In the winter, the bulls are turned out with the cows for breeding.
In the summer, they are pregnancy-tested.
In the fall, the calves conceived the previous winter are born.
The next winter, the young calves are rounded up, processed with vaccinations, and branded to provide permanent identification. They are also given a RFID (radio frequency identification) tag and a color-coded number tag, which makes it easier to identify a specific animal from a distance in a field. While the calves are separated from their mothers, the cowboys make a point of imprinting the calves to humans by walking slowly through the herd.
After branding, the calves are immediately reunited with their mothers. From then on, they are moved throughout the ranch in a low-stress pasture rotation. They graze on inland pastures first, allowing the coastal pastures time to store up forage for summer and fall.
The calves are weaned in the summer, at an age when they would wean themselves naturally. Calves and cows are separated by a wire fence, so they can still smell and see each other. Again the cowboys walk through the calves to accustom them to people.
Once weaned, the steers and heifers are pastured together on the land with the strongest feed, which has been reserved for this post-weaning stage.
Late-fall rains and some residual dry matter are the key to getting green grass early in the rainy season (when conventionally-raised cattle are taken to a feedlot). When the cattle reach 1,080-1,200 pounds, at approximately eighteen months, they are taken to harvest in a facility certified as following humane animal protocols. The Hearst Ranch’s grass-fed and grass-finished beef operation still follows the methods that have been used on this family ranch for most of the last 150 years.
The ranch will always need cowboys, as ranch manager Cliff Garrison explains:
“I love cowboying. I’ll do anything to preserve the lifestyle we cherish and raise our families in. It’s still an important job out here, because cattle don’t see a man too often in this big rugged country, and they can turn wild on you pretty easy if you don’t treat them right.”