Farmer Fridays: Ranchers and Dairies Investing in Soil Health

Posted on Friday, October 23rd, 2020 by
Pigs at PT Ranch

There has been a great deal of attention on the power of grazing for wildfire prevention as California is in peak wildfire season. Using prescribed or managed grazing practices, the grasslands, oak savannas and dairy pastures where California livestock roam can help reduce wildfire risk, serve as buffers against catastrophic fires around cities and towns, sink and store groundwater, and mitigate climate change by storing carbon in healthy soil. Other techniques such as planting native grasses on rangelands, planting trees and hedgerows, doing riparian restoration along waterways, and applying compost to pastures also help draw down carbon from the atmosphere into the soil and improve biodiversity.

Many ranches and dairies have been awarded Healthy Soils Program grants to support transitioning to these practices. Below we share stories of some organic dairies and ranches who have adopted new practices, many with the support of local Resource Conservation District technical assistance providers. You can check out stories of more farmer climate leaders here.

Molly Taylor

PT Ranch (Amador County)

Molly Taylor grew up riding horses all over the rangelands that have been in her family for generations, but didn’t really sink her hands into agriculture until 2018. Now Molly is diving deep into healthy soils practices, not only on her family’s ranch but also as a technical assistance provider for the Amador Resource Conservation District.

With the support of a Healthy Soils Program grant, Molly will spread compost on her family’s ranch, plant cover crops and experiment with no-till practices on 60 acres of hay production. She expects these practices to not only increase production, but also increase soil water retention and soil organic matter. Read more about Molly and PT Ranch here.


I got interested in the potential of agricultural working landscapes as a strategy to sequester carbon and be a form of climate change mitigation because it not only produces a crucial commodity—food—it also employs people and provides ecosystem services.

– Molly Taylor, PT Ranch

The 4J Horse & Livestock Co. family

4J Horse & Livestock Co (San Diego County)

John Austel began a grass-fed cattle operation with his three sons as part of a 4H project, starting with 10 cows. Now that herd has grown to over 100 head and 5,600 acres and they continue to learn about how livestock is a necessary tool for carbon sequestration, water storage, ecosystem health, wildfire risk reduction and landscape resilience. In collaboration with the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County, John received a Healthy Soils Program demonstration project grant to increase high-intensity grazing on his pastures. Together, they engage young ranchers and other interested community members to share the benefits of grazing. Read more about John and 4J Horse & Livestock Co. here.


Jana McClelland, Photo Credit: David Nevala for Organic Valley.

McClelland’s Dairy (Sonoma County)

Jana McClelland partnered with her parents in 2005 and became a third-generation co-owner of the organic dairy in Petaluma.

With support from the Sonoma Resource Conservation District, as well as Organic Valley and Annie’s, Jana developed a carbon plan and secured a Healthy Soils grant to implement their carbon farm plan, applying compost to their pastures and planting for creek restoration. Read more about Jana and McClelland’s Dairy here.


Healthier soils sequester carbon from the atmosphere while also growing healthier grass. Our cows are healthy and happy, helping us produce high quality milk.

-Jana McClelland, McClelland’s Dairy

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