat quality with good amount of marbling, texture, and tenderness. I know that there is a lot of demand for Organic and grass-fed, yet at the same time, people love the idea of supporting local agriculture and it is a huge trend in our area. The demand by consumers and local restauranteurs and retailers has changed, and I’m finding that a high quality, locally, humanely raised source of beef protein is at an all-time high.  My customers care more about knowing where there food comes from and how it is handled.  

At Cal Poly, my thesis explored meat purchasing attitudes across different generations, and I found from surveying 500 people in San Luis Obsipo County that local, no hormones, and no antibiotics were the most desirable qualities for customers looking to purchase meat. I feel really confident selling locally since I know the quality is high with grain finished beef. I am a firm believer in buying, selling, and supporting local, and my cattle are all raised in the local pastures of the rolling hills outside Petaluma. I think it is extremely important for customers to know where their food comes from. Of course, my family and I eat our own beef and we love the taste, the high quality, and the juicy tenderness, and our friends truly enjoy it, too. I always want to feel good about what I eat and I want my customers to feel the same way.  

GIM News: Can you tell us a little more about what your daily life is like as a rancher in the North Bay – especially as a young, female rancher building your own business?

Jamie on horseback

Days start early in the cattle business. Typically I start my day feeding the large group of cowa that are currently at our home place, along with the stock cattle that are in my market program. Mid-morning through the middle of the day is occupied by working on my business, taking care of paperwork, billing, and delivering beef to my accounts. By the end of the day, it’s time to feed again! At least once a week, cattle need to be moved to different pastures to make sure they have plentiful grass to munch on. I also spend time in the barn taking care of my show cattle, working on their hair to get them looking good for the show in December and January. Daily life as a rancher can be chaotic and it can be a challenge to do everything at the same time but I try to keep everything balanced and under control. I think people are surprised when they meet me in-person, as the meat business is generally dominated by the men.

GIM News: You attended your first farmers market this past spring. What was going through your mind as you were setting out your products for the first time

My first farmers market went smoothly and I had fun and enjoyed meeting new customers. I really like to meet consumers and I love hearing their feedback. At the same time, I realized how much work it actually takes to participate as a producer at farmers markets. It is just amazing to me that farmers markets look simple, easy, and fun, but it takes a lot of time to be prepared and get the right marketing materials to draw customers’ attention to my booth. It is a good learning experience for me to see what customers are looking for when buying beef.

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GIM News: What’s your long-term vision?

In the future, my company will be one of the only beef companies that buys, produces, and sells their product in the North Bay. My vision is big! I have so many different ideas. I am currently working on this cool project, but I can’t spill the beans about it just yet… a hint is that it will be something that no one has done in the beef industry and I am hopeful that it will be a success and make a lot of customers happy. Another vision is to have a beef shop, where people can purchase directly from me. Selling on my Sonoma Mountain Beef Company website was one of my early goals and it is now available for anyone.

GIM News: When things get hard, what is your source of motivation?

My family is my motivation. My parents, Jim and Marcia, inspire me as I watch them work so hard running their own business. Every time I need advice, I go to them. They don’t always give me the answer, but they make me think about options. Having my own business has been rewarding, but the rewards have come with a lot of hard work and challenges. I try to remember that no matter what happens, there will be bumps in the road. When there is an issue that pops up or things get frustrating, my father reminds me, “welcome to business owner life.” It is true that it can’t always be smooth in business. Fortunately, working at my family ranch has taught me so much about how to run my own business. I think the three things that are most important that I’ve learned from them are: be patient, be kind, and stay humble.

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