Project Goal: To improve the grassland and orchard, resulting in regenerative productions systems that support biodiversity, maintain water quality, and create soil systems that build towards their natural state over time.
The rangelands of Swanton Pacific Ranch support two successful cattle operations: the SPR Grass-fed Natural Beef Program and a seasonal Stocker Enterprise. The rangelands include coastal prairie, grasslands, and coastal chaparral habitat, which accounts for roughly 1,600 acres, located primarily on the western side of the Scotts Creek watershed.
The ranch uses a holistic management approach in their livestock operations. This includes "Planned Grazing" practices which monitor environmental conditions, (water, soil, and biodiversity) and time cattle movement to minimize impacts, promote native perennial grass diversity, and ensure pasture recovery
The Natural Grass-fed Beef program accounts for 75-125 head on the ranch year round; this includes the cow-calf herd. The Stocker Enterprise brings an additional 250-450 head to the ranch from February through June. Stocker cattle provide a small supplemental income to the ranch along with valuable student experience.
Our Freedom Ranger chickens are raised between the rows of our organic apple orchard using specially designed chicken tractors. Each morning our birds are moved to fresh pasture to ensure the health of our soils and to provide our birds with clean pasture to forage. By integrating livestock into the orchard, we can provide valuable soil nutrients, control weeds, and reduce insect pest populations. The chickens do this work for us all while producing delicious meat.
Each quarter Cal Poly students are actively involved in the livestock operations. The Stocker Enterprise is a six month commitment giving students valuable experience in the stocker cattle industry. The 2021 Stocker Enterprise has been canceled due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, for a preview of the application click here. Internship positions and short courses that focus on sustainable rangeland and livestock management are also normally offered throughout the year, but are postponed due to the wildfire and Covid-19.
All livestock educational opportunities are designed to provide hands-on experience in: low stress livestock handling, basic livestock production, problem solving, and sustainable/adaptive land management techniques. The consideration of water, soil quality and livestock condition while supporting rangeland ecosystem processes and wildlife biodiversity is the foundation of holistic land management practices.
Our research programs are designed around collaborative natural resource management, engaging students, faculty, staff, and a wealth of stakeholders in order to improve our undrestanding about the sustainability of our rangelands. In 2021, we embarked on a collaboration with the California Department of Food and Agriculture to research and demonstrate the effects of varying levels of compost addition to some of our most degraded rangelands. Click here to find out more.