(Published in Edible Santa Fe, Spring, 2009)
Like many, Tim Willm’s association with New Mexico started with casual visits. But unlike most who relocate, he bought a ranch instead of a faux adobe house in Santa Fe. Located about six miles south of Galisteo, the dry grasslands of Talus Wind Ranch rise to a rocky prominence from which the cheap oakley eye travels to the Sangre de Christo mountains, crossing the broad Galisteo basin on its way. It’s a spacious view and a stunning one, especially when a storm blows in.
Unlike most ranchers, Tim Willms straddles two very different worlds – of art dealer and rancher – which he strives to join. “It wasn’t uncommon in the l9th century for artists to paint farms and farm animals,” Tim points out, “so in a way, art and ranching aren’t so far apart for me. Art serves as a tool for communicating an idea, and I’ve often used my art history background a tool for communicating concepts. My hope is that I can enlighten others that art and raising food share the potential to nourish a regional community.”
Tim’s decision to become a rancher happened by chance, not design. “I started raising a few sheep, a few turkeys, some rabbits. One Thanksgiving I served my turkey. When my guests said it was the best turkey they had ever tasted, that got me to thinking that I could make raising animals a viable business, not just a hobby.”
His first job was to restore his overgrazed land. He worked with a government agency to figure out how much livestock the land would sustain. His 400 acres, he learned, could sustain 20 sheep if grazing rotation were in place— hardly a viable model for a working ranch. But turkeys didn’t need to http://www.oakleyonorder.com/ graze much, so he began breeding Bronze, Standard Bronze and Rio Grande turkeys. (Today he maintains his flocks by raising his own chicks.) After turkeys, Tim went onto sheep, but using a different plan. “I keep a 110-acre pasture undisturbed for eight months. I put sixty lambs on it for about four months, alternating days on the pasture according to rainfall. In the process of grazing they help fertilize the grasses. Eventually they come into paddocks and I supplement their feed.”
Tim raises heritage breeds (hence the moniker Talus Wind Ranch Heritage Meats) such as Navajo-Churro, Southdowns, Rambouillet and Finnsheep. All of them have their virtues, except for a feisty Finnsheep ram who fights with the other males. In addition to the chatty turkeys, there are New Zealand rabbits, running ducks, Pilgrim geese, ornamental pheasants, miniature horses, and a potpourri of pretty chickens. All are protected by a pair of Anatolian shepherd dogs, a small herd of donkeys, and Oscar, the spitting, spotted lama.
One of the early difficulties Tim ran into in trying to raise animals for sale was how to process them, given the lack of processing plants. “When I realized how many small processing facilities were going out of business across America, I became irritated: local food had become a luxury, and not everyone had the opportunity to explore that option.”
Tim responded by purchasing the Mountainair processing facility in 2006. “It was during a difficult transition period, shifting from the New Mexico Livestock Board to USDA, but we did it. Now I’m USDA certified for beef, lamb, goat, and pigs.” (Rabbits and poultry need their own facilities because of the potential of salmonella.)
Although being USDA certified means a rancher can sell across the state lines, when a group of visiting chefs from the East coast tasted Tim’s lamb and turkey then asked about cheap oakley sunglasses ordering for their restaurants, Tim turned them down, encouraging them instead to find local suppliers in their area. Tim’s own goal is to keep his products within a 200-mile radius. With only sixty lambs, that would makes sense, but it turns out that Tim has created a much larger project.
“After trying to raise more sheep than I was qualified for, I decided to reach out to families who have been raising sheep here for generations, and whose lambs were being shipped off to feed lots in California or Colorado. I spoke with the Perez-Cravens, Hindi, and McCall families, and others raising from 50 to 1000 lambs. I told the families that we were interested in keeping their lambs in New Mexico. We agreed that their practices fit into my protocol regarding the care and feeding of the animals; we agreed on a price, and when ready for slaughter, we would transport them directly from the pasture to processing. They never see a feedlot. We like to give the animals at least 48 hours to acclimate and we try never have more than forty head at a time to avoid the stress and the adrenaline rush that tightens up the meat.”
The twin goals of traceability and transparency that Tim strives for imply that it’s possible to track each animal from ranch to refrigerator, and that the animals are guaranteed raised by traditional ranching methods on properties that are environmentally sustainable. These partnerships enabled Talus Wind Ranch to process 680 lambs last year, enough to take part in Sysco’s Born in New Mexico program, enough to supply local restaurants and enough to give away meat to schools and food banks. Talus Wind is building towards more of an “ag in the middle” concept, producing quality food in quantity while keeping local foods local.
“Ranching is hard work,” Tim says, “but we need more people doing it so that more people can afford local foods. The way I see it raising livestock is similar to publishing an edition of prints in that it’s a collaboration of talents and skills. I have come to see these other ranchers as agricultural artists that share my vision of having sustainable, local food sources. Some of the ranchers have a soft voice and they need someone to amplify it so that their vision can be seen. That’s what I want to do – bring a voice and an opportunity to these ranchers. I really want to give ranching the honor it deserves. And when chef’s cook our food – and other local foods for that matter – they are helping their community and it’s important because in the end we only have ourselves, really.”
For more information, ordering, and contact, see www.taluswindranch.com.
In Santa Fe restaurants, look for, and ask for, Talus Wind Heritage Meats.