Santa Margarita Ranch is one of the oldest continuously operated cattle ranches in the state of California. Beef cattle were introduced to the area by Franciscan missionaries in 1774 and have remained prominent on the ranch ever since. Today, Santa Margarita Ranch continues this legacy with its commercial cow calf operation.
Ancient Peaks Winery proprietors Doug Filipponi and Karl Wittstrom (pictured above with Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins) are both longtime local ranchers who have overseen the ranch’s cattle operations since 2002, along with the Rossi and Loftus families.
Every winter, the Filipponis and Wittstroms host the annual cattle branding at the ranch, a timeless experience that hearkens back to the 19th century rancho era. Branding is not only a practical necessity of ranching. It is also a time of festivity and hospitality, with family and friends all pitching in to help with the hard work and ultimately celebrate a job well done.
Jeff McKee (at left), who manages the daily ranching duties at Santa Margarita Ranch, practices low-stress, natural handling without usage of antibiotics or growth hormones. McKee also employs rotational “pulse” grazing with an emphasis on conservation and progressive rangeland management.
Creeping wild rye, slender wheatgrass, purple needlegrass and danthonia oatgrass are some of the native grasses that are naturally reestablishing themselves as a result of these practices, which have also generated a proliferation of young native oak trees.
Santa Margarita Ranch’s conservation practices have been used to demonstrate the effectiveness of good rangeland management in numerous USDA seminars.