(June 19, 2014) — Something about the land and being outdoors and working with cattle has always appealed to Logan Davis. Even as he worked toward a degree in agriculture communications at Texas A&M University, he often thought about returning to Llano County and working on his family’s ranch after graduation.
Maybe it was in his blood. Logan, 24, represents the sixth generation to live and work on the family ranch. Established by George Gray in 1884 between Valley Springs and Cherokee, the original ranch encompassed 32,000 acres of Hill Country land. It’s been sold and parceled out to its present 600 acres, but Logan is still able to live at the old home place, which was built in 1915 and sits just down the road from his parents, Thomas and Becky Davis.
Thomas Davis, a longtime rancher as well as teacher and coach in Llano, was less than encouraging when Logan told him he wanted to work on the ranch when he graduated from college.
“He said it was no way to make a living,” Logan remembers. “But we started thinking about it.”
In researching a new business model, Becky, Logan and Thomas realized that the market for local, direct-to-the-customer food, including beef, was booming. Realizing also that diversity is the key to survival in agriculture today, they added chickens, eggs and wild pork, naming the operation BLT Farm to represent the first letter of each of their first names.
The farm is modeled after Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Virginia, recognized as a living example of what “sustainable agriculture” is for those who want to know and for those who profess not to know. The Davises visited Polyface and came back with a pretty good idea of what sustainability means. Every facet of Salatin’s farm complements another without the use of chemicals or antibiotics.
The Davises modeled BLT on those same principles. They have planted fruit trees, built compost piles to replace chemical fertilizers and dug ponds. The cows are moved daily with portable electric fencing, leaving the animals in each paddock long enough for them to graze and fertilize the ground but not so long that they chew the grass down to the nubbins.
Logan says beef is probably the biggest part of the operation, although it take up the most time and costs the most to produce. They run about two dozen black and red Angus mama cows. Unless a cow gets sick and has to be put on antibiotics, BLT cattle never sniff the auction barn.
When there is rain and grass in the pasture, BLT produces grass-finished beef. In times of drought, the cattle’s diet is supplemented with a limited, natural, whole grain ration.
“We don’t butcher our grass-finished cattle until they’re 24 to 30 months old,” he says. “With the chickens we have a six- to eight-week turnaround. We lease some land, too, so it’s hard to nail down exactly what it costs per cow, but our beef does well for us, whether it’s grass-fed or grass-finished.”
The cost per pig for their wild pork is minimal — the cost of trapping the hogs and selling them live to Harvest House in Johnson City, which processes BLT beef and pork into the choice cuts specified by the farm’s customers. Logan estimates that they make $150-$180 for each pig.
“We like the pigs to be about 130 pounds or less,” he says. “Anything much over that and you can get kind of a gamey taste with the meat. We like them to be above 60 pounds. That slot between 60 and 130 pounds produces the best-tasting pork.”
BLT is licensed to butcher and process its chickens on-site and they do so for about nine weeks every summer, primarily in June and July. Logan said they have considered doing it in the winter, but the chicken coops are kept in the pasture and it’s hard to get water to them when it freezes. The 1,100 to 1,200 birds they process each year are usually gone by November.
Most of their sales are made at a handful of Central Texas farmers markets, including a new one at the Wolf Ranch shopping center in Georgetown each Saturday morning, which allows them to sell all the products they take there, as does another Saturday morning market in Burnet. One market they still attend, the Mueller Marker in Austin, doesn’t allow them to sell their chickens there. They quit going to another market for the same reason
“We’re a small operation, so it’s important that we sell everything we produce,” Logan says.
BLT products are currently sold at two stores — the Hill Country Health Food Store in Marble Falls and the Peach Basket in Fredericksburg.
“I would love for us to sell to more stores,” Logan says. “I haven’t really looked into selling to some of the bigger stores, like HEB or Whole Foods, but it might be something to check into.”
In the meantime, Logan enjoys the work he has taken on.
“I’ve always loved being outdoors and working outdoors,” he said. “Sometimes I wonder why when its 100 degrees in the summer, but I do love it. It’s what I’ve really always wanted to do.”