Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thundering Hooves

By Jessie Dye

Have you ever seen that which is in your imagination, that which you have read about or heard tell of, come to full fabulous life as if by some miracle of God or mind? This has happened to me twice; may I live to see it happen again.

The first time, my little son lost his small stuffed wolf (Wolfie) under sad circumstances. One year later he found a tiny abandoned puppy, a Navajo res dog not four weeks old, dumped and alone in Monument Valley. That puppy looked just like the lost stuffed one. “Wolfie, you are a real dog now!” we said. He came home with us and he’s now 75 pounds of big, joyful and goofy dog-hood.

The second time I saw something of fiction spring to glorious life happened last week. LeeAnne Beres and I met Joel Huesbey of Thundering Hooves in his pasture during a warm sunset in the Walla Walla Valley. Joel spoke eloquently about the end of oil, the need for healthy agricultural systems, his grandfather’s farm ethic, and the Omega 3’s and 6’s of pasture finished beef. It was as if Wendell Barry’s Mad Farmer had sprung to wiry, handsome life in front of us and was extolling sustainable agriculture in real time.

Joel is one member of a multi-generation family farm in Touchet (pronounced too-chee), Washington. Their German Lutheran immigrant ancestors founded Thundering Hooves more than 100 years ago. It was a good farm, a team effort to raise the beef cows that supported them. The family worked hard and made a living for most of a century. They still do, but a new vision came to the ranch when Joes graduated from Washington State University in agriculture.

Water was scarce, petroleum based fertilizer expensive, and feed lots grew more inhumane. Joel realized cows could be raised for beef differently than the huge agri-business spreads that bought from his neighbors and paid the farmers darn little for their work. He decided to pasture-finish his cows, feed them what God and nature wanted ruminants to eat (author’s note: not corn), and preserve them from the heath risks and awfulness of feedlots.

To do this, the family had to market their beef differently; Clarice and Keith Swanson, Joel’s sister and brother in law, joined to manage the business end. I met Clarice seven years ago at the University District Farmer’s Market in Seattle on a clear Saturday morning in October. I’ve been buying their meat ever since, to the satisfaction of my coronary arteries and the spirits of the cows I eat.

T. Hooves continued in Jessie’s next blog; or see

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Thank you for this wonderful introduction to Thundering Hooves. I once had a long talk with Keith about grass-fed vs. organic, and I came away with a greater understanding of how each of those systems plays out in the cow itself, the ph of the stomach , e coli adaptablilty, etc.)

Also - the photo of the cows is great.