Cattlewoman Jody Fuller brings smart grazing to Homer Ranch
By Emily McCarthy
(WOODLAKE, CA) - The Homer Ranch Preserve is one of Sequoia Riverland Trust’s preserves spanning 1,819 acres of oak savannah woodland. At all six of SRT’s preserves, local ranchers can sign a lease to graze their animals. On the Homer, rancher Jody Fuller grazes 50+ cow/calf pairs, year round.
When Jody Fuller made a shift from bookkeeping at Rocky Hill Ranch to starting her own beef cattle operation, Diamond F Ranch, she set out to raise a quality product in the Dry Creek foothills. With the goal of growing angus beef she would be proud of, Jody started a grazing
lease on SRT’s Homer Preserve.
Since Jody first started grazing her animals at Homer in 2005, parts of Jody’s operation have changed. She’s shifted to raising mostly Wagyu beef, she’s built new fences, and she’s developed the preserve’s water and trough infrastructure. Seventeen years since her first season on the Homer, Jody continues to work towards an overarching goal—leaving the land better than she found it.
Jody traverses the Homer in her Kubota Side by Side, usually accompanied by her dog, Chopper. While Jody moves throughout Homer, she’s careful to note everything from a new calf on the ground to a punctured float valve on one of her water troughs. Jody also keeps a close eye on grass growth and feed availability. From years of observation and planning, Jody has developed a pasture rotation plan that maximizes grass growth and allows grazed pastures to have a rest and regrowth period. In the fall, Jody moves her cows in the lower pasture by the creek to calve and be re-bred.
Come February, Jody moves the cows to the upper pasture and relieves the lower pasture’s grasses until the next fall. In June, Jody moves her cows to the ‘Upper Avery’ pasture at the Homer’s highest elevation—where the grasses are ready to be grazed after soaking up winter
rains. In addition to the pastures on the Homer, Jody has leased land next door to turn her cows on if the Homer’s looking overgrazed. Jody doesn’t want any pasture grazed to the dirt, “I’m looking for the feed to be fairly even everywhere” she explains. “I want to leave that much grass behind” she says with her hands about four inches apart. When the rains come, Jody wants to make sure there’s ground cover to catch as much water as possible.
In Jody’s management, she emphasizes pasture rest. After years of running this pasture rotation, her cows know the drill. By the time June comes around, Jody says that “the girls are ready to come up—they absolutely love it here” gesturing to the knee high grass surrounding the Kubota. Even during the ongoing drought, the pasture is ready for the cows’ June arrival.
Allowing for pasture rest wouldn’t be possible without Jody’s changes to the Homer’s water infrastructure. These changes include a spring development project, adding a water tank, and installing a polyethylene line that carries water about one and a half miles across the Homer.
“It’s all about being able to spread the water,” Jody says about accessing all parts of the Homer in her rotation plan. Before “spreading” the water, the Upper Avery pasture was too far away from existing water troughs and couldn’t be grazed. Without the Upper Avery pasture, the upper and lower Homer pastures didn’t get as long of rest periods and faced more grazing pressure.
Now, Jody is able to run 50+ cow/calf pairs without overgrazing the Homer Preserve. “The cattle business is risky and you have to enjoy it,” Jody explains. While Jody has developed a rotation plan that works towards leaving the land better than she found it, she stays open to new ideas, change, and adapting her management decisions. In responding to the drought and its effect on feed availability, Jody recognizes that to maintain her pasture health she may need to cut down her herd. “If that’s all I can run, I’m okay with that,” says Jody about a smaller herd size. Jody is more focused on seeing a good product that is a result of her close management.
When faced by challenges, Jody says she learns to deal with it; she learns how to keep the soil healthy and the grass growing. After all, unlike other grandmas, Jody says that she can’t just stay home and bake brownies, “I’m not like that, I have to keep moving.”