Tunzi Family: 119 Years of Farming in Roblar

Written By: Rachel LaFranchi
Published: January 1, 2018

Six generations of the Tunzi family have grown up in Southern Sonoma County. Many of the six generations have two things in common: raising cattle and attending the small Dunham School in Roblar. The Tunzi family immigrated to America from Switzerland in 1882. Natale Tunzi, grandfather of the current family patriarch Jim, first lived in Lakeville before moving to Two Rock, and met his wife Isolena in Petaluma.

Natale and Isolena had three children and purchased a ranch in Roblar in 1898. They bought the ranch from a local doctor who owned a lot of property in the area. They built the first house on the property, which the family still lives in today, in 1906 and built their original barn around the same time.

The Tunzi family had a small dairy and milked around 60 cows by hand. At the height of the family’s dairy, they had around 100 head of cattle. They built a grade A barn in 1937 and were one of the first families to have a milking machine in the county. At the time it was built, the barn had state of the art facilities.

Before building this barn, the family packed the milk 100 feet to a separate room to separate the milk from the cream. They sold the cream to the Petaluma Coop Creamery in cans. The leftover milk was mixed with kale the family planted and used to feed their chickens.

The family had a lot of chickens at the same time they were raising dairy cattle. They had multiple chicken and brooder houses as well as their own hatchery as part of their operation. The family said they made more money on eggs than milk at that time.

In addition to raising cattle and chickens, the family grew hay on 110 acres in Roblar as well as at Hamilton Air Force Base during World War II. The family recalls hearing stories of cutting hay while bombers were taking off and landing at the base.

The family raised dairy cattle and utilized their grade A barn until the late 50’s when they retired from the dairy business. Jim said milking cows was a seven day a week job and joked that the family decided they liked to deer hunt and didn’t want to be tied down. They bought a ranch in Geyserville, phased out milking and began raising beef cattle. Jim and his brother were not farming full time and were partners in their excavating business for 40 years.

Today, the Tunzi family is still raising cattle on the same ranch in Roblar. The family has 342 acres split into three parcels, although the ranch was more than 500 at one point. Jim lived on the ranch with his wife Joan, who keeps track of their family history. They own their cattle in conjunction with Fred, a member of the fourth generation who didn’t grow up on the ranch but later became involved with the cattle.

Over the years, the family has raised multiple different breeds of cattle including Herefords, Simmental, Brangus, Charolais and currently have Angus. They peaked at 100 head of beef cattle, but now have about 80 cattle on the property.

Ten of these are Limousin cattle part of a small herd Robby, Jim’s grandson, is raising. Robby said his herd started when his uncle gave him a heifer when he was five. At the time, he was in kindergarten and from that bottle calf he raised, bred and built his herd off of. He bought a few head along the way and showed them at the fair which helped pay for college.
With his cattle project, Robby won the carcass contest one year at the fair, an accomplishment he views as a better achievement than winning the show. He was also the recipient of the Farm Bureau Foundation of Sonoma County’s Gold Cup his last year showing.

Robby is currently attending Oklahoma State University, majoring in Ag Business and Economics. After graduation, he has plans to come back to Sonoma County and keep the ranch going. While he doesn’t think the ranch is large enough to build a career on, he knows it will definitely be a part of his life going forward.
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the author and Sonoma County Farm Bureau when reprinting this item.

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