The Byrne Family
The Pitchfork Ranch, headquartered in Modoc County, has been operated by members of the Byrne family since they arrived as some of the area’s first emigrants in the 1860s. Since that time, five generations have survived wars, depressions, droughts and floods, along with the ups and downs of cattle market. Through all this time, the bounty of California’s native rangelands and the family’s commitment to traditional ranching methods have sustained the land, the grass and the family.
Today, cows still outnumber people in the area and the ranch is managed by Mike Byrne, with help from wife Bev, son Matt and daughter Brianna.
Cows and calves on the ranch are closely managed during the high desert summer as they rotationally graze private meadows along with publically owned sagebrush and juniper country where solar-powered wells deliver water to cattle and wildlife. In the winter, many of the cows are moved out of the high country snow to have their calves in the green hills of the northern Sacramento Valley before returning to follow the natural grassland cycle.
These conservation-minded management practices help eliminate invasive plant species to improve water quality and quantity and support improved habitat and forage for cattle and a number of other native species, including sage grouse, deer and antelope. The family also continues to develop additional conservation partnerships with federal land managers and private conservation groups to improve biodiversity and habitat for migrating waterfowl and other species.
The ranch has been recognized for conservation leadership as a recipient of the national Excellence in Conservation award from the National Resources Conservation Service in 2004 and the California Section Excellence in Range Management award from the Society for Range Management in 1998.
The family philosophy of raising cattle in balance with the land and what it produces led to development of a natural and hormone free herd many years ago and the more recent certification for humane animal handling. Continuing in that tradition, Matt began the process to introduce organic production to the ranch. The Byrne family is proud of the long tradition of excellence built over more than 150 years and is committed to upholding these traditions for the next generations as they continue to grow beef for other California families to enjoy.