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"The change comes from the top," added Kramer. "We have new leadership and new decision-making structure here."

Local ranchers who have used Rancho in the past are welcoming, but cautious. "A lot of us are taking the wait-and-see," said Doniga Markegard, whose grass-fed beef ranch has pastures in Bodega Bay and Sonoma Mountain. "Hopefully Marin Sun Farms Petaluma will be able to have enough competitive pricing compared to those other slaughterhouses to use their services."

Dairy ranchers earlier expressed concern over whether the facility would continue slaughtering cattle from dairy or beef operations that are no longer productive – "skinny cows," as one local rancher called them. "They're not sick or diseased, they're just not putting on weight," explained Jessica McIsaac of Neil McIsaac & Son Dairy.

"I like Dave (Evans), I think he's doing great things. But if he's not taking skinny cows, he's not really helping dairy people in Sonoma County," she told the Argus-Courier two weeks ago. During last week's press conference, Evans sought to clarify the matter.

"I'll be very clear on this," said Evans. "If an older animal of any breed, whether dairy or beef, is of good condition and good health, our doors are open to that animal getting properly inspected all the way through this facility." Still, he emphasized, "Our main concern here is that we're bringing healthy meat into the food supply and that there are proper evaluations in place."

He and Kramer stressed they would be working closely with USDA inspectors throughout the process, and hope to attain organic certification for the slaughterhouse — the current "break in the chain" of full organic certification for many ranchers.

Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who attended the press conference as an observer, expressed his support. "I'm really happy that a new owner has stepped up. [The slaughterhouse is] an integral part of agricultural infrastructure, not only for Sonoma County but the whole North Bay.

"It's another feather in the cap of providing farm-to-table production for Sonoma County. People really want to know where their food comes from."

(Contact Christian Kallen at argus@arguscourier.com)