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Nieslanik Beef: Keeping up with the times

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Started in 1920

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff

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Three generations of the Nieslanik family, whose East Mesa ranch sits at the top of White Hill Road and looms over Carbondale’s southeastern neighborhoods, have been busy putting together a renewed marketing campaign to sell their locally grown beef to customers in the Roaring Fork Valley and around the Western Slope.

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The family company, Nieslanik Beef, has put together a new website (nieslanikbeef.com) and is rebranding itself, in keeping with growing demand for organically raised and processed beef products.

It’s the latest move in an effort that patriarch John Nieslanik, Jr., 87, said “started a long, long time ago,” when his father, John Nieslanik, Sr., started a cattle ranch in the Spring Valley area north of Carbondale, nearly a century ago.

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That legacy is proclaimed in a simple sign on a ranch building, which states, “Nieslanik Beef 1920,” and its continuing vitality harkens back to 1960, when John, Jr. bought the 166 acres that forms the nucleus of the family enterprise.

But the driving force behind the latest phase of the Nieslanik ranching business is coming from the younger generations — John’s son, Marty Nieslanik, with the able assistance of his wife, Jerilyn, and their sons, Parker, 27, (with his wife, Cara) and Johnny, 22 (known as Little John, as contrasted with his grandfather, Big John).

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“It was the younger generations that got it started,” said Marty Nieslanik, who had just come in from mowing hay on a large field next to the ranch house complex and talked to The Sopris Sun. “They were wanting to make more income.”

Parker noted that he left the family ranch at one point after graduating from college, to strike out on his own as an electrician and a construction supervisor, before deciding that leaving had been the wrong choice.

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“I wanted to come back because it’s a good life,” Parker remarked, adding with a laugh, “less money and more work  — seemed like a good deal to me.”

Turning serious, Parker continued, “My mission in life is to try to keep this place how grandpa started it.”

But where John Sr., back in the early part of the 20th century, focused on raising beef that would be part of the nationwide beef industry, the current crop of Nieslaniks have a more localized market in mind.

“He shipped it away in those days,” said John, Jr., discussing his father’s business during an interview at the family ranch this week. “There wasn’t no market around here, much.”

Changing times

Changing times have resulted in changes in the way the family runs its business.

For one thing, the Nieslaniks are now raising grains for use by the Marble Distilling Co. on Carbondale’s Main Street, in brewing up various kinds of alcoholic beverages.

But the main thing, as it always has been, revolves around cattle.

These days, Nieslanik Beef raises a mixed breed of cattle (Angus, of Scottish derivation, and Simmental, a Swiss breed) that are free of steroids, hormones and antibiotics. They are raised on hay grown on the family ranch and fed to them in the winter months, and quartered on leased federal lands in Thompson Divide, at the base of Mt. Sopris in Coal Basin near Redstone, in the summers.

Johnny noted that a significant change in the business is, “We got certified organic” by Where Food Comes From, a food certification and verification company based in Castle Rock.

And, said Jerilyn, the family ranch has allied itself with the Global Animal Partnership program, an international nonprofit organization that acts as a watchdog for the welfare of livestock and other farm animals.

The cattle, once grown and ready for market, are trucked away to be slaughtered and processed by a company called Mountain Meats with plants in the cities of Fruita and Craig.

The family is thinking, however, about switching to Eagle Springs Organics, an organic farm that also has a meat processing operation on a mesa along the south side of the Colorado River between Silt and Rifle.

Marty said the family has yet to initiate discussions with Ken Sack, owner of Eagle Springs, but noted that a trip to the Colorado River Valley would be “a lot better than the 170-mile round trip to Craig.”

The family at one point started selling beef to area restaurants, more than a decade ago, and still provides hamburger meat to the Red Rock Diner on Highway 133.

Latest change

The latest change in the family business, though, is meant to draw customers to the Nieslanik Beef website (nieslanikbeef.com) as a primary marketing tool.

To accomplish that, the family has been working with Matt Annabel and his Acre Narrative Design marketing firm in Carbondale, who helped set up the website and continues to shoot videos of the family ranching operation that are posted on the website.

“We’re trying to tell our own story,” Jerilyn explained, noting that the videos are seen as a way to tell the story of the ranch life, the animals and the people involved. And she recently produced a brochure (with a little online assistance) that tells a bit of the family’s history and contains a price list for the different cuts that are now for sale.

It is an extension of the ranch operations, Marty added, noting that “people can drive up here all winter long and see our cattle, see where their beef comes from, the things we do.”

In addition to marketing directly through the website, the family is in talks with area stores, including City Market and the Dandelion Market, about selling Nieslanik beef to the region’s grocery shoppers.

“They can do that (order through the website), they can call, stop by, anything,” Jerilyn added.

The family expects to encounter some rough spots over the course of the next year or two, as they learn how to match their production to the desires of customers, in volume and in types of purchasing.

For example, the family hopes to generate a significant number of buyers of whole, half or quarter cows (on a time payment plan) to provide various cuts of beef that can be stored in a customer’s home freezer.

They also are selling a wide range of packaged cuts and offering to take special orders, whether through the website or the Nieslanik Beef phone number (963-1644).

“We want to sell to the public,” said Parker, and keep things as local as possible, rather than sending their cattle off to become part of the corporate, anonymous and less healthy part of the industry, how most of America satisfies its meat fix.

Published in The Sopris Sun on July 7, 2016.

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