“It’s depressing… but you move on, use what you have.”
Elizabeth Poett, a seventh generation rancher, runs and operates Rancho San Julian with her family. Located in Santa Barbara County, Rancho San Julian, which has been in her family since 1837, serves as the nexus of an “agricultural preserve,” historical landmark, and sustainable cattle ranch.
All of the cattle on the ranch are born, raised, and slaughtered on Rancho San Julian. The cattle are never given antibiotics or hormones and are raised on grass and hay, never corn. A pioneer in the field, Elizabeth was one of the first ranchers in the country to utilize a USDA approved mobile slaughter unit, so the cattle do not even leave the ranch for slaughter. Rancho San Julian thus bridges the gap from their farm to your table in a sustainable and humane way.
This has been one of the driest years in record’s history – the rainy season had brought only one inch by January compared to their usual average of 25 inches – which means there is little grass for the cattle. Before the drought, the animals never left the property and mostly ate the grass on the ranch. Now, to maintain the high quality of their beef, the ranchers are sending part of their herd to greener pastures up north and supplementing their grass with regionally grown hay from irrigated farms. And it’s not just affecting the cattle; everyone at Rancho San Julian has been tightening their belts. With the rising cost of water, purchased feed, and challenging logistics, they have faced increasingly slim profit margins.
The drought and rising cost of water has profoundly affected all aspects of their business, even their small farm. Rancho San Julian includes a biodynamic farm, run by Chris Thompson, and they sell their produce through a CSA and at local farmers’ markets. Farms use even more water than ranches, particularly at San Julian where natural springs water the cattle. According to Elizabeth, “This drought is terrible, terrible, terrible and there is nothing we can do about it.”
Rancho San Julian hangs on a delicate balance of nature. As Elizabeth trapezes this double-bind between consumer demand and rainfall, she says, frankly, “It’s depressing… but you move on, use what you have.” Even with the stresses of feeding cattle and watering plants, she concludes, “I wouldn’t do anything else.” For Elizabeth and her family, ranching is a lifestyle and one that she has no plans to give up anytime soon.