Cobblestone Ranch

Eight-Month Ranching Apprenticeship near Chico, California

The Cobblestone Ranch is a sheep and cattle operation based on private property and on federal wildlife refuge lands managed specifically for wildlife habitat. Breanna Owens runs approximately two hundred ewes (with expansion plans over the next few years to increase to five hundred ewes). She uses a rotational grazing strategy on the refuge with the overall goal of maintaining and enhancing wildlife habitat and specific goals of reducing thatch, shrub and weed control, and stimulating new herbaceous growth. She moves the sheep one to two times a week, in paddocks ranging from one to five acres depending on seasonality and management objectives. Owens sells lambs as grass-fed and -finished either as feeder lambs to a direct marketer or as finished lambs to a regional processor. She plans on transitioning a portion of the flock to organic and selling through a regional CSA.

Start Date: January

Meet the mentors

FAQs

Meet the apprentice

Cobblestone Ranch

The Cobblestone Ranch, located near Chico, CA, is sheep and cattle operation based on private property and on federal wildlife refuge lands managed specifically for wildlife habitat. Breanna Owens, owner and sole operator, runs approximately two hundred ewes (with expansion plans over the next few years to increase to five hundred ewes). She uses a rotational grazing strategy on the refuge with the overall goal of maintaining and enhancing wildlife habitat and specific goals of reducing thatch, shrub and weed control, and stimulating new herbaceous growth. She moves the sheep one to two times a week, in paddocks ranging from one to five acres depending on seasonality and management objectives. Owens sells lambs as grass-fed and -finished either as feeder lambs to a direct marketer or as finished lambs to a regional processor. She plans on transitioning a portion of the flock to organic and selling through a regional CSA.
Primarily through the use of grazing animals, Owens manages vegetation communities to enhance nutrient and hydro cycles. In California, a large portion of rangelands have a reduced perennial herbaceous component and degraded riparian systems. Through livestock management and other actions, conditions that favor increased biodiversity throughout all layers of a landscape can be restored.
Grazing a wildlife refuge is a unique and fun opportunity. As the sole purpose for the properties is wildlife habitat with no requirements for multiple use, livestock grazing is strictly considered a tool for maintenance and improvement of the habitat. Intensive grazing and good management have restored large portions of the properties to riparian forest and perennial grassland. Managers are now looking at ways to improve the riparian forest understory and increase plant diversity in the grasslands, which can be done through both seeding of desired herbaceous species and through livestock grazing.
Cobblestone Ranch also has a cattle operation, in years past run on the home place and private leased ground in the winter and private lease and federal (USFS and BLM) land in the summer. This coming year however, Owens will winter cattle on refuge lands (with similar land management goals as above) and then on a private lease throughout the summer. She sells the majority of calves, although a handful are finished each year and direct-marketed.
Goals for Cobblestone Ranch include increased productivity through enhanced nutrient and water cycling. Owens is currently updating and adding infrastructure to facilitate improved livestock management. Once installed, she will be able to utilize permanent and temporary fencing systems to manage livestock use to create better disturbance and rest regimes. She also has several more intensive projects, including installation of hedgerows with plans for riparian corridor restoration through both plantings and grazing management. These projects are intended to propel key areas of the ranch landscape to enhanced function quicker than through livestock management alone.

The Mentors

Over the past fifteen years and continuing now, Owens has had the opportunity to learn about land and livestock management from numerous people in various locations. She wants to share what she has learned and provide an opportunity for others to learn along with her.
As Coordinator for the Rangeland Watershed Initiative Bre works at Point Blue Conservation with partner biologists who are assisting owners and operators of workinglands in implementing conservation practices designed to improve landscape function for the benefit of wildlife and ranch sustainability.

Bre grew up in Butte County where her family had a cow/calf ranch and opportunities abound to enjoy wide-open, productive ranch and timber lands that support an array of flora and fauna. She attended Chico State, completing a B.S. degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in Wildland/Range Science. She enjoys working with a team that recognizes the opportunities created by engaging diverse stakeholders in conservation efforts and that strive each day to realize the mutual goals of birders, ecologists, and ranchers.

While not herding partner biologists, you’d most likely find her chasing after bovines or her son.

