In a county that once was rural but now is urban, Frank Fitzpatrick stands alone.
Scan the grasslands near Silverado, and you may find a herd of Barzona cattle roaming the hills and munching on the grass. These cattle represent Fitzpatrick's pride and joy: the beef he sells in Orange County and elsewhere in Southern California as 5 Bar Beef.
"I decided I wanted to be a cowboy on my eighth birthday," the Silverado native said, "and basically I just never changed my mind."
That interest led him to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he studied agricultural business and animal science, and then on a 10-year odyssey to about 17 different ranches in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Northern California.
"Then I had the opportunity to buy some Barzona and Beefmaster cows in '79," Fitzpatrick said. Thus began 5 Bar Beef, which eventually became a Barzona-only zone. Today, he runs about 700 head of cattle, including 300 cows; he sells 125 to 150 head of beef each year. Fitzpatrick said he's the last rancher raising and selling beef in Orange County.
The Barzona is a breed developed in Arizona beginning in the early 1940s as a cross of Afrikaner, Hereford and Santa Gertrudis. Fitzpatrick said they are tough animals, able to withstand extreme temperatures, sparse rainfall and rigorous range conditions.
The other critical component is the herd's diet. Fitzpatrick's cattle eat grass—mostly the grass they find while wandering around the ranch. If grass is scarce, he'll supplement with organic produce and summer hay.
"Grass-fed beef is a hard deal, because you're dependent on rain … to make the meat," he said. "As you know, in California, we haven't had a lot of that the last half a decade."
Frank Fitzpatrick and son Ryan keep watch over one of the Barzona herds. Photo: © 2018 Rob Andrew
Bonds forged over barbecue
Fitzpatrick offers nearly three dozen cuts of 5 Bar Beef, including favorites such as filet mignon, roasts, and porterhouse and New York steaks, as well as ground beef and several sausage varieties. He sells his products at two farmers markets—Fridays in Laguna Hills and Saturdays in Irvine—and online to Southern California customers.
Through the years, Fitzpatrick's beef has earned a following: "I have some 14-year customers that buy a half a cow from me every spring and eat it for the rest of the year," he said.
His beef has also helped him forge new friendships, including with Irvine residents Jutta and Jesus Gamboa.
"We've been to the ranch many times and hiked around, and seen (the cattle) just having fun out there," Jutta Gamboa said. "It's just beautiful."
The couple met Fitzpatrick seven or eight years ago at a farmers market when Jutta Gamboa, a novice at cooking grass-fed beef, sought the rancher's advice: "'We have a party coming up—a barbecue. You want to come up and help us cook it?' He said, 'Sure. Why not?' So that's how our friendship started."