Managing the land at TomKat Ranch is a big responsibility, but this type of work is in ranch manager Mark Biaggi’s blood.
Biaggi grew up on grass-fed dairy and is passionate about perfecting the science of managing land for grass-fed beef production.
"These grasses evolved with grazers, so if you’re actually going to work with nature, and the way we evolved, we need to allow the grazers to graze the grasses," he said.
TomKat Ranch practices regenerative ranching, a system that works in balance with nature to produce healthy food. The practice supports a symbiotic relationship between animals and plants that creates a robust ecosystem above and below the ground.
Cattle graze in one area and then migrate to another, stimulating plant growth. As they leave behind their excrement, they fertilize the soil. Over time, the land becomes resilient, absorbing more water rather than running off or eroding, which is something Biaggi saw after this wet winter.
“We just needed to dry out, the atmospheric rivers needed to slow down,” said Biaggi. “We need to dry out enough. We start growing more grass. But I’d rather deal with the atmospheric river. I’d rather any day deal with too much rain than deal with a drought.”
The cattle aren’t the only grazers on the land. The Spanish Cashmere Goats are a big part of the overall strategy.
Livestock Specialist Mukethe Kawinzi works with all 130 goats in the herd, including the 40 babies born this past spring.
"They are helping us to mitigate some of the effects of climate change," said Kawinzi. "The managed grazing that we do, that helps rebuild soil health, is an incredible way to actually capture carbon in the soil."
The goats also contribute in ways that the cows can’t. They eat not only grass but are a woodier species, helping with brush management and fire mitigation.
"Because of their small stature, they get into a lot of places and start to breakdown that brush that can often contribute to fire and fuel loads," said Kawinzi.
In addition to the goats, TomKat Ranch partners with CAL FIRE for prescribed burns on their property. It’s an important partnership to San Mateo CAL FIRE Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox.
A century of fire suppression has led to an accumulation of millions of acres of fuel load across the state, resulting in large damaging fires, so they need landowner cooperation to fight this threat.
"It’s a model for what needs to happen across the state to get the land back into a more manageable, sustainable future," said Cox.
Prescribed burns, plus grazing with cattle and goats, are all part of Biaggi's recipe in managing this land, working with nature to make it as resilient as possible to some of its greatest threats like fire and drought.
“If we can work with the land and the natural attributes of the land, then we have a better chance of being successful," he said.