Zane Ranch holds to Tehama County cattle traditions


The landscape of Tehama County is changing as much of the traditional cattle grazing land is being converted to almond and walnut orchards. But it's good to know the origins of the county still exist in several working cattle ranches scattered among the acres of timber and grasslands.

Such is the case of the Zane Ranch, nestled in a valley between the hills of Paynes Creek, a bit of paradise owned and operated by Steve and Peggy Zane.

The ranch of 1,000 acres is home to 55 pairs (cows and calves) of black Angus with a couple Angus bulls filling out the herd.

Grazing the grassy meadows of the ranch in summer, the herd winters in the hills surrounding the homestead.

"Having both meadows and hills in our acreage is a great benefit as we don't have to transport our herd from summer to winter grazing like many cattle operations do," Steve said.

At the turn of the century the ranch, known as the Hickman Ranch, was owned by W. E. Gerber. It was purchased from Gerber by Vernon Shults in 1936, then changed ownership again in 1966.

It was in 1976 that Steve's father, Roger and Ruth Zane, purchased the ranch and relocated to Paynes Creek.

Steve and Peggy moved to the ranch in 1990, although they had been leasing property from Roger to run their cattle for the ten years previous.

"We were up here so often and had our own cattle on the place, we knew it was time to make the move," Steve said.

Along with the cattle, the ranch is home to two private agriculture wells and irrigated meadow that is cut for hay.

"Even though we are in the middle of a historic drought, were are in pretty good shape for water as we sit in a high water table down here in the valley," Steve said. "However, the drought is shortening our grazing time in the hills. We are having to purchase feed to hold us over."

Both Steve, 68, and Peggy, 70, grew up in agriculture, Steve in the Davis area and Peggy in Novato.

They met while Peggy was working as a waitress in Davis.

"Steve was a customer at the restaurant and I was his waitress. We got married in 1978 and the rest is history," Peggy says.

The couple raised four children on the ranch, Marcie, Lisa, Danielle and Jeremiah. All work in the agriculture field.

Over the past few years, due to the drought, rising operation costs and lower cattle prices, the Zane's have cut back on their herd numbers.

"We cut back about 15 percent over the past two years alone," Steve said. "We will be down about 30 percent from our original numbers by the end of this year."

In addition, the couple had to sell their latest crop of calves two months early due to a lack of feed in the hills. That was about a month ago.

"I don't know what is going to happen," Steve said. "Prices are terrible. We are fighting beef imports from south of the border that don't have to be labeled with place of origin. Beef purchased at the supermarket is no longer labeled with 'place of origin'. That has caused the domestic market to crash. Consumers no longer have the knowledge and ability to purchase native grown and processed beef."

He goes on to explain ranchers in the U.S. are getting the same price for calves as they did 10 years ago.

"And this is while operational costs have skyrocketed," Steve added. "I truly believe Americans would buy American grown beef if they had the choice."

But all said and done, the Zane's said they would do it all over again.

"It doesn't get better than this," Steve said. "Living in the boonies where no one can bother you. Even when things go bad, like losing cows or calves to disease or predators, I wouldn't have it any different."

Peggy agrees, "I love this life. We have worked side-by-side on this ranch. It's hard work, tough work, but a great way to live."

Until their retirement, Steve worked for Mt. Lassen Trout Farm, and Peggy at Plum Valley Elementary School.

Steve is a member of the Tehama County Cattlemen's Association and Peggy a member of the Tehama Coiunty CattleWomen's Association. Steve was named the association's Man of the Year for 2020.

Along with ranching, the couple are very involved in the Nor-Cal Antique Tractor & Engine Club, with a large shop next to their home that houses several antique tractors and a museum of agriculture-related equipment.