Lava Lake Lamb
When Kathleen and Brian Bean purchased Lava Lake Ranch in 1999, they knew little about ranching but were eager to learn. The conservation-minded couple shared a desire to work in union with nature while restoring the landscape and raising healthy animals. Located 17 miles east of Carey, near Craters of the Moon, Lava Lake's 2,000-plus sheep graze on more than 800,000 acres of public and private lands. They produce 100-percent grass-fed lamb that is both good for the earth and good for you.
How did you get to where you are today? What’s your background, education, work experience in relation to food?
We came to ranching by way of conservation. We were intrigued by the possibility of using good grazing practices to restore lands that had been degraded over time, and keep wild lands healthy. Once we took over the historic sheep ranches that we purchased to form Lava Lake Ranch, we recognized that the lamb raised in our local Pioneer Mountains is some of the best in the world, and we formed Lava Lake Lamb to bring that product to market. We really knew very little about ranching and learned from the families who sold us the ranches and from our herders and neighbors.
Please provide a brief description of the ranch (acreage, landscape type, how many sheep, guardian dogs, and herders).
Lava Lake is headquartered near Craters of the Moon National Monument and encompasses more than 800,000 acres of public and private lands that extend from the Snake River Plain into the high Pioneers. We currently have two bands of sheep (approximately 2,000 ewes), eight Great Pyrenes and Akbash guard dogs,and six herding dogs. The sheep and ranch are cared for by our experienced herding staff, all of whom were raised in Peru.
Why and how have you made conservation part of your mission?
We are both lifelong conservationists. Kathleen worked for The Nature Conservancy in California for several years, so when we purchased Lava Lake we partnered with the Conservancy to develop a comprehensive conservation plan and began to place our deeded lands under easement. Grazing responsibly requires understanding the landscape, the rhythms of the seasons, and considering the needs of wildlife such as elk along with the needs of the sheep. If you want to raise great lambs, you need to care for the resource they use so a conservation ethic and ranching really go hand in hand.
What’s your approach to preventing conflicts between wolves and livestock?
We use a variety of methods that deter wolves – guard dogs, human presence,lights and noise makers, and electric fencing.
What are your biggest challenges as a food producer in Blaine County?
It would be great to have a more local option for processing livestock.
Why is it so important for our community to support local farms and ranches?
Farms and ranches provide critical habitat for wildlife, employment for many people and are part of the rich history and heritage of the region, and as such we believe they enhance the quality of life we all enjoy here. We are so fortunate to live in a place where we can eat local, sustainably raised food and we should not take that for granted.
What change(s) would you like to see in the Wood River Valley in terms of food?
Farmers and ranchers are so busy caring for their fields and animals that there isn’t enough time to do everything, so more cooperative marketing and distribution could be helpful. Regional branding, so customers know they are supporting local producers.
What do you love most about being a rancher?
For our family, being so intimately engaged in this landscape and caring for our animals has been a great gift. And being part of the ranching and conservation communities has brought so many incredible people into our lives!
Who are your food heroes?
We are fortunate to know some of the pioneers in the organic movement in California – Warren Weber, whose Bolinas farm is the longest certified organic farm in the state, Sue Conley of Cowgirl Creamery Cheese, and Albert Straus of Straus Family Creamery. They created a culture in Marin County that valued sustainable, local food and influenced the movement nationwide.
What’s your favorite meal featuring Lava Lake Lamb?
Our family especially loves slow food dishes like lamb curry and lamb shanks.
Where can people find your products?
Lava Lake Lamb is available locally at NourishMe and Kraay's Market & Garden. Customers can order directly from us via website, lavalakelamb.com or give them a call for local delivery. You can also find Lava Lake Lamb on the menus of many restaurants here in the Wood River Valley including CK's, Limelight Hotel, and Tundra.