Entrepreneur, developer and cattlewoman Mary Beth Jenkins has a heart for history and an eye for the future of the West she loves
It started as a straight land deal, but then Mary Beth Jenkins tasted the beef. Now, one of the West’s most savvy developers is in the cattle business and loving it. “Fortuitous,” is how Mary Beth Jenkins, founder and president of the Laramie Company, describes her meeting with Randy Rooney, fifth generation cattle rancher of the historic Rooney Ranch in Jefferson County. In 2007, Jenkins and the Laramie Company purchased the land adjacent to the Rooney homestead with the intent on developing the property at the interchange of West Alameda Parkway and C-470. But it became so much more.
The ranch is one of the most important “centennial ranches” in Colorado; meaning that it has been worked by the same family for over 100 years. Colorado historian Dr. Thomas Noel says, “Back in 1860, Alexander Rooney founded what is now the oldest operating ranch in metro Denver. There he promised his wife ‘a bright future whear thear shal be no breaking asunder those cords of afection.’ His spelling was off but his promise on target.” While the original ranch sprawled over nearly 5,000 acres, during the 20th century it was a 200-acre spread with some 14 buildings familiar to an endless stream of drivers on C-470.
Have a Beer, Little Heifer
“We wanted to keep cattle on the ranch,” Jenkins says. Rooney runs the cattle operations of the Laramie Cattle Company while Jenkins oversees the business and marketing aspects. “As we work together on cattle, we talk about the land that is so important to his family and to Colorado history. I think we’ve shown that developers can have a heart and do the right things with a piece of land in a profitable way.” While the interchange and highway have changed the nature of the land, Jenkins and Rooney are keen to preserve a piece of its heritage in a most delicious manner. The Laramie Cattle Company focuses on raising cattle in an organic, sustainable and humane way. The company buys grass fed Black Angus heifer calves from Wyoming as soon as they’re weaned, and lets them roam the pastures eating a diet of prairie grass, hay and beer!? “Randy regularly feeds the cattle beer mash, which is the spent grains from beer making. It is high in protein and imparts a sweet flavor to the beef,” Jenkins explains. Rooney picks up the mash from eight area craft breweries including the Golden City Brewery, the Chophouse and the Wynkoop Brewery. The cattle love it, particularly the autumnal brews tasting with their tastes of spiced pumpkin, fruits and vegetables. “The cattle literally come running when they see the big, red mash truck,” Jenkins laughs.
Much like the microbreweries, the ranch produces beef in small batches. It takes a full year longer to prepare the cattle for market at considerable additional cost. The beef also is dry-aged for three weeks, which results in shrinkage, further adding to the cost. The care and effort shows. The unique feeding regimen produces beef with more omega 3s than salmon. Beef from the Rooney Ranch has won three blind taste tests in Denver, and is served to rave reviews in select restaurants including Tables and Farro Italian Restaurant in Centennial; it’s shipped around the country to discerning beef lovers. “With my retailing background and Randy’s expertise, we’ve taken our beef out into the world,” Jenkins says.
Most importantly, the partnership honors the land and its legacy in Colorado’s ranching heritage. The Rooney family forged a unique agreement with the Ute Indians who used the sweet spring waters on the ranch. They appreciated the need for a neighborly relationship and were friends of the tribe, whereas other pioneer settlers did not and fared less well. Jenkins recounts a story of Ute Chief Colorow who dropped in for Sunday dinner long ago. “The family had a 5-pound roast on the table when Chief Colorow appeared in their kitchen. They invited him to share their meal and he ate the entire roast,” Jenkins laughs.
Continue reading the full story in our December/January issue...
Kimberly Field writes about history, style and the arts. She believes an Hermès scarf and a good rib eye make for Denver perfection.