Sue and Robert Hoek hosted 50 people on a tour of their cattle ranch Robinson Ranch on the first day of the Farm Conference this year. Sierra Harvest talked to Sue about the ups and downs of ranching.
Sierra Harvest: Tell me about your ranch and what you love about ranching.
Sue Hoek: We have a commercial cow-calf operation. We raise the calves to weaning weight. We sell quite a few locally to people who want to raise their own calves for meat. The rest go to a market and become meat eventually. I support all types of agriculture. I don’t raise grass-fed beef. I don’t use hormones, but if I have a sick cow I use antibiotics. I like grain-fed beef, so I finish my cows on grain.
The land has been in my family and has been a working ranch since the 1800s. When I was a girl, we lived in town and my uncle ran the ranch. I’ve been working here since the 80s. I have a fun job — I get to watch all of the babies be born. Sometimes I get to help. I get to be outside every day, I have my kids here and my grandchildren – 7th generation on this ranch. We have our own pasture so we stay here all year, clearing brush, building bird habitats. My kids work here, but none of them want to take the whole thing on.
What is challenging about ranching?
Sue Hoek: Dealing with regulation and restrictions is the toughest thing. Being late everywhere I go is the other down side – things can change in an instant on a ranch. The challenge of figuring out a way to conserve water and deal with how we fight amongst ourselves in our own industry. There’s always room to tweak things. Last year we gave up some of our water and left two fields fallow.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get into ranching?
Sue Hoeks: Find a mentor! Don’t jump in over your head. The biggest challenge is that the land is not available. I hope there will be more conservation instead of development. I hope that our land stays like it is. We just bought a neighboring piece of property where they wanted to build 40 houses. Be creative – who would have thought that people could make money clearing brush with goats and sheep. Find a niche market. Find a way to sell your product. Ranching is a huge investment. Be prepared for when the market falls.
Why do you attend the Farm Conference?
Sue Hoek: I learned something new from all three of the speakers this year – the new ideas might not all work for me, but I got something from each speaker that I’m going to try and incorporate. I met a soil scientist who is going to help me get rid of a noxious weed with compost tea. That’s the fun part – networking. It’s a great opportunity – sometimes we get stuck being only “this way” – at the Farm Conference I get to share my ideas and learn new things. Those little tweaks can result in big changes.
How can our local community support your business?
Sue Hoek: Shop local. Buy local. Tell your friends – let people know about the experiences you have. When my grandma was still alive, she would have had a heart attack if she knew we had 50 people on the ranch. People were private. And now we want to share with people what we are doing, show people how much we care about these animals. People need to be educated. We just need to keep supporting each other’s businesses. Go to fundraisers. Support Sierra Harvest so that kids understand what is going on with farming. We adopted a boy when he was 15, and he had never eaten an artichoke. What Sierra Harvest is doing with vegetables in the schools is so important.