My husband of 48 years, Tom DeForest, and I have a small cattle and hay ranch a couple of miles out of Adin, CA in Modoc County. It’s just the two of us on the place. Our one daughter, Sarah, is the Director of External Relations for the College of Agriculture at the University of California, Chico. Our other daughter, Becky, is the Executive Director for the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce in Markleeville, CA. She has two children, Ruby, 15, and Hayden, 13. We love it when they can all come home to visit and help us with whatever we have going on.
I guess I can say I grew up in ranching, but not on a ranch. I was born in Carmel, CA. My Dad, Jim Wolter, was born and raised in the Carmel Valley ranch and farming community, as a well as his father and grandfather. When I was 7 years old we moved to Grass Valley, CA for health and financial reasons. Mom (Janet) and Dad soon bought a small 10 acre place with a house and a barn. Dad went to work in heavy equipment construction. My two brothers and sister and I had a great childhood there. Mom and Dad did everything they could to have a place for us kids to have 4-H and FFA projects and horses to ride. And they instilled the love of our ranch heritage in each of us.
I went to Cal Poly and that’s where I met Tom. He came from a similar background as I. His parents (Ches and Grace DeForest) both came from ranch families. Tom grew up on a ranch that his Dad managed. So after we were married we started working for ranches throughout Northern California and Southern Oregon. We always had the dream of having a place of our own, but deep in our brains we knew it was probably just a dream.
We had the blessing of working with some great cowboys and buckaroos, cattlemen and businessmen. We both learned a lot. I always wanted to be working along-side of Tom and to be on a horse. The girls came along and our family was complete. But deep down, we wanted a place of our own. While working at the Drews Valley Ranch, Lakeview, OR for Jack Sparrowk, we were offered an opportunity to run a few “pee-wee” calves through the winter and summer. We went to the bank and got a loan. That project payed off and we got another loan to buy five cows. And that’s basically how it started, from scratch. We had some extraordinary opportunities. We are forever grateful for the wonderful people that were willing to give us a hand. We worked really hard. At times we experienced some big challenges and setbacks. But we never gave up.
We have a herd of Hereford and Angus cross commercial cows that we calve in the summer in Modoc County on mostly rented pasture. Then we ship the pairs to rented winter pasture on the Sutter Buttes and further south to the Calaveras County foothills. Some of the calves are sold off the cows in the spring, and some are brought home to run as stockers until August or September. Our ranch has made a good headquarters to process and ship cattle out of.
We also have a small herd of registered Hereford cows that we raise bulls for our own use and to sell also. We used to have a stallion and up to 5 broodmares. We raised the colts and got them started and eventually sold them. As we are getting older and it’s been harder to keep the colts ridden we decided to sell the stallion and last broodmare a year ago. I really miss seeing the mares and colts. But we are still riding some nice horses that we raised.
Every day is different. I am really lucky that Tom cooks breakfast. That gives me a chance to have some time to work on the computer, start straightening the house up, and generally get ready for the rest of the day. Other than that, the duties change with the season. There are so many things I do. And I know that I am never bored. I’ve always got something to do. I take pride in some stream restoration, wildlife habitat and environmental improvements that we have done on the ranch. I do all the bookwork, banking, taxes and government reporting. I help Tom feed. We work our cattle together. He is in charge of the vaccinating and working the chute. I bring the cattle by horseback up to the tub and into the lead up. One pet peeve of mine is letting cows turn back. So I take pride in how I handle the cows and how smoothly they work. We check the cattle and make sure they are on fresh feed. If Tom has to go south to ship cattle home, I stay here to receive them and settle the weaners. We help neighbors and friends brand and they help us. I love to rope in the branding pen. Other things I do include weed spraying and weed chopping. I haul rock to stream banks and washes to prevent erosion. I try to keep the garden and headquarters mowed and neat. I help Tom rebuild and repair our corrals and fences. I work in my vegetable garden. I sew. I do leatherwork. I take photographs. I do a little bit of everything.
My favorite thing is definitely being able to work with Tom. We are a pretty good team, even if I say so myself. We work well together. We work quiet. And our cattle work well for us. The two of us can get a lot done. And of course I enjoy being outside with our animals and working with nature. I’d be lying if I told you we never have arguments. We don’t argue as much as we used to though. After all these years we pretty much know what is expected of each other, as long as we remember to communicate. When I go in a corral with cattle, my first priority is the benefit of the cattle. And that is Tom’s too. So we generally see eye to eye.
I think the hardest thing about ranching for me is dealing with the actions of others. Most people are really good, but occasionally we have had to deal with bankers that wouldn’t work with us, crazy drivers on the highway, goofy government regulations like California Fish and Game Commission making the wolf an endangered species in California, development of rangeland into trees and urbanization, burdensome water regulations, etc., etc. One clear, crisp, November afternoon Tom and I were moving 75 pairs down the highway on a 5 mile straight stretch. A guy came driving from behind us and plowed into the cows. It was a miracle that we, nor a lady that was driving in the other lane, weren’t hurt. But 5 cows and 3 calves were killed and many more injured. The poor bunch of cows had their lives turned upside down, much less how frightening it was to us. We were not at fault as it is open range. But ever since then, we have the California Highway Patrol escort us when moving cows. I think I might still have a little PTSD from that event.
When things that we can’t control come up, we just deal with them. They may be disappointing at the time, but a lot of times there’s nothing we can do other than accommodate our plans and deal with whatever needs to be dealt with. I know I’ve been disappointed plenty of times in missing holiday plans. But we just deal with the stuff. Yes, we have our stresses. But I can’t imagine dealing with the stress of urban life. When I get stressed here I look around and see all of the blessing around me. I see open space, wildlife, cattle, horses, dogs, rangeland, trees, and rocks. I smell fresh air. I hear birds, coyotes, frogs, cattle. I feel nature. I feel close to God and I am thankful I am here.
I love and appreciate all the seasons, but I have to say that my favorite is when we sell and ship our calves and/or yearlings. That is the culmination of all the seasons. It’s the “harvest season”. I take great pride in putting those big, healthy, growthy cattle on the truck. We have provided them the best quality of life that we could. It is a job well done. And I say a prayer of thanks and gratitude to them. They have enabled us to live this wonderful life.
I have had lots of wonderful moments and events, but I must say that whenever the girls and grandkids come home it is the greatest. And having good friends come help us brand and do other things that we need to ask help for. Those are special times.
Definitely it is important to share our stories. The urban population is ignorant to what all the things we do to benefit them. We can’t blame them for that. We have done a poor job of telling our story. I have been very involved with the wolf issue in California. I went to the first CA Fish and Game Commission hearings on listing the wolf as endangered in California. This is over and above the Federal listing. The propaganda I heard was scary and astonishing. There are a lot of people out there that want to get us off the land. Somehow, we need to get our stories out there. We are important for the survival of our nation.
If ranch life is calling you, I say go for it. Be the best you can be. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Be prepared to have setbacks. Realize that life isn’t always fair. Remember that the opportunities you have today are far greater than your great- grandmother’s were. You still have to work hard. Take time to appreciate your blessings. Never give up. And be like Ginger Rogers….she did everything Fred Astaire did, only in high heels and backwards.