Friday, January 3, 2014

JNP Ranch of Castle Rock, Colorado

Let's hear it for the first post of the New Year! Today we welcome Keith and Karen Penry.  They have a heritage breed ranch in Colorado!

We began livestock farming in 1998. My husband always wanted to farm. He spent his summers on his grandparent's farm in Iowa and still returns to Iowa each fall to help with harvest. Although both of us come from strong agricultural stock (my family settled and ranched the west and his farmed on the plains), I was wary of the life. I wanted my kids to grow up with more. I didn't want to be dirt poor, which is the view I had of farmers. It's not that I didn't love the idea of living off the land--living off the land was my dream--but I was practical, reasonable, realistic, and just plain scared of losing everything.

In 1995, we moved to Douglas County, Colorado. Large portions of the surrounding area were still rural. The move seemed to unleash the farming monster in my husband. He had opportunities to connect with land owners and that's exactly what he did. While he was making connections away from home, at home he was wheedling away at me.

Finally, in December 1998, after much crying, I gave in. We leased some land from a local native and JNP Ranch was born. We'd been married for nearly 9 years and had 3 young children. I was scared, but excited too. First we had cattle. We were raising them for beef, but that quickly turned into a breeding operation. And the kids were right there, working along side us every step of the way. We loved teaching our children about the sanctity of life and giving back to the earth. We loved teaching them about where their food really came from and what it means to work hard. We loved allowing them to see livestock up close and personal from birth to death.

Soon, we had friends and neighbors asking us if we would take their kids out to see the animals and work. When my husband broke his ankle, the young men from the church helped me feed and clean over the next several weeks. What started out as an opportunity for us to give our children a chance to experience a bit of country life soon turned into an adventure for friends, children of friends, neighbors, extended family, and now grandchildren. We feel so fortunate to have built a lifetime of memories that involve so many people we hold dear.

Over the years, we've ebbed and flowed, trying to find our place in agriculture. We wanted to make it work very badly, but we weren't allowed to make improvements or really possess the land we farmed on. Finally, in the fall of 2012, we bought our own place. We own 40 acres in southeast Douglas County. When we made the move, we basically started over. We have had one trial after another--predators, disease, weather--but we also know that this is it. This is our last chance to have a go at making a life in farming.

From the beginning, we always wanted to raise "natural" meat products on a small family farm. I wanted to farm like my grandfather. He was diversified and old-fashioned, but successful. Much of what we do is modeled after our grandfathers' operations. Our adventure in Ag eventually led us to heritage breed animals. It just made sense--raising animals adapted to our drier climate with distinctive seasons. We currently have heritage breed hogs, turkeys, and chickens. Our sheep are a Suffolk-Hampshire cross. Eventually we may move over to heritage breed sheep as well. Only time will tell.

Our children are grown now. Two of them still live at home. All three of them are still involved on the ranch. We all have to work off-farm, so it takes all of us to run the farm. I teach part-time at a local school. On the days I'm not teaching, I am trying to catch up at home. That may include making a feed run, getting other supplies, cleaning pens or coops, fixing fence, or simply working on my household duties. A typical day for us starts off with a morning run for my husband. Then, he comes to get me to do chores. I usually do the poultry chores and he does the hogs and sheep. We both head off to our jobs until evening. On winter evenings, when the sun sets early, our children usually do evening chores--either together or alone. Invariably, we spend a day or two each week fixing something, rounding up renegade animals, or moving animals. Invariably, somebody has decided that they want to go wandering away from home.

Summers and Saturdays are huge work times for us. I work outside all summer long. I'm feeding, building, fixing fence, cleaning up debris, or attacking daily emergencies. Saturdays are always busy for us. My husband always has a to-do list longer than the day is long.

I don't know if we have a favorite part of the ranch. I love the poultry--especially the turkeys. As soon as I say that, though, I think about how much I love the pigs, too. How can I describe it? We love our Colorado farm life--the beautiful scenery (that is my front yard), lots of sunny days, animals that come running when they see you, animals that talk to you and wait for you to scratch them on the head, babies galore, blue and brown and white eggs, ducks quacking, chicks and piglets exploring, and lambs frolicking. We are blessed with joy in some form every day.

Farm life is hard. We work hard all day and come home to put in another full day's work in the evening. We see lots and lots of tragedy--especially death. We've pitched hay in snowstorms, dug ditches in the springtime so the muck will flow, swatted flies and mosquitos, fixed miles and miles of fence, picked up the carcasses of chickens drowned in a flash flood, freed various vehicles from ditches and snowbanks and mud, nursed dying babies, rescued animals soaked from a leaky roof, walked around with a chick or a turkey poult or a piglet stuck in our shirt in hopes that our body heat can save them from imminent death, and cried in anguish proclaiming we cannot take one more day. Still, here we are. We're here because as hard as this life is, it's worth it. It breaks us down and yet it's rewarding at the same time. We love our life, our animals, our family. We can't imagine a better way to spend our time. On most days, we feel blessed.

I'm not sure that I need to say more, but if there is one thing I'd like the world to know, it's that we are not monetarily wealthy. We don't do this for the money. Every penny we make (and then some) is dumped back into the ranch. So, when you ask to buy from us, don't question our prices. Believe that we are giving you a fair and honest price for fair and honest work. I say on our website that it's about conservancy, stewardship, and sustainability. It is. We are here to partake in and preserve a way of life, but we need customers to find value in quality farm products at a fair price. If customers demand lower and lower prices, eventually all that will be left is fake food like CoolWhip and Twinkies.

Thank you for a great post!  To learn more about JNP Ranch be sure to visit their website (, follow their blog (, twitter account ( and like them on Facebook (

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