Rancho Llano Seco

Business: Rancho Llano Seco

Location: Chico, California

Operation profile:

  • ≈ 4,500 pigs per year

Certification: GAP Tier 2

Background

Charles Thieriot (Charlie) is the Director of Operations for Llano Seco Meats and the sixth-generation owner of Rancho Llano Seco, a 17,000-acre Spanish-era land grant ranch established in 1841 and purchased by his ancestors in 1861. Rancho Llano Seco currently produces organic and conventional walnuts and almonds, organic and conventional row crops such as heirloom beans and ancient grains, grass-fed cattle, and responsibly raised pigs. The Rancho’s pigs have been GAP-certified since 2013.

When Charlie was a child, his family engaged in intensive pig farming and sold their hogs into the commodity market but had little success competing against larger industrial hog farms. Twenty years later, hearing the requests of their chef friends for higher-quality pork produced in California, Charlie’s parents made the decision to raise pigs with a focus on the quality of the pork and quality of life for the pigs. A few years after the project started, Charlie came home to California and began to help with the meat business, eventually taking it over with the help and consultation of his friend, Max Stepanian. Max had previously worked for Niman Ranch and understood the particularities of marketing humanely raised meat.

At the time of Charlie’s return, the farm was USDA Organic certified. Rancho Llano Seco’s pigs struggled with parasites because of their open access to pasture, but USDA Organic standards prohibit the use of parasiticides. Charlie felt it was inhumane to raise pigs on natural footing without the administration of a parasiticide. With some hesitation, the family decided to let go of the Organic certification so they could continue to raise their pigs without confinement and with continual access to the outdoors.

Getting Certified

Charlie learned from Max that the further consumers get from the farm, the more important it is to provide assurances with verification that the company is keeping its promises. After letting go of its Organic certification, the Rancho still wanted to participate in a third-party audit program, as well as to maintain a certification for its pork that reflected its commitment to a high level of animal husbandry. Since Rancho Llano Seco was also raising GAP-certified cattle at the time of the transition, it was able to switch over its pork line to GAP-certified quickly and efficiently. (Despite giving its pigs outdoor access, Rancho Llano Seco is certified to GAP Tier 2. Charlie cites GAP’s weaning and outdoor vegetative cover standards as the Rancho’s key barriers to achieving a higher level).

As a result of the GAP certification, business thrived, ultimately causing the Rancho to grow out of its existing facility. To expand affordably while retaining many of the features intended to make the pigs comfortable, the family refurbished century-old barns on the property while adding some additional features and modern technologies like heat lamps, misters and fans. The goal is to let the animals root and socialize while keeping them warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot. In the process, they also stumbled on some old, forgotten husbandry practices that perform well in a confinement-free system.

Rancho Llano Seco maintains custody of its pigs at all times except when they are slaughtered in a small-scale abattoir approximately 20 minutes from the Rancho. The abattoir is small compared to a national scale, but much larger than what the ranch itself could maintain. This scale allows for more humane CO2 stunning before the animals are slaughtered.

GAP Certification Outcomes

Improved Animal Welfare. Rancho Llano Seco was able to continue being acknowledged for raising pigs more humanely after letting go of its USDA Organic certification. The farm is committed to raising its pigs in a manner that preserves and restores the Rancho’s land. GAP certification allows the company to verify these commitments to consumers.

Market Access. Rancho Llano Seco markets its pork as certified by the Global Animal Partnership on its website, in promotional materials, on packaging and when dealing with purchasers. As a result, the company has been able to differentiate its products and sell to well-recognized restaurants and establishments while also maintaining an online market presence. Charlie attributes much of the Rancho’s success to its GAP certification. Important customers are starting to make GAP certification a prerequisite for doing business with a vendor, and more retailers are also seeking it out.

Secure Pricing. Even though there are always internal and external forces trying to drive prices down, Charlie feels GAP certification garners him the premiums he needs to maintain the standards he and his family believe are necessary for humane animal husbandry. GAP clearly differentiates Rancho Llano Seco in the marketplace, so consumers understand the added value of its products.

Why Certify with GAP?

Rancho Llano Seco certified with Global Animal Partnership to reflect their strong commitment to raising pigs humanely while holistically stewarding their land.