-He began his cattle ranching career with 4 heifers and a bull
-At one time ran over 400 head of cattle
– His predictions on the future of the Cattle Industry
-Tips on how to handle a drought in the cattle industry
Pat Molnar’s grandfather Ed Biaggini has his picture hung on the wall in the ag building because he donated the first set of Angus cattle to Cal Poly. Pat has carried on his family’s cattle ranching legacy today as one of the most successful cattle ranchers in San Luis Obispo County. Pat began his career in the cattle industry in high school when he and a friend purchased heifers that they turned out on his family’s ranch he still resides on today. Thirty years later, his herd has grown from those original four heifers and one bull to around 290 cattle he continues to run on his home ranch as well as five other leases on the central coast.
Warren Voss, a Cal Poly alumni who now works at Cal Poly as a professor as well as a young cattleman speaks fondly of the lessons he has gained and experience from working cattle with Pat:
“I always learn something when working cattle with Pat. He is always doing something a little different. In a world where people tend to do things the same way their fathers did its good to try and improve a little.
I got to listen to Pat speak at a YCC meeting when I was in college. Two things he said have really stuck with me. One student asked how to be successful in the cattle business. His response: “Get out.” Success is tough and ever changing you’d better be prepared to work at it. His second message was that there are a lot of people who wear a cowboy hat and look the part, but very few actual cowboys. You can buy the look but you cant buy the hard work and experience that it takes to be a hand. “
The Key to Success
Pat attended Cal Poly in 1980 where he studied animal science. The most valuable and beneficial part of his education was the economic classes he took about raising cattle. According to Pat Having a good fundamental background on the economic side of raising cattle is key to success in the business. The biggest problem he has seen with people getting started in the business is bankruptcy.
“They take too big of a bite and then something happens whether it’s weather of some sort of venereal disease in the cattle of a lot of deaths, then they go belly up because they can’t pay off the cattle loans.”
This goes hand in hand, with what he thinks to be his greatest accomplishment as a cattle rancher;
“I actually made it in the cattle business leasing ranches and that I got the cattle paid for and was able to start working off money in the bank rather than loans from the bank, it’s very difficult to do that”.
His nephew and employee of 5 years, Darren Molnar hopes to eventually run his own herd. He speaks with deep respect about all he has learned from helping Pat manage his cattle; “I’ve learned how to manage a cow herd, handle the cattle and to tell when they are sick. I admire how good he is at making money off the cattle and how well he handles cows.”
The Future of the Cattle Industry is an Ebb and Flow
With a shortage of cattle in the United States and other factors leading to an increase in the cattle market, Molnar predicts the near future is going to be an opportunity for ranchers that have been in the business to make substantial profits. In cattle ranching terms:
“More money than there cow base dictated. So if you bought a cow for $800-$1000 dollars that same cow is worth $1500 now and the calf is probably worth $800 or $1000 dollars.”
This increase in profits will allow ranchers to get bills and loans paid as well as put excess profits in the bank.
However, he also predicts that in 5-10 years ranchers will produce themselves out of business as they have done before. The influx in cattle prices will lead to ranchers retaining heifers, which will build up the national cow herd and result in the market going back down as a result of the surplus of beef.
“We will be right back in the same position we were in 10 years ago. ebb and Flow everything is an ebb and flow.”
California has been in a drought for the last several years, this year it was worse than any drought in recorded California history. The drought has caused ranchers feed expenses that have forced many ranchers out of the cattle business. Despite a slight decrease in herd numbers Molnar has been able to maintain his cattle through the drought.
“At one point we were running over 400 cows, now because of the drought were running about 290.”
He credits his stability in the business to very accurate records of the rainfall he has kept for the last twenty-five years. According to Pat, this is the 4th time a drought of this nature has occurred. He has learned that if you hang on to your cattle through the hard times eventually rain will come. According to his records, and his four past experiences with droughts he predicts next year will be an el Niño year.
“If you’re in this industry you have to assume it is going to rain. If you’re one of those people who is worried about it not raining get out of the business because you can’t have a good attitude when you’re always thinking you’re going to go broke because it won’t rain.”
Pat’s tips for cattle ranchers facing a drought:
- You can look at a long range weather casts
- Keep your own records of previous weather patterns like he does
- Get a good idea for how to manage during the drought. For example how much you will need to spend on feed, and whether you need drought insurance or need to cut sell a portion of your herd to pay for expenses the drought causes.
