Frank Fitzpatrick has owned and operated 5 Bar Beef for nearly four decades. He raises Barzona cattle, a breed known for being adaptable to harsh conditions, on pasture near Silverado in Orange County. Photo: © 2018 Rob Andrew
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."