Tour de California

May 25, 2012
by WLJ

Two week’s ago, the Western Livestock Journal’s Tour was held in the western part of California. One hundred six tour participants traveled from across the nation to see firsthand the various agricultural contributions the California coast had to offer. Arriving in San Jose, IPSEN the group reunited with old friends and met new ones for a week of traveling.

The first stop was at Bengard Ranches in Salinas, owned and operated by the Tom and Terry Bengard family. Bengard Ranches is one of the largest produce suppliers across the country, but also owns a 2,500-head commercial Angus cow/calf operation. We saw first-hand how efficient produce farming can be and how this mindset translates to a very successful cow/calf operation.

That evening, we stayed in Monterey and guests caught up with old friends for a night on the town.

Day two, we traveled down Highway 1 to the Hearst Ranch, part of the Hearst Corporation. We met with ranch manager Cliff Garrison who spoke to us about their cow/calf operation and how they finish their calves on a purely grass forage ration. The meat is then marketed under the Hearst Ranch label and has become one of the fastest growing entities of the corporation. In the afternoon, we went through the famous Hearst Castle and were able to see some of the most spectacular views in California as the castle sits high on the hillside overlooking lush, native meadows reaching down to the scenic coast.

That night was spent at the world-renowned Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo.

Day three took us to the Spanish Ranch in Cuyuma, CA, where we learned how the Mexican land grant ranches later became part of the U.S., which left a rich heritage that is still honored today. Then it was on to the Rolling A Quarter Horse Ranch, Atascadero. John Creiger introduced us to the very successful horseracing operation that raises and sells all their own horses.

Day four started in Solvang meeting Monte Roberts and his famous wild Mustang, Shy Boy. Monte opened up the doors to both his International Learning Center as well as his home. We experienced a lecture on horsemanship and then walked to the arena to listen to a riding lesson provided by Monte and his wife and daughter. Lunch was at Monte’s backyard as it overlooks the Flag Is Up Farms scenery.

That afternoon was spent at the San Lucas Ranch just south of Solvang where we watched videos of Nancy Crawford-Hall’s world champion cutting and reining horses and a live reining demonstration which followed.

Day five, we traveled to the Jack Ranch, another ranch owned by the Hearst Corporation. The Jack Ranch is home to California’s oldest active brand. The circle c brand is registered as 0002 in California’s brand book and carries as much ranch history as any in the western states.

The following stop was at Grimmius Cattle Co. where we saw over 150,000 head of Holstein calves on feed, of which 70,000 were in approved calf crates until they are 3 months old. Calves ranged in age from 2 days old to 3 months. Randall Grimmius, owner and operator, spoke about their custom feeding facility and how they serve as a hub for local dairymen in starting their heifer development programs.

After staying at the Harris Ranch in Coalinga, we traveled through the feedlot and saw several thousand head on feed getting ready to be marketed, both domestically and internationally. Discussion included breeds of cattle, buying decisions, marketing and animal rights activists playing a role on the Harris Ranch operation.

We then made our final stop at the San Benito Cattle Co., Hollister. Our hosts, Manager Mitt French and his wife, Janet, walked us through the operation. Marketing, breeding decisions, breeds, and pasture management were of key concerns to San Benito, and the discussion ensued during the final farewell lunch provided.

As the tour wrapped up, phone numbers and email address were exchanged as many of the firsttime tour-goers were welcomed into the large family. As this was my first time on the WLJ tour, I was able to witness the lifetime friendships that were being built throughout the trip. Providing both an educational as well as a recreational aspect to the tour made this a very successful and humbling experience for all involved. — LOGAN IPSEN