Leavitt Lake Ranches
Husband-and-wife team Darrell and Callie Wood are the current generation of two long lines of Northern California cattle ranchers. But they ranch today with a modern-day twist: in 2001, sensing an emerging demand for grass-fed beef, Darrell and Callie Wood committed their Leavitt Lake Ranches to raising only 100 percent grass-fed cattle.
And it didn’t stop there: they joined forces with a group of their rancher relatives and friends to create Panorama Meats, Inc.
Their intuition has paid off. Their organic grass-fed beef can be found today at meat counters in Whole Foods Market’s Northern California, Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain stores and at H-E-B stores in Texas.
“We thought the time was right to try to build a brand behind our beef, which we’ve always raised on grass, on our ranches,” says Darrell.
Both hailing from longtime ranching families, the Woods bought their first land near Susanville in Northeastern California in 1993. Their operation now encompasses more than 30,000 deeded and leased acres – home to their more than 750 Angus cows and a herd of yearlings. They grow alfalfa on another 600 acres.
The grassy high meadows on the eastern side of the Sierras were uncharted territory when Darrell Wood’s great-great-great grandfather Jeremiah, who had immigrated to San Francisco from his native Ireland. In Nevada City, California, he made his living as an innkeeper. Family legend has it that his son Denis was the first non-Indian born in the newly settled region.
Denis decided to try his hand at raising cattle on the region’s lush, green grasses and selling his beef in nearby towns. His first herd of cattle, which he drove by horseback to Susanville in 1861, succumbed to lack of forage and harsh winter weather. His next herd, three years later, survived.
Callie too has deep roots in California cattle. Her great-great-grandfather Samuel Peek came to California in the 1850s. He found work with his brother-in-law John Deere – yes, the John Deere—selling farm implements, and later ran a livery stable. Samuel’s son George, bankrolled with a stake from the Alaska Gold Rush, started raising beef and dairy cattle. George’s son Leroy became a cattle buyer. Leroy’s son Ellington started a cattle auction business that is today a major force in the Western United States.
Seven generations later, the Wood’s son Ramsey and daughter Dallice are the newest ranching generation, both very involved in the family business.
In the rainy winter months, Leavitt Lake Ranches cattle are grazed on the Vina Plains, 20 miles north of Chico. In late spring, when the grasses around Vina go dormant, the herds are moved to higher ground near Susanville.
The Woods and their ranches have gained wide recognition. Darrell was honored for grassland stewardship by the Society for Range Management, Leavitt Lake Ranches received the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Cattlemen’s Foundation’s 2009 National Environmental Stewardship Award, and Darrell received a National Wetlands Conservation Award from the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006. The Wood family received the 2010 California Beef Cattle Improvement Association’s Outstanding Commercial Producer of the Year Award, which recognizes progressive cattle breeders who use practical and scientifically accepted selection and management methods in their ranching.
Darrell Wood is a board member of California Rangeland Trust, second Vice President of the California Cattlemen’s Association, President of the Partnership of Rangeland Trusts, and past president of the Lassen County Cattleman’s Association.
In 2009, Darrell organized a partnership between Panorama and California Rangeland Trust under which part of the proceeds from all California sales of Panorama Organic Grass-Fed Beef go to the Rangeland Trust to help fund creation of conservation easements on working cattle ranches.
“As ranchers, we have an obligation to preserve the rangelands for future generations,” says Wood. “I want my family to be able to stay in the cattle business. It’s a viable business—but it’s only viable if the rangelands are preserved.”