Rohnert Park woman rides herd on 220 cows in West Marin
By Tim Tesconi
Barbara “Bobbie” Hall, a Rohnert Park resident who runs more than 200 head of beef cows on leased ranches spanning over 3,000 acres in west Marin County, is being honored by the Sonoma County Fair as the North Bay Rancher of the Year.
The award is tribute to Hall’s dedication to cattle ranching and her decades of work in herd improvement through genetic selection and good management. She will receive the J.W. Jamison Perpetual Trophy during the Farmers Day Program on Sunday, Aug. 5 at the Sonoma County Fair. The fair runs from July 25 through Aug. 12.
Hall, a humble, hard-working woman who confesses she is more comfortable around cows than people, is upholding a cattle ranching tradition that was started 60 years ago by her father. Hall is the daughter of the late Louis Bloom, a beloved cattle rancher and brand inspector known throughout the North Bay for his work ethic, cow sense and quiet dignity.
“I was my father’s shadow, always tagging along with him on the ranches he leased,” said Hall, whose natural interest in ranching was honed by the years she spent as her Dad’s ranching sidekick. “I have always loved the cattle and I always wanted to be a cattle rancher like my father. I could never work in an office.”
Hall and her father were partners in the cattle ranching operation for years and, then, following his death 20 years ago she took over the cattle herd on her own. She also followed in her father’s boot steps and was a regional brand inspector for two years in 2003-2004.
Hall said the Sonoma County Fair’s North Bay Outstanding Rancher Award is a tremendous family honor. She considers the award as much for her late father and his ranching legacy as it is for her.
“My Dad was dedicated to improving the cattle herd and that’s something that I have continued by using the best bulls through artificial insemination. I am really proud of the cattle herd that we have today,” said Hall, whose petite, lady-like demeanor belies her role as the real deal cattle rancher.
Hall’s cattle are identified with her U2 brand, established by her father in the 1940’s.
Hall said she can’t imagine her life without cows and the daily routine of overseeing her 220-head Angus herd, nearly half of them registered. “I wouldn’t have a life without my cows,” she said, “The cows are my life.”
Hall’s ranching operation is unusual in the North Bay region but clearly shows her devotion to her cattle and way-of-life. She lives in Rohnert Park and does not own – or live on – any of the ranches where she runs her cattle. She leases five different cattle ranches, spread over more than 3,000 acres in West Marin County. The leased ranches include the Vedanta Retreat, a sprawling spread near Olema that is owned by an East Indian religious group. Her father started leasing the property in the 1940’s and she has continued the tradition.
“The residents at Vedanta Retreat love the cows,” said Hall.
Hall heads out early each morning - seven days a week, 52 weeks a year – from her suburban home in Rohnert Park to ride the ranges where her cattle graze. She sometimes saddles up her Quarter horse “Rocky” to sort cattle or check fences on far-flung corners of the ranch.
Driving her Dodge Ram 2500 heavy duty flatbed truck, Hall and her dog “Bailey,” a Border Collie-McNab mix, make the rounds to different ranches to check on the cattle, feeding in the winter and making sure water troughs are full in spring and summer. With hundreds of cattle there is always something to do.
“I leave the house every day and go from point A to point B and try to cover as much ground as I can,” said Hall. She said there is a seasonal rhythm to the year. Calving starts in August and is wrapped up by the end of September or early October. In November, the cows are rebred. December is when she brands and vaccinates the calves. In February the calves are wormed. May is the second round of vaccinations. Steer calves are shipped in July, the busiest time of the year, said Hall.
Hall raises and sells 30 to 35 breeding bulls each year. Most of the bulls are sold to other cattle ranchers in Sonoma and Marin counties but some of the bulls also go to a ranch in Nevada.
During the busy times like branding and vaccinating, Hall gets “weekend” help from her husband, Tom, a full-time employee with Herb’s Pool Service, and son Jimmy, 33, who also has a job in town but is well-versed in his mother’s cattle business. Jimmy actively showed cattle as a member of the 4-H and FFA. Hall said her family spent many summers in the barns and judging rings when Jimmy was showing cattle at the fair.
Hall said because she is basically, a one-woman show most of the week, she won’t tolerate aggressive bulls or mean cows with a crazy streak. They are sent down the road. Fast.
“The cattle have to be gentle because it’s just me most of the time on these ranches,” said Hall. “A gentle nature in my cattle is the most important thing to me.”
While she has no qualms about shipping the skittish and wild-eyed cattle, Hall admits that it’s hard for her to part with old cows and heifers as familiar as old friends. She spends so much time with her cows she knows them well.
“These cows are not just a dollar sign to me,” said Hall. “I have a really difficult time getting rid of cows.”
Hall said after years of breaking even or even losing money, she is now making some money because of the high cattle prices.
Hall’s passion for cattle ranching has made her a respected producer in the cattle industry. Eight years ago she was named the Sonoma-Marin Cattleman of the Year. She is a member of the Sonoma-Marin Cattlemen’s Association and formerly served as a director of the Marin County Farm Bureau.
Hall truly loves what she does and has carved a niche in the North Bay agricultural industry. She has no complaints about the long hours and hard work, planning to continue doing it for as long as she is able. She’s her own boss, gets to work outdoors among the black cattle that she loves.
“There are no vacations or anything like that,” said Hall. “But being outside here every day with my cows is a vacation for me.”