A Message to the Urban People
Molnar believes it is important to educate and inform urban people or people lacking knowledge about the cattle industry and agriculture. With so many misconceptions about the industry, the biggest message he likes to get across to people on the outside of his ranching worlds is this:
“We care deeply for the animals and the land and put a lot of effort into making sure that they both stay healthy.”
-Lazanoff is the beef operations manager for Cal Poly.
-Cal Poly runs about 300 cow/calf pairs, and has steers on three ranches and the feed lot on campus.
-Lazanoff is in charge of all cattle enterprises on campus.
-Their are eight student housing units for the beef unit and several other students employed on top of that.
Aaron Lazanoff did not come from a ranching family. He grew up in an surrounded by cattle ranching and ranching families. He got involved in cattle ranching in junior high working for different ranchers in his area and lived with a ranching family in high school. As a result of this Aaron explains ranching as his career choice;
“It’s all I ever wanted to do.”
Lazanoff attended Cal Poly as an animal science major and after graduation dove head first into the cattle ranching industry. Despite not owning any land of his own Lazanoff has ran some of his own cattle on different leases in the county. He is a past president of the association and is the chairman for California Cattlemen’s Range Improvement Committee. He has also managed the historic Santa Margarita ranch overseeing over 700 cattle. Aaron is now the beef operations manager for Cal Poly.
Lazanoff is in charge of Cal Poly’s rangeland and all of the cattle associated with it, as well as the confined feeding areas that Cal Poly has for beef cattle. With the help of eight student residents living on the beef unit and several other student employees Cal Poly runs approximately 300 cow/calf pairs on three separate ranches as well as some steers and cattle in the feed lots. He is also responsible for all of the beef enterprises at Cal Poly which include:
- The bull test
- Calf enterprise
- Escuela cow/calf enterprise
- Artificial insemination enterprise
- Anything else that goes along with the beef enterprise
Aaron’s favorite project is the Escuela cow calf enterprise. It involves ranch management, maintenance, cattle care and anything that has to do with a commercial cattle operation. He also believes that students gain the most experience and education from the Escuala operation. They learn;
“Calving and A.I. (artificial insemination) the Escuela enterprise which are skills they are gonna have to know for cattle ranching.”
Cal Poly has produced many successful cattle ranchers and cattle industry workers. Cal Poly continues to produce exceptional members of the industry not only through classes but through different clubs and organizations on campus that tie into the cattle industry. Featured in this post are several student leaders on campus actively involved in several of these clubs and organizations. They will each answer a question about how their organizations have provided them with tools and experiences pertaining to the cattle industry.
How has being a member of the Cal Poly rodeo club coincided with the cattle industry and what have you gained from it?
Lane Santos is a 3rd year agricultural communications student. He has been a member of the Cal Poly rodeo club for three years and is currently president. He has qualified for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) finals in Casper Wyoming the last two years, competing in the team roping, steer wrestling, and calf roping. He won rookie of the year there in 2012.
What is the biggest opportunity being a member of the Cal Poly Young Cattlmen’s Club has provided you and what are some of the biggest lessons you have learned about the cattle industry?
Natalie Madson is a 3rd year agricultural communications student. She has been a member of Young Cattleman since her freshman year and has traveled all over the United States as a result. She grew up on a working cattle ranch in King City and is a 3rd generation cattle rancher that hopes to carry on the family business.
How has being a member of the Cal Poly Dairy club provided you with tools and experience to be successful in the dairy cattle industry?
Shelby Locke is a 4th year dairy science major at Cal Poly. She has been an active member of the dairy club since freshman year and served on the board as treasurer in her sophomore year. As a third generation dairy farmer from Tulare CA Shelby plans to take over her family’s dairy, Top O’ The Morn farms someday.
-Marvin attended Cal Poly from 1965-1971
-Has been cattle ranching for over 55 years
-Began his operation with Brown Swiss drop calves that he bucket fed
A Dairy Farmer Turned Cattleman
67 year old Marvin Paolini has been a cattle rancher for over 55 years. He was raised in Cayucos on a dairy farm. By the age of 12 his dad bought a couple brown swiss steers and heifers. When they purchased a bull Marvin began selling the steers every year and keeping the heifer calves. Eventually the numbers began to grow and grow, and that is how Marvin got his start as cattle rancher. He has become a prominent cattle ranch figure on the Central Coast. According to another central coast cattle rancher, 54 year old Nick Molnar describes Paolini as someone he looked up to when starting out on his own:
“Marvin’s the one that we all kind of got our start from. When we were younger we all kinda idolized Marvin as our guy we looked up to. He could teach us a lot about ranching and roping and wrangling cattle. He had a lot of smarts about him.”
