For us, restoration ranching is about restoring a healthy relationship between people and the nature we live in. At Freestone Ranch, our model for ranching is a collaboration with nature where nature supports our needs for food, water, air, beauty and a home and our presence and efforts make the ecosystems around us healthier, more diverse and more productive. The Native Americans who created and tended the landscapes we value are a source of inspiration for us as we work and learn to have positive impacts on the ecosystems we are responsible for.
The plant ecosystems in our area evolved with disturbance. Unlike many trees, grasses cannot voluntarily shed their leaves, so they need something in their environment to return their biomass back to the soil to keep grass plants healthy and abundant. It’s an important process for cycling nutrients, improving soils, and increasing diversity.
As recently as about twelve thousand years ago, there were megafauna like mammoths and giant sloths that ate the grasses, shrubs, and trees. When those large herbivores went extinct, perhaps from human hunting and climatic shifts, fire took primary responsibility for larger scale disturbances. The Native Americans used intentional fire extensively as a tool to manage these landscapes and keep them open and productive for humans and wildlife alike. Today, fire is not a tool we can as extensively and precisely as cattle, but the millennia-old legacy of cyclical disturbance can be continued with cattle, whose physiology and digestive tracts serve as proxies for large animals of long ago.
For us, working with domestic ruminants to keep grasslands open and healthy is not about recreating the past – but rather, using the resources available in the present to support a better future.
Freestone Ranch is our home ranch. It’s mostly grass with trees along the creeks. It’s in the transition zone from the redwood forests to our north and the large ranches and grasslands to the south. It’s between the towns of Valley Ford and Freestone in West Sonoma County. In the late 1800’s it was a dairy. The train passing the ranch and through Valley Ford would have taken milk to the Sausalito ferry on it’s way to the city. Later it was a sheep ranch. In the 80’s a developer subdivided the ranch and sold 10 house lots with a plan to develop the remaining ranch into a vineyard using irrigation water pumped from the creek. We purchased the ranch in 2004 and have been growing grassfed beef for the local community over 10 years here.
Work we do
Fencing and water troughs – We’ve installed wildlife friendly fencing, and water troughs to implement our rotational grazing program.
Erosion repairs – Work to repair several gullies and other erosion issues keeps the soil on the ranch and out of our steelhead friendly Ebibias creek and the Estero Americano.
Rotational grazing – A key goal of our grazing program is to reduce the density of the non-native velvet grass in favor of a more diverse mix of native perennial grasses.
Invasive plant reduction – We graze, mow, pull and cut to reduce the populations of non native plants like blackberry, cotoneaster, multiflora rose, velvet grass, eucalyptus, and acacia on the ranch.
Trees – Willows, oaks, madrone, redwood, and wax myrtle are our favorite trees to plant and protect from cattle and deer browsing.
Barns – We believe in the value of investing rural agricultural infrastructure and have had the opportunity to build a hay and an equipment barn on the ranch.
Water – Water is key to life and we invest in the health of our creeks and watersheds by fencing cattle out of the creeks, building a stock pond to increase our water resilience and create wildlife habitat, and treating all the water on the ranch with the reverence it deserves.
Birds – Since we’ve been caring for the ranch, populations of swallows and red wing blackbirds have moved on the ranch. Quail scatter along the road. The raptors appreciate the grass cover that provides habitat for the rodents they depend on for food as they ride the updrafts where the coastal breeze sweeps over our hills.
Cliff swallow nests on the water tower
Juvenille barn owl in nest box
Western pond turtle
Trees planted along pond
An enthusiastic oak seedling
Young oaks planted by blue jays
Barn owl box
Small spring protected from cattle
Red wing blackbird
Buying our beef is a vote of confidence for investing in and restoring neglected and abused agricultural and wildlands land in Sonoma County.