Wood Ranch, one of Panorama’s founding ranches, is an historic property operated by one of northern California’s oldest ranching families – a family with a long tradition of raising cattle strictly on grass and a dedication to improving and conserving native rangelands.
The historic Wood Ranch in Susanville, California, is operated by Ed Wood and his son Dennis. Ed’s other son, Darrell, another Panorama founding rancher, owns and operates Leavitt Lake Ranches, also in the Susanville area.
The Wood Ranch land was purchased in the 1930s by Ed’s grandfather. Married for more than 50 years, Ed and Marlene Wood still live on the original family homestead, which is teeming with native wildlife that include what Marlene refers to as “the friendly ones,” such as antelope and deer, and the “not so friendly ones,” such as bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes.
Together, Ed and Dennis represent the fifth and sixth generations of Woods to make grass-fed cattle ranching their livelihood.
The ranch, sitting at an altitude of more than 5,000 feet between the towns of Susanville and Eagle Lake, is naturally irrigated by springs and reservoirs and has its own body of water called Horse Lake.
Wood Ranch’s 500 head of cattle graze during the summer months on 12,000 acres in Susanville, and winter on leased private land in the northeastern Sacramento Valley. In Dennis’ grandfather’s day, moving the herd from Vina to Susanville would have required a two-week cattle drive. These days, the cattle make the trip by truck in a few hours.
The routine at Wood Ranch isn’t much different from that of Dennis’ great grandfather. A typical day involves saddling up a horse to go out and check the herd, watching for any health problems, mending fences and monitoring the condition of the pastures.
Something else that hasn’t changed is that the life of a Wood Ranch steer is spent grazing on native grasses and legumes.
The Woods pay closer attention to genetics than their forebears, though, favoring a mostly Angus breed, which they believe produces the tastiest and most evenly marbled steaks.
Over the years, the Woods have honed their skills at range management, drawing on methods passed down by their forebears. They move their cattle often to prevent overgrazing, and work hard to improve riparian areas and encourage native wildlife in order to protect the grasslands for future generations.
“We both enjoy the privacy and we like working with the animals,” says Marlene. “We were married young, and Ed’s family were already in ranching. We never considered doing anything else.”