The manager of a cattle ranch requires a broad range of skills to address the vast spectrum of never-ending responsibilities and challenges that can arise. Being the Ranch Manager at TomKat Ranch also involves mentoring interns, speaking at events, giving tours, and conducting various land-use experiments that explore the potential of regenerative ranching.
In February TomKat Ranch hired Mark Biaggi as our new ranch manager. He has been working non-stop since then. Mark took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions so people could get to know him better (something akin to convincing a wild mustang to settle down for a dressage lesson).
We asked Mark to provide a little insight into his background, tell us what he sees as the challenges and pleasures that come with the job, and what knowledge he hopes others will take away from a visit to the ranch.
TKR: What were you doing before coming to TomKat Ranch?
MB: I had my own business custom grazing cattle and raising sheep, chickens, and hogs to provide for the local foodshed of my community. At the same time, I worked for a timber company in a variety of positions.
TKR: What experiences did you have before the ranch that you think prepared you the most for this job?
MB: I have had a variety of jobs and responsibilities from which I learned a range of skills, experience, knowledge, and perspective that can be applied to TomKat; from growing up on a family grass-based dairy farm, working on a New Zealand dairy farm, participating as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala teaching animal husbandry, working on wetland mitigation projects for an environmental consulting firm, managing pesticide field trials for a multinational company, managing commercial poultry operations in different states, managing road restoration for a timber company, partnering in a goat dairy and cheese producing farm, and running my own farm on the North Coast.
TKR: What’s been the best part of the job so far?
MB: I am able to utilize many skills managing the animals and grasslands, meeting the numerous visitors, and working on developing TomKat as a regenerative landscape. The most challenging? Shifting from production agriculture to a production/educational operation.
TKR: From a grazing perspective, what do you hope to achieve?
MB: Expand plant biodiversity in the pasture, extend the growing seasons at both ends, improve the water cycle, and increase soil microbial life through proper grazing management.
TKR: What do you hope the ranch will look like when you hand it off to the next generation ranch manager?
MB: The ranch would have multi-species enterprises; some seasonal, and some year round, that enhance the landscape and ecology. All the livestock on the ranch would be environmentally adapted. The different niches of the ranch would have been managed to the point that they vibrantly express themselves; coastal prairie, grassland brush mix, riparian habitat, and, silvopasture with conifers or oaks.
TKR: Any words of wisdom for a young rancher just starting out?
MB: Get as broad an experience and education as possible by working for the conventional, the progressive, the small family farm, and the highly technical as there is a wealth of knowledge to learn from all areas. Learn and practice Holistic Management, it is not a panacea but an excellent tool that can be applied to a wide variety of environments and organizations and enhances your skills and quality of life.