FAQs

The Apprenticeship

Owens envisions an apprentice assisting with all aspects of the ranch operation. As with any livestock operation, the position will require physical labor interspersed with seasonal, office and other tasks. As the apprentice learns the regular ranch duties and becomes comfortable with them, they can choose some responsibilities to take on as a regular part of the job, with continued guidance as needed.


Cobblestone ranch is fairly new with lots of potential for growth and possibilities for additional enterprises.

  • Work and learning activities
  • Visual monitoring of pasture condition to determine grazing moves, helping set-up and take down temporary electric fence, moving livestock, hauling water
  • Checking sheep and cattle on regular basis, assisting with lambing, doctoring, processing of sheep and cattle (vaccinating, docking, branding, tagging, etc.)
  • Ranch infrastructure maintenance, repair, and installations – help with fencing, water troughs and lines, corrals and outbuildings.
  • Assist with care of guard dogs and stock dogs (possible training opportunities with stock dogs)
  • Assist with bookkeeping and maintaining ranch records
  • Assist with monitoring of soils, vegetation, and birds using Point Blue’s Rangeland Monitoring Network protocols
  • Assist with tree and shrub planting, seeding, installation of nest boxes and other conservation projects
  • Ranch visits through Point Blue to other operations engaging in conservation work
  • Attend rangeland/conservation related workshops, meetings, conferences (CRCC meetings/annual summit, SRM Cal-Pac, UCCE).
  • Other ranch projects and ranch-related events as appropriate

    Stipend: The monthly stipend is determined each year, based on available funding; it is approximately $800. The stipend may or may not cover monthly expenses for the apprentice based on his or her needs and lifestyle. The position does not allow time for a second job, so the apprentice should consider his or her budgetary needs before applying to this position.

    Housing: The apprentice will be housed in a camper trailer on the ranch. Heat and water are included in housing and are not additional expenses for the apprentice – though we do ask that you be conscientious of your energy use. Please note: housing can be provided only for the apprentice. Pets are ok. Spouses, significant others, and/or children cannot be accommodated on the ranch.

    Time Off: The apprentice will have one fixed day off a week. If an apprentice needs additional days for specific activities, he or she should let the mentors know as soon as possible. Be aware that the ranch and the herd dictate workflow over the course of the apprenticeship. 

    Food: The apprentice will receive partial board in the form of ranch products including beef, lamb, and eggs. Fresh veggies from the garden. 

    Quivira Coalition Activities: The apprentice is required to attend the annual Quivira Coalition conference, held each November in Albuquerque, NM; conference and hotel fees are covered by the Quivira Coalition. In addition to the conference, the apprentice will participate in an Holistic Management International webinar series geared Whole Farm/Ranch Planning Series. Apprentices are also required to write several reports during their apprenticeship; these reports will go through the NAP Coordinator at Quivira, and be posted on the Quivira website.

    NO Drugs: No drugs on ranch, range, vehicles, housing – the ranch is a completely no-drug environment.

    NO Partying: No partying. Having a beer/glass of wine or two after work is just fine.

    Health Insurance: The ranching lifestyle has inherent dangers. While personal health insurance is not required to participate in the apprenticeship program, it is strongly encouraged. The ranch carries Workman’s Compensation to cover injuries incurred on the job. But if the apprentice is injured on his or her day off, gets sick, or has or develops chronic conditions like allergies, these types of issues should be covered by personal health insurance.  

    Ranch Vehicles: All of the ranch vehicles are standard transmission. Apprentices will need to know how to drive stick-shift. Previous experience with backing up trailers is not required, but greatly appreciated.

    Personal Vehicle: While there are no instances (or very few) when an apprentice would be asked to use a personal vehicle around the ranch, the apprentice will need the flexibility of his or her own vehicle in order to run personal errands such as purchasing groceries and travel on days off.

    Living in Los Molinos: The Cobblestone Ranch and associated lease properties are located in Tehama and Butte Counties in the Northern Sacramento Valley. Los Molinos is a small agriculture-based community (approx. 2,000 people); however, the ranch is just a fifteen minute drive from the town of Red Bluff and a thirty minute drive from the college town of Chico. Sacramento, California is located approximately two hours to the south. The Sacramento Valley is the northern half of California’s Great Central Valley, ringed by the Sierra Nevada mountains on the east and the Coastal Range on the west. The climate is mediterranean, with cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers.

