No one at the USDA could estimate how long the federal investigation would take to complete.

Gale, who runs a small grass-fed beef farm with his wife, Sally, said Monday that he was present at the slaughterhouse when the first federal raid took place in January.

"The agents had a long, open truck with 15 or 16 guys in white butcher aprons, throwing quartered carcasses into a loader and spraying them with grey dye to show they were contaminated," said Gale. "It was very upsetting because there was nothing wrong with the meat."

Gale said that three of his steers were a part of that initial recalled group — animals he knew to be of good health and free of disease, raised and processed to proper health and safety standards.

"When you bring an animal in to be slaughtered, they inspect it right away," said an angry Gale. "They will tell you immediately if there is a problem with your animal. The three steers I brought in had no problems."

Gale, who takes about 80 animals to the slaughterhouse each year, said that in the 16 years he's brought animals to Rancho Feeding Corp., he's never had any issues with contamination, inhumane kills or processing diseased meat.

"These barrage of accusations against Rancho is really mind-blowing and ridiculous," he said.

Matt Gamba, who owns Bud's Meats in Penngrove, said he too had very little information on the recall.

"We know the investigation is ongoing, but we still haven't heard anything as to why the recall really occurred," he said.

As the slaughterhouse doors remain closed, Gale and other ranchers worry about the effects to their businesses.

"Rancho is a very valuable resource and an intricate part of the ranching community," said Gale. "If they stay closed, we'd be very hard-pressed to figure out what to do. There are places we could take our steers to in the Central Valley, but the trucking costs would kill us. "

Rancho serves Sonoma, Marin, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties as the only federally-inspected animal processing plant, with the exception of a small sheep and goat facility near Occidental. The Petaluma slaughterhouse caters to local grass-fed and organic beef ranchers, like Chileno Valley Farms, who rely on Rancho to kill their animals and then sell their meat products through restaurants, markets and farmers markets.

A partial list of companies asked to return meat connected to the recall includes 13 local retailers: Bud's Meats in Penngrove; G&G Market in Petaluma and Santa Rosa; Petaluma Market; Carniceria Coalcoman, Carniceria Contreras, Carolina Wild and Willowside Meats in Santa Rosa; Sonoma Market in Sonoma; Brown's Valley Market, La Morenita and Vallergas Market in Napa; Apple Market in Novato; and Azteca Market in San Rafael.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com.)