Information provided by the San Benito Agricultural Land Trust. This article previously appeared in the Mission Village Voice.
Why are San Benito’s hills sometimes dotted with cattle and at other times there’s not a cow in sight? It all depends on the time of year. While some ranchers run cattle year-round, others run cattle, owned by other people or themselves, for part of the year before shipping them to another location. Cattle that come to the ranch seasonally are called “stockers,” and are typically heifers (young females) or steers (young castrated males).
Stocker season runs from November to May, when our green hills provide lush pastures for cattle coming from parts of the country covered in snow. When our rangelands dry up in late spring, the stockers are shipped to feedlots (grain-finished) or greener pastures (grass-finished) for about four to six months. Ranchers are usually paid according to the weight each animal gains during its stay.
Cattle grazing helps maintain pastures that provide water infiltration, plant variety, wildlife habitat, carbon storage, and world-class scenic views. Stocker operations provide ranchers the flexibility to increase or decrease herd size relative to forage availability. In addition to their contribution to land health, stocker cattle bring in more than $5 million* annually to San Benito County’s cattle industry, which flows through our local economy via jobs, taxes and agriculture-related businesses.
The San Benito Agricultural Land Trust (SBALT) mission is “to conserve regionally significant lands that sustain productive agriculture, preserve open space and maintain the rural character of the county.” Cattle ranching achieves all three of these goals.