John Baker's day typically starts before the sun comes up. At 5 a.m. the ranch is quiet, chilly and peaceful. An early morning ride in late September had Baker, Llano Seco head cowboy, cruising out to pastures to check on the 100 or so newborn calves at Burnham Camp, a 300 acre pasture on the northeast corner of the Rancho. Today, like any other fall day, he will ride out to the wide open spaces that run along Ord Ferry Road and try and spot as many new calves as he can. Sometimes the only way to see them is by their ears poking above the shin-high grass, and white ears are always the easiest to spot. The pastures of land dedicated to grazing continue to grow in acreage each year, allowing the cattle to roam at their leisure.
Baker and his colleague cowboy Coop saddle up for a variety of duties: calf-checking, wrangling, branding or inseminating, which takes place in the early spring months. Calving, or the birth of new cows, normally takes place in October, but this year they started early in September. Heifers, just like humans, carry their offspring for nine months. After birth, the calves will be raised by their mothers for another eight months. During their rides out along natural canals that have carved through the untouched, native grasslands that still exist on the Rancho, Baker and Coop inspect the health of the land with the help of the US Fish and Wildlife scientists stationed on the property, helping to maintain the Rancho's diverse landscape. After riding over bumps of land, tufts of grass and a few small dips along the way, Baker cruises out of the pasture to make the rounds through the rest of the 17,000 acre landscape.
One of the many jobs handled by the cowboys is branding, something everyone at Llano Seco takes pride in. All branding practices are done in the fields, confinement-free. They use mobile corrals to encircle a cow where it already is and after branding simply move the corral.
The cattle on the ranch are moved bi-annually for feed from summer ground to winter ground. Some of them have been with us for almost 15 years. This time of year, the cowboys will move 400-500 cattle up to the 6,000 acres of what is known as "The Rocks," for winter feeding. Besides the heifers on site, the cowboys manage 55-60 bulls that are fed on an alfalfa dry feed supplement. Everything about the calf-cow operation is handled directly on the Rancho, even the purchasing. A buyer comes out, inspects the calves and will sell directly to purchasers.
During the year, whether early spring for branding or late fall for calving, the cowboys often are off-ranch helping other cowboy colleagues in the Valley. "Ever watch an old cowboy movie?" Ranch Manager Charlie Edgar asked. "It's like that." They help brand, round-up cattle and work on general ranch repairs at Northern California ranches like Pine Creek Ranch in Vina, Grimsman Livestock and McDermott Livestock in Orland. "It's like a code of honor," Edgar said.
Llano Seco beef combines the depth of flavor of grass-fed with the juiciness of a grain-finished product without ever confining the animals or giving them feed that is not 100% good for their bodies. "They ain't got it too hard," Baker said. The steer spend their life grazing on open pastures and are finished on a nutrient-dense feed grown directly on the Rancho. Find all your favorite, full- flavored beef cuts at our farmers markers or online.