The River Ranch is west of Round Valley on the Eel River in Mendocino County. The top reaches 4000′ elevation with pines, firs and oaks at the top. As the ranch drops 3000′ down to the river, the vegetation shifts to oaks, maples, madrones, buckeyes, digger pines and native grasses. The incredible trees, grasses and wildflowers are remnants of the stewardship of the Native Americans that called California home for thousands of years. More recently, settlers established multiple homesteads and even a school on the ranch. As the economics of homesteading faded, much of the land in this area was consolidated into larger ranches. Fences, roads and ponds were built to support timber and larger scale cattle ranching in the area. We are working to respect all of the contributions to the land from our predecessors.
Bay Hill Ranch
Bay Hill Ranch is perched on the hills about Bodega Bay with a creek and watershed that supports steelhead and drains into the bay at Cheney Gulch. The ranch was farmed and heavily grazed by sheep for 150 years. Topsoil on the ranch has blown away and been carried down in the mud flats of Bodega Bay by Doran Beach. We have been caring for the ranch since 2015. The valleys of the ranch have gullies that reach 20 feet below the historic flood plains. Tens of thousands of cubic yards of soil have eroded from the valleys of the ranch into the bay. The northern portion of the ranch and creeks are heavily impacted by farming and invasive eucalyptus trees while the southern portion sustains an impressive ecosystem of native plants and wildlife. Bedrock and two sediment capture ponds were built by the RCD in the mid 80’s have helped stop the flow of soils into the bay but there is still much that we are working to do to improve the vegetation, soils and health of the creeks. The springs on the ranch were a stopping ground for Native Americans returning from Bodega Bay with their shellfish harvest. It’s easy to imagine Indians camped by the spring and eating shell fish and thimble berries.
In 2006 there was an effort to turn the ranch into a rock quarry that was stopped by community protest. The ranch infrastructure was ignored and the land was overgrazed by cattle after that until we started work on it in 2015.
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.
Buying our beef is a vote of confidence for investing in and restoring neglected and abused agricultural and wildlands land in Sonoma County.