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Sparrowk Livestock builds commitment to conservation

Robyn Scherer Published on 24 May 2014
Drews Valley Ranch

Raising and feeding cattle in an environmentally friendly way while operating efficiently and profitably is no easy task.

However, for Jack and Beverly Sparrowk of Sparrowk Livestock, this is exactly what they do.

“The cattle business is what we do and we do it full-time. We both love it, and as Jack says, ‘There would be nothing worse than waking up in the morning and wondering what to do,’” says Beverly Sparrowk.

“We both have many things to do every day – sometimes we do things together and sometimes not, but we’re always working toward the same goals as stated in our mission statement.”

She continues, “Our mission is to sustain and improve an efficient, economically sound cattle operation that supplies wholesome, nutritious beef for the consuming public while protecting and enhancing the environment, natural resources and wildlife habitat that occur on our ranches.”

The ranch is headquartered in Clements, California. They own and lease ranches in north-central California and southeastern Oregon, and feed some cattle in Colorado.

Jack Sparrowk is a first-generation rancher and began Sparrowk Livestock after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1964.

He bought and sold feeder and stocker cattle, and in 1970 purchased his first commercial breeding cows. He bought his first ranch in 1972.

From there, the business continued to grow. Jack Sparrowk leased the Howard/Arroyo Seco Ranch in 1977, and has leased it since that time.

They purchased the Drews Valley Ranch in Oregon in 1978 and the Lucky Hereford Ranch, now Bar One Cattle Company, in California, as a joint venture with two Colorado cattlemen in 1995.

Today, the family runs cow-calf pairs, stocker cattle and retains ownership on cattle sent to a feedlot. “We are managing several ranches. Some are leased and some are owned. Some of the leased ones are taken care of by the owners of the land,” explains Beverly Sparrowk.

A place for stockers

The stocker cattle are run under Bar One Cattle Company and run on leased ground on ranches in California or on the Bar One Ranch in summer. “On leased ground, in most cases, those stockers are taken care of by the people who own the property,” she says.

The family uses a modified rest and rotation system, part of their resource conservation program. All of their cow herd winters in northern California, and the majority are moved to mountain ranches in California and Oregon in late spring or early summer.

“In the winter, the cows are all in California, close to where we live in the winter, so we are able to manage both Bar One and Sparrowk Livestock together. In the summer, we spend our time between those two ranches,” she says.

Part of the herd grazes on U.S. Forest Service allotments in Oregon and are moved according to the annual operating plan. The remaining cow herd grazes on deeded acres at the Drews Valley Ranch.

Each year, they retain 400 to 500 replacement heifers and also retain ownership on calves they feed in Colorado as part of the Bar One Cattle Company or Sparrowk Livestock.

“Depending on what the calves weigh at weaning, they either go to grass to gain more weight or to the feedlot if they are heavy enough,” she states.

Making the plan work

They raise primarily Angus cattle, with some Charolais and Hereford crosses as well. “When we try to choose heifers, we pick ones that are old enough to breed at the time we want to breed them.

We sort them one by one, and pick the ones that we want by looks and by age,” she says.

The Sparrowks spend time among all the ranches and are grateful for the help they have. “It’s a lot of hard work and long days. We are very fortunate in that we have good employees though, and have a good working relationship with them.

They understand how we want things done. We all have to work together to make things work,” Beverly explains.

The hardest part for them is dealing with governmental regulations. “California makes you jump through a lot of hoops, and there is a lot of paperwork that we have to do.

"That is time that we could be doing other things. There is a lot required of ranchers today other than raising cattle, and that mostly comes from the government,” she says.

Even though they have these challenges, they still enjoy working with the cattle each and every day. “I enjoy being able to work cattle and to move cattle. We run on forest permits in Oregon, so we spend a lot of time riding in the forest. Being outside on horseback is my favorite part,” she states.

Choices for conservation

Conservation is very important to Sparrowks, and they are committed to it on their ranches. They have implemented projects to enhance water quality and quantity, stream bank restoration, wildlife habitat improvement, invasive species control and forage improvement, according to their website.

“There are a lot of reasons that conservation is important. Number one is keeping the land productive. The more you pay attention to conservation, the more productive the land will be.

"If you take care of the land, it will take care of you. We believe that to be true. We want to be sustainable,” she says.

She continues, “It was a business decision, and we wanted to see those ranches remain cattle ranches. We wanted to keep the ranches going for future generations.”

Some of the partners they have include the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District, Lake County Resources Initiative, CALFED, Ducks Unlimited and the California Wildlife Conservation Board.

“We like to work with other groups for several reasons. First of all, you get good ideas about things to do and how to do them. Someone has always thought about something that you haven’t thought about,” Beverly states.

She adds, “It also helps fund projects that we wanted to do but wouldn’t have been able to fund on our own.”

Projects with results

One of those projects was the development of a fish passage system in Oregon. There were two places on their ranch where the passageway was blocked.

Through a special project, the family was able to alleviate the passage, and now the fish can move from where the creek starts above their ranch to a reservoir below it.

“It makes for better habitat for the fish, such as the red-band trout, which was listed as threatened. There are seven sensitive species that live in that stream,” says Beverly.

They have other projects as well. “We have had EQIP projects ranging from juniper control to riparian pasture fencing and try to work closely with NRCS programs to improve conditions on the ranch.

“I have been monitoring the creeks on the ranch for almost 10 years and take photos yearly, and twice a year when possible. It is rewarding to see the improvement in the riparian areas that has been made over the years,” she says.

A conservationist footprint

The family has used conservation easements on several of their ranches. The Bar One Ranch was done in 2002 and is held by the California Rangeland Trust.

In 2004, the family put a conservation easement, held by the Oregon Rangeland Trust, on the Drews Valley Ranch.

The Bar One Ranch is in an area where there was development of ranchettes, and there was a subdivision map on part of that ranch. Now, it will remain a cattle ranch.

In the Sierra Valley, that was the first conservation easement held by California Rangeland Trust. Since then, several other ranches have followed suit.

The National Cattleman’s Beef Association awarded the family with the Region Six Environmental Stewardship Award in 2012, and they have also earned the Lake County (Oregon) Stockgrowers Stewardship Award and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Chuck Yeager Award.  end mark

Robyn Scherer is a freelance writer based in Colorado.

PHOTO

Jack Sparrowk, foreman Derek Herndon and Sparrowk’s grandchildren Carson Hammond and Jarod Sparrowk, riding out to work cattle at Drews Valley Ranch in Oregon. Photo courtesy of Sparrowk Livestock.

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