The Cakebread Ranch: Operation features unique array of aspects
Thayne – In 2006, Steve and Jill Cakebread purchased land along the Salt River just north of Thayne. The property had been part of a family farm for nearly 100 years but was scheduled for development before they purchased it.
Since then, they’ve continued to add adjacent parcels to the property. They’ve restored native grass pastures and fields, encouraged healthy habitat for Brown and Cutthroat Trout and other wildlife, developed an organic vegetable garden and greenhouses brimming with vegetables and herbs and planted hundreds of vibrant young trees.
In 2011, they went into the cattle business, raising full-blood Wagyu cattle.
The Cakebread Ranch now includes a cattle business, farm, fly-fishing operation, greenhouses and garden facilities. In the near future, they plan to build a lodge and restaurant, and eventually add guest cabins.
The place consists of 230 acres of irrigated and dry alfalfa, river meadow and grass pasture, with an early water right.
The Cakebread family also owns Cakebread Cellars, producing high-end red and white wines. Steve and Jill’s vision for Cakebread Ranch is to produce high-end beef, fruits and vegetables using sustainable practices on the ranch, which is located just 45 miles south of Jackson Hole.
Ranch staff includes General Manager Chase Averill and six other employees.
The ranch focuses on breeding and raising 100 percent full-blood Wagyu cattle from Japan and Australia, descended from historic and preeminent Japanese bloodlines. Their goal is to produce Kobe-style beef – often called “butter beef” for it’s flavor and marbling – available for dining in the ranch lodge, as well as in prestigious restaurants in Jackson.
The word “Wagyu” refers to all Japanese beef cattle – “Wa” meaning Japanese or Japanese-style and “gyu” meaning cattle. Kobe-style beef often grades Prime Plus Plus, or off the USDA Meat Grading scale.
Ranch Manager Jim Pigg says most of the Cakebread’s Wagyu cattle descend from the Tottori strain – one of the dominant black Wagyu strains – used in Japan as pack animals for the rice and grain industry in the Tottori region. In Japan, these cattle were selected for their size and strength of topline.
“We’re doing a lot of genetic research, and we feed the cattle well to find that perfect balance of milk, marbling and size,” Jim comments. “A lot of folks like the idea of grass-fed beef, but don’t care for the flavor or texture. These cattle are pasture-fed a magic ration.”
Pasture-fed refers to a process of livestock grazing and feeding organic grain products in the pasture to improve beef flavor and marbling.
While developing de-sired genetics, the ranch now runs 21 head of cattle. Soon, they’ll work their way up to 40 head, and eventually up to 160 head, according to Jim.
Situated on five acres, the farm includes a wide variety of herbs, flowers, vegetables and a fruit tree orchard cared for with sustainable organic farming methods.
Produce from the garden and hoop greenhouses includes a diverse array, ranging from lettuce mix, heirloom tomatoes and assorted hot peppers to kale, rutabagas and baby fennel.
Todd Baron, head gardener, thoroughly enjoys his job.
“The goal for the organic farm is to be self-sufficient, growing produce for the lodge when it’s built, as well as restaurants in Jackson,” says Todd. “We also have produce to sell locally, and plan to have a show garden.”
Todd and one employee care for the farm on a daily basis. He and three employees work together on Thursdays to prepare produce for the Star Valley Farmer’s Market in Alpine. Some of the produce available from the Cakebread Ranch at the farmer’s market in late September included Swiss chard, lemon cucumber, pea shoots, micro greens, sunchokes, purple plum radish and watermelon, as well as thyme, rosemary, sage and caraway seed.
“This is the third summer for the test orchard. We grow semi-dwarf apples, cherries and plums. Semi-dwarf seems to work best here because of our very short growing season,” Todd explains.
He also tends a lavender test field.
“We grow English lavender that we’ll harvest and sell to spas and wellness centers. It’s a great cash crop, selling for about $10.50 a bundle or $38 a pound,” he explains.
Todd says the farm may eventually offer classes and workshops focused on the farm-to-table concept and production at Cakebread Ranch.
The Salt River and additional feeder creeks meander through the willows and hayfields, offering about four miles of private fishing for Brown and Cutthroat Trout. Ranch staff has worked to restore the river and creek banks to increase fish habitat. A professional fishing guide offers guided fishing trips on the ranch.
“The Salt River here is mostly land-locked,” explains Jim, “with few Wyoming Game and Fish access points, so the river is not over-utilized.”
Fishing at the Cakebread Ranch is set up on a “beat” system. To ensure productive fishing for each fisherman, each beat is rested on a regular basis. A historic cabin built with square-cut logs serves as a riverside fly shop on the ranch to increase the fishing experience.
Lodge and cabins
With the fly-fishing aspect of the operation flourishing, the Cakebread Ranch has broken ground for the lodge, which will seat about 40 people.
“In the restaurant they’ll cook mostly with wood, using oak, hickory, apple and mesquite. They’ll use a large wood-fired pizza oven with an Argentine influence,” explains Jim.
The beef raised on the ranch will be served in the restaurant.
The Cakebreads are planning to build six to eight cabins on the north end of the ranch in a secluded area for guests.
“We are working toward an organic status, which presents challenges,” comments Jim, “like not being able to chemically amend soil, or chemically treating weeds. Right now, we are using about 28 goats to help reduce weeds in small areas.”
He says one of their largest challenges includes building the place from scratch.
“We purchased pastures or parts of several different ranches and started with basically no infrastructure. We’ve accomplished quite a lot in a short time,” Jim adds.
Ranch staff has amended pastures with native grass mix, planted 800 trees and built fence.
Jim estimates they will have beef available for the lodge restaurant by 2014. Chase says the farm should be in full operation within three years, and the restaurant operating within about one year.
Jim says, “The Cakebread’s are the most gracious and polite owners. They desire to have a strong leadership role in the community and to be strong local employers.”
Steve and Jill Cakebread, and their knowledgeable staff, are well on their way to creating a first class ranch representing quality and excellence.