A Student, Soldier and Cattleman
Marvin attended Cal Poly from 1965-1971 where he graduated as an ag business major. He had a two year gap in his education where he served time in Vietnam. He was released early from war to finish school. In his major having an agriculture background helped him to succeed, but the financial and economic aspects of his education have aided his career along the way.
Starting his own Operation
When Marvin was 24 he moved off of his dad’s ranch and began running cattle on his own. The biggest challenges he remembers facing when he started out on his own was:
“Dealing with mother nature, some years you had an abundance of rain and a lot of grass but the market wouldn’t be strong, and some years their was no grass with a strong market. Their are years with both but you can’t count on that.”
Since Marvin began he has run cattle all over San Luis Obispo County including:
- San Luis Obispo
- Morro Bay
Marvin at one rime ran up to 250 cattle but over the years has lowered his number to a herd of 75 he raises in Cayucos.
Diversifying Yourself is Key
“It’s not as lucrative as people think. Agriculture you can make a living out of it but if you look at the Cattlemen in San Luis Obispo county probably 95% of them are diversified, they just don’t have all their eggs in one basket.”
Is how Marvin describes the key to staying afloat in this industry. Because the economy is so different from what it was five or six decades ago when a family could afford to purchase land and build a career off of agriculture Marvin speaks of the importance of diversifying yourself and having an outside career that allows you to slowly build your cattle heard or plant crops. Marvin has diversified and stayed afloat working another job in addition to running cattle. His wife Sandy works for school district as well. Sandy enjoys the cattle bus has also been through the hard times with Marvin, “It’s fun when it’s round up time but it’s not fun when it comes time to feed. That costs a lot of money”.Due to mother nature and the market changes Marvin describes his industry as a gamble and says:
“If you’ve got that diversification you’ve always got that ace in the hole.”
Despite the gamble agriculture is still a large industry in California and San Luis Obispo county with many opportunities. To see how much money is in San Luis Obispo county agriculture click here.
-Paul’s family has been involved with cattle for over 140 years.
– Along with his two brothers Phil and Pete they run around 250 head of beef cattle.
-Their ranches in Cayucos and Los Osos have been in their family since the late 1800’s.
Cattle ranching is all Paul Tognazzini has ever known . The Tognazzini family has been in the cattle business for over 140 years. He was raised in Cayucos on 1400 acres that have been in his family since 1875. Paul’s father, who was selected as Cattleman of the year for San Luis Obispo county in 2012, switched from dairy cattle to beef cattle in the mid 1940’s. Paul along with his two brothers, Pete and Phil are all 4th generation cattle ranchers and continue to run around 25o head of beef cattle on that same ranch, as well as a lease they have in Cayucos and another that they own in the Los Osos area.
Supplementing a Life Long Education
Paul attended Cal Poly in 1968 and graduated with a degree in agriculture business management. Although Paul grew up in the world of cattle ranching, he credits his college education for aiding in the business and financial aspects of running a successful working cattle ranch:
“Some of the classes like economics and accounting helped me to keep track of and manage expenses better.”
Making his own way in the Cattle World
Paul bought his first herd of 35 cattle while attending college at age 20. He ran them on a lease he acquired, and borrowed $7,000 dollars from a family friend to purchase the cattle.He payed $150 per cow and ran cattle on the lease for 10 years. When he moved off the lease he had payed back the $7,000 he borrowed and sold those same cattle for $225 per head. After an uncle passed away he and his brother Phil he took over running cattle on his family’s Los Osos Valley ranch. Paul also ran cattle on several other leases until eventually his father allowed he and his brothers to take over the home ranch in Cayucos and the 1000 acre lease neighboring it.
Pride in his Product
Paul’s son Charlie who plans to take over the cattle business and carry on the Tognazzini legacy learns as much as he can from his father. He is most impressed with his father because he, “stayed afloat and got it all payed for”. In regards to his own accomplishments and the operation he and his brothers have built, Paul speaks of his biggest accomplishments in the product they work so hard to raise:
“We’ve been able to raise really good quality cattle”
These qualities include:
- Increasing their weaning weights
- Desirable and earn good prices when broadcasted on auction videos
- Paul’s son Charlie won the carcass contest at the California Mid State Fair with a steer they raised. For information on steer carcass grades click here
Paul credits the good quality cattle they produce to using the best bulls they can afford as well as his land, “take care of the land and the land will take care of you”.
