Country Natural Beef co-founder Doc Hatfield dies

Lucas Balzer Doc Hatfield speaks at the Denim and Diamonds event in Portland on Nov. 20 as his wife, Connie, looks on. The annual fundraiser is organized by the Agri-Business Council of Oregon. The Hatfields received the councilÕs 2009 Ag Connection Award, given to recognize outstanding leadership in connecting the public with agriculture.

Updated: 3:55 p.m.


Capital Press

Patrick Dale “Doc” Hatfield, co-founder of Country Natural Beef, died of pancreatic cancer March 20. He was 74.

Hatfield founded the cooperative with his wife, Connie, in 1986, in Brothers, Ore., with 14 ranching families. The cooperative now includes over 100 ranch families who manage some 6.3 million acres in 13 states.

He is survived by his wife and children.

“They were proud of how they raised their cattle. They made sure that land was going to be sustained so it could raise cattle indefinitely,” said Jack Graves, chief cultural officer for the fast food chain Burgerville, which exclusively uses beef from Country Natural Beef.

Graves believes the entire industry will eventually raise beef by the Hatfields’ example.

“He wanted to raise cattle the right way, and show people how it was done. I think he demonstrated that beautifully,” Graves said.

The Hatfields have been recognized as leaders in the industry.

"He really fostered a natural business where the rancher stayed in control of the meat all the way through the system," Country Natural Beef executive director Dan Probert said of Hatfield. "Doc and Connie's vision was that the ranchers would own the company. Because they were such selfless people, they were able to make that model work."

Probert said the Hatfields turned over marketing director duties two years ago, but remained connected to the company, preferring to be thought of as "emeritus."

"We have a weekly conference call, and Doc was on that call up until a couple weeks ago," Probert said. "He made every call."

The Hatfields' ranch remains a member of the company, and their children are still actively involved, Probert said.

Davies credited Hatfield and his wife with having a positive impact on land management, cattle genetics and marketing.

Hatfield began as a veterinarian in Montana, Country Natural Beef marketing director Stacy Davies said. Davies said, and was responsible for bringing several cattle breeds, particularly the Tarentaise, to the United States in the 1960s.

Davies said Hatfield was a pioneer in composite breeding of livestock, combining Tarentaise, Red Angus and Hereford cattle, which impacted many herds.

When the cooperative began, consumers wanted a leaner, healthier product, Davies said, but the industry needed animals that would gain weight well in feedlots and work well on ranges.

"The Hereford and Red Angus brought the eating quality and the Tarentaise brought the growth and leanness," Davies said.

Hatfield also introduced high-intensity, short-duration grazing as a holistic resource, implementing modern grazing techniques that greatly improved the rangeland in the 1970s, Davies said.

Hatfield was a founding member of the Oregon Watershed Improvement Coalition, later the Governor's Watershed Enhancement Board. It was one of the first groups comprised of agency representatives, ranchers, industry members and environmental groups, focusing on a healthy, working landscape. Davies said the effort was revolutionary.

"One of Doc's favorite sayings is 'If it's already been done, it's not worth doing again,'" Davies said. "He was always looking for a way that would recognize the diversity of a group of people and make diversity a strength, using the collective wisdom of a group. The more diverse the better, in Doc's mind, because then you had ideas from all aspects."

Doc and Connie -- "They were a pair, they were inseparable, neither one was whole without the other" -- were instrumental in bridging the gap between the ranchers and environmental community, Davies said.

"(They were) a demonstration that ranching is a wise and sustainable use of the landscape if done properly," he said. "Doc was a master of bringing people together to find common solutions that were better, that helped more people and made a difference in the environment."

Many of the other smaller natural beef companies started at the same time in the late 1980s have been sold or combined with other companies, Probert said.

He considered Hatfield a true leader in the industry.

In 2009, the Hatfields received the Ag Connection Award from the Agri-Business Council of Oregon. In 2010 they were recipients of Oregon State University’s Weatherford Award, which honors lifelong entrepreneurs and innovators. That same year, animal behaviorist Temple Grandin endorsed their “Raise Well” animal welfare standards.


Capital Press has curated links to some of the coverage Doc and Connie Hatfield and Country Natural Beef have received in recent years using Storify. For more, click the link:

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