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Erika Cearley: “I always wanted to be a cowgirl!”

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Story by Erika Cearley | Photos courtesy of Calaveras river Farms

Calaveras River Farms is a grass-fed cattle ranch located in Linden, California. We’re first-generation ranchers, and it hasn’t been an easy start, but with hard work and dedication we are now going strong. My husband, Bobby, and I are cofounders of Calaveras River Farms. We raise Scottish Highland cattle, produce USDA-certified grass-fed and finished beef, and run a farm-based skin-care boutique using tallow sourced from our farm. We also offer farm tours, photo shoots and educational opportunities.

as a young girl, I always felt a draw to our way of life, and if you had asked me what I wanted to be my answer was always, “A cowgirl.” Growing up, I would visit my Great-Grandma Bernice in Fresno, California, where she taught me how to identify the trees and plants she grew, facts about the cattle in the field behind her home, and even how to preserve the food she grew. Her knowledge made a lasting impact on me that I still think of to this day when I’m collecting and growing food for our family or identifying beneficial plants on our ranch. While Grandma Bernice had a major impact on me, I would say the largest came from my father, Harold. My father has been a meat cutter since the late ’70s, when he started at Payless Market in Lockeford, California, where he met my mother. Later in his career he moved to Podesto’s, where many customers know his friendly smile. Growing up, I spent many years around and behind that meat counter with the master butchers who now carefully prepare our meat. After we processed our first steer, it was my father who introduced me to tallow, which is now the key ingredient in my farm store.

In 2018, we purchased our first few head of cattle while stationed in Washington State, where Scottish Highland cattle are more abundant. Scottish Highlands are known for their docility and are renowned for their grazing abilities; they consume a wider variety of plants including those considered pests and improve the pastures they are on. This natural finishing creates beef with lower fat and cholesterol and superior flavor.

Tallow comes from the fat of cattle. It is rendered down at low temperatures and strained to remove any impurities. It is a healthy, beneficial fat that has amazing benefits at the cellular level. Beef tallow is a wonderful cooking fat, but it also acts as a fabulous topical superfood for the skin. It is incredibly nourishing and full of skin-loving vitamins such as vitamin A, D, K and E as well as conjugated linoleic acid, which is both an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial. Tallow is extremely effective at treating and improving skin health due to its similarity to the makeup of our own skin.

We use our rendered tallow to create old-fashioned cold-processed tallow soap, whipped tallow lotion and salves that have been effective with helping our customers who have chronic dry skin and eczema. Tallow has been used for hundreds of years for a variety of different treatments and soap recipes. Tallow’s fat-soluble vitamins help alleviate redness, inflammation, irritation and cracked, scaly skin. It is wonderfully effective at restoring and repairing the skin’s natural barrier.

In the springtime, you can find me foraging with my two young children for our ranch’s natural healers. I love teaching them about nature and the bounty we have around us. You can find stinging nettle, chickweed, elderflowers and lavender in abundance here, all of which I dehydrate and infuse in oil for use all year long in our products.

Another part of our business includes farm tours, seasonal photo sessions and education about the Scottish Highland breed and ranching. We host our guests through the Airbnb experience platform, where they can book their preferred tour. Our farm also participates in local events, such as the Calaveras County Celtic Faire, where local school children can see and learn about this special breed and see them up close. We recently became a destination to meet our cows and calves, and we helped set up a proposal for a couple visiting all the way from Australia! During the holidays, we offer Christmas photo sessions. We also had two of our calves, Luna and Lucky, at a local business where the children who came to meet Santa could also see his “reindeer.” This month we will be hosting spring photography sessions on our ranch.

We sure do love what we do and enjoy sharing these experiences with our community!


Erika Cearley