The Future Cattle Ranchers
Paul’s wife Fran, a former Cattlewoman of the year and an active member of the San Luis Obispo county Cattle woman’s association for over twenty years believes the key to finding success in this industry is by learning from the people, like her husband and brother in laws, that have been around the ranching world for a long time:
“When you stop to think these guys have been cattle ranchers for over 100 years and they are still on the same land, they are able to keep their herds up and they know how to take care of their land and that’s one of the most important things to pass on to the next generation.”
Every Young Boy’s Dream
-The same year Jack graduated Cal Poly in 1958 he was able to purchase his first 2700 acres west of Paso Robles
-By age 23 he owned his first 100 cows
-Now runs anywhere from 700-1500 cattle on his 17,000 acre ranch in Parkfield CA
Most young boys dream of becoming a cowboy, Jack Varian turned that childhood dream into a successful reality
“I knew what I wanted to do by 8 or 9 years old”
Jack Varian was was born in San Luis Obispo and raised in Palo Alto, California. Like many you boys he dreamed of becoming a cowboy. When world war II took place Jack was 8 years old and contributed to the war efforts with a Victory garden. That garden affirmed his love for agriculture. When he was nine years old Jack rode a horse for the first time, and at the age of 12 he worked at a farm in Missouri. That ambitious young man has evolved into one of the most successful cattle ranchers in San Luis Obispo county who along with his wife Zee Varian now runs a successful 17,000 acre working cattle ranch in Parkfield California.
The Early Challenges Jack Faced
“The learning curve was steep, it took to 3.5 years to learn if I stayed where I was I was gonna starve to death.”
Is how Jack describes his first experience running his first 100 cattle on the original 2700 acres he purchased out of college. They were able to sell the brush filled land that was not made to run cattle on in 1961 and purchased their first 8,000 acres in Parkfield California. The ranch has grown into the 17,000 acre V6 ranch which runs from 700-1500 cattle a year.
“Being that I wasn’t jaded with old ways and old history I got to look at things through my own eyes and saw that a lot of things done by California tradition didn’t work. I wasn’t hamstrung with tradition.”
Modernizing The Ranching World
Jack’s son John Varian who lives and works on the V6 ranch says the biggest lesson his dad has taught him is:
“To never stick to the status quo. Always keep trying new things. Which is why I refer to him as the hippie rancher, he is always out there on the edge trying new things.”
As California faces the worst drought in recorded history Jack is prepared for the hard times with alternative methods, using irrigated pastures and his latest of growing grass hydroponically. Fodder grass, or animal feed is any feedstock used specifically to feed domesticated livestock. “I knew that if I wanted to have something grass fed on a sustainable basis I couldn’t depend on the weather.” Jack uses seven old truck trailers he converted into growing sheds to grow about 6,000 tons of fodder feed weekly. To learn more about Jack’s grass fed beef and the added benefits click here.
Optimizing Use of The Land
After watching the movie ‘City Slickers’ in 1993 which is about city men going to a dude ranch, Jack and his wife knew they could do that as well. They began hosting cattle drivers for people who wanted to experience what they did everyday for a living. Along with cattle drives the ranch also boasts several other tourist attractions and enterprises including:
- A Cafe and Inn
- Cattle drives
- Wedding and event facilities
- A hunting club
- A rodeo arena and the annual Parkfield rodeo
For more information on the ranch tourist attractions and events visit the V6 ranch website by clicking here
Preserving His Legacy
Jack refers to his ranching style as holistic management and everything he practices is based on those beliefs. This means that when he makes a decision he considers the whole.
“If it’s just good for Jack Varian and his pocket book but theirs a lot of other negatives then your moral code says you can’t do that”
As a result of this method he has put the V6 ranch into a conservation easement. This means the ranch will remain intact as one parcel and he has sold his right to develop the land. Jack’s grand daughter, 22 year old Cuesta college students Kayla Santos says, “My grandpa has taught me the importance of sustainability and sustaining the land”. Jack’s legacy is this:
“The mountain you look at should look that way 100 of 500 years from now.”
Jack has his own blog you can visit by clicking here
Sherry Molnar received her MBA from Cal Poly in 1996, soon after she married a successful cattle rancher named Pat Molnar and changed her career path drastically. She has ended up running a business, however the Valley girl from Fresno, is in a much different field than what she had originally planned. While her husband Pat is busy running their family’s construction company, Sherry spends her days managing their twenty acre avocado farm on their home ranch in Cayucos, and almost 300 head of cattle. With six leases stretching along highway one from Cayucos to Cambria, in the midst of California’s worst drought ever Sherry has been using around four hours of her busy days, everyday since October feeding cattle. I was able to follow the cattle woman for a day as she made her rounds feeding and checking cattle.