Want to read more? Here’s our November 2017 New Agrarian Newsletter profile of Cobblestone Ranch 

Apply now

Online applications are now open.  Cobblestone Ranch seeks an apprentice to start in January 2018.  We will begin reviewing applications in mid-November. 

2017 Apprentice

Shawna Burhans

I leapt into the world of holistic management and regenerative agriculture on little more than a hunch. My experiences up to that point included working for various humanitarian nonprofits, teaching, and slogging through a somewhat miserable stint at a large corporate law firm; I had never so much as taken an environmental science course or driven a tractor before I decided to leave my windowless office in New York to pursue what many would call a professionally irresponsible whim. I then became an apprentice at Vilicus Farms up in Northern Montana, where I learned the ins and outs of running a large-scale dryland organic crop farm, and worked as an intern at Zapata Ranch in southern Colorado before joining Bre Owens here at Cobblestone Ranch in Northern California.

Making the decision to leave the corporate law world for farming was certainly a career change, but more importantly, it was a decision to finally step away from the constraining list of acceptable college graduate career choices that had been both tacitly and explicitly engrained in me. All through college, I had watched my wonderful friends find delight in their academic pursuits, while I myself floundered and flitted from major to major, too concerned with what I “should” be doing to freely figure out what I loved and what I found most meaningful to do. My childhood and adolescence, which I spent intimately learning the wilderness of rural Missouri, was brushed aside.

But when I set foot on the plains of Northern Montana, so vast and flat that I could almost see the curve of the earth’s horizon, I knew I had found a medium through which I could begin to develop many of my dormant passions cohesively. In regenerative agriculture, there is space to both intimately and holistically know the land you rely on; to connect deeply with the community that you also must depend on to thrive, and who depends on you; to create enterprises that necessitate artistry and vision as much as pragmatic judgment and technical skill; to find entrepreneurial freedom in the development of ventures that make an operation more financially and ecologically sustainable; to take small steps in land management practices that have reverberating effects on broader systems.

When I first got in touch with Bre Owens about working at Cobblestone, I felt I was interested in the ranch in spite of the sheep, which was probably mostly due to a handful of jokes I had once heard cattlemen make about sheep farmers. The ranch also has cattle, so I told myself I would prioritize developing my skills with them. Of course, I found myself quickly falling for the ranch’s woolier ruminants, actively trying to spend more time working with them and learning about them. It’s gotten to the point where I’m no longer entirely joking when I tell people I’m thinking about going to shepherding school in the Pyrenees once my apprenticeship is over. I love the pace of sheep; learning the skill of working them without bulky infrastructure, the relationships with herding dogs that develop through work with the herd.

This is the first time I’ve worked at a smaller (less than 5000 acres) operation, and again, I have been proven entirely wrong in my original thinking that it would better to work with commercial-scale operations to learn the most and gain the most impactful experience. Working at the scale of a family-run ranch has allowed me to piece together understandings of logistics—how to scale up from little to nothing, how to deal with financial systems —that have led me to realize that running my own herds is not such a distant or impossible dream as I once believed.

The clarity I’ve found in this past year, especially since being at Cobblestone, has brought me to a place where I now have a fairly concrete understanding of where I am going in my work, as well as a lengthy list of steps I think I need to take in order to get where I want to be. I hope to stay on at Cobblestone and continue to become competent enough in my work that I can take ownership of more operations and herds, and perhaps even help in the start up of dairy operations. I also plan on returning to school to study land management and soil ecology—more specifically, the continued development of grazing practices that produce highest rates of carbon sequestration. Also thrown into the works is an increasingly resolute dream I have to attend divinity school and study the intersections of theology and agriculture (but I won’t go into that here).

Suffice it to say, the hesitancy that once governed my confused professional meanderings no longer hangs over me, here in a field of work with which I have come to feel so at home.  The somewhat convoluted, eccentric experiences I’ve had along the way here have formed a foundation which sustains me in days of hard work, tough mistakes, and of some of the greatest joys I have known.

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