Aaron Lazanoff – Ranching The Central Coast

For Aaron Lazanoff the hardest part about ranching is the pile of paperwork that occasionally keeps him from where he’d rather be – Working outside.

Prior to becoming Cal Poly’s Beef Operations Manager, Aaron Lazanoff was the manager of the historic Santa Margarita Ranch for eight years, during which time he met his wife, Kristy.  With a family history on Kristy’s side of ranching on the Central Coast since 1774, the Lazanoffs continue the legacy here at Cal Poly’s Serrano Ranch.  Their boys Ethan (7) and Caleb (3) are as comfortable on horseback as they are on their own two feet, which is a testament to the sound instruction they receive as they follow in their dad’s footsteps.

The boys are well known within the Animal Science Department as they are often seen tagging along as Aaron fulfills his duties as Beef Operations Manager.  A position that requires him to be responsible for the Beef Cattle Operation in its entirety – Spanning from the three local ranches to the confined feeding facilities. This includes running the Escuela Enterprise, a commercial cow calf operation.  Aaron also participates in the Artificial Insemination (AI) and Calving Enterprises while assisting DR. Keela Retallick  with her beef classes.

“I think it’s good for the boys to know where their food comes from and about the environment.”

“I think it’s good for the boys to know where their food comes from and about the environment, about all the plants and animals out there.  This industry takes a lot of work and it’s important to me that they know how to work.”

His strong work ethic has been an example to more than just his sons.  Joey Mancino, who worked for Aaron for five years as a herdsman and enterprise manager while pursuing his B.A and Masters in Animal Science  – Reproductive Physiology, has the highest praise for him – “Aaron is always two weeks ahead of schedule but he works like he’s three weeks behind.”

His energy and enthusiasm for his work is transparent, a quality that encourages questions and solidifies his position as a valued resource in the beef industry.  From cowboying to teaching, his experience throughout the various aspects of ranching allows him to handle his position with an efficiency that belies the high demands of his job.

“Aaron is always two weeks ahead of schedule but he works like he’s three weeks behind.”

Aaron decided ranching was a profession he wanted to pursue, “Prolly when I was five years old.” Growing up in Carmel Valley and in close proximity to men like Bill Dorance, the seeds were planted which over the years would lead Aaron to cowboy on numerous ranches and manage the Santa Margarita Ranch.  He also served as President of the San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association, Chairman for California Cattlemen’s Range Improvement Committee and President of Carmel Valley Rancher’s Days.

Just since I was a little kid I loved being outside on the ranch. Being outside, out in the mountains and the hills, the wildlife and the plants, that’s just where I wanted to be.

Aaron favors the Vaquero style of ranching and horsemanship that he was exposed to as a kid, a tradition which he utilizes at Cal Poly University.

“A lot of people where I grew up in Carmel Valley are heavily influenced by the Vaquero style of horsemanship and roping.  Bill Dorance was our neighbor and he had a huge influence on us as well as a lot of other people in the area.  They were who got me interested in the beginning.”

We incorporate the Vaquero style here at the Cal Poly Ranches.  Low stress handling of animals is very important and the horsemanship part is important to me, so that the students learn good horsemanship. The safety factor for one reason, but also just for the fact that it’s better for the animals.

On these ranches things are done on a combination of ATV’s, horseback, and on foot.  “We use what we call “Manage Grazing” or “High Density – Short Duration Grazing”.  When the cattle get to be moved on a regular basis, it becomes pretty simple and tame – Takes the cowboy out of it.”

“At the Santa Margarita ranch, we had seven or eight hundred cows. When I first got there they had 15 people out there gathering cattle. By the time we left, my wife and my two year old were moving 400 cows by themselves.  It gets simple that way, because the cattle just know they are going to more feed. “

Good Stockmanship goes hand in hand with Range Management in Aaron’s experience. “Range Management is something I’m very interested in.” An interest which led to his being awarded the Native Tree Stewardship Award in 2007 for his efforts in the preservation and enhancement of oak woodland habitat.

“I believe that pasture rotation and the high density part of it, is as important as anything.  Moving the cattle on a regular basis to kind of replicate those wild herds.  We’ve seen a lot of improvements through this style of management.  Especially after three or four years at the Santa Margarita Ranch, it was amazing to see the difference in the rangeland.”

“Someone told me this and it’s what I tell my students – We are grass farmers and the cattle are a byproduct of that.”

The Escuela, Serrano and Chorro Ranches have not gone unaffected by the severity of the drought, with plans to downsize their herds to a more reasonable number in the near future.  However “The Range Management and pasture movement has helped us recover a little faster than some of the continuous grazing programs, but it’s been pretty tough.”

“Someone told me this and it’s what I tell my students – We are grass farmers and the cattle are a byproduct of that.  It’s important to remember that the rangeland is the most important part of the cattle operation, that the cattle are a byproduct of the grass.  If you concentrate on the ranch, the grass, range management – Then the cattle part does well.  Everything just gets easier like I said, the cattle get easier to work, the grass gets better, everything becomes much simpler.”

While Aaron has a passion for Range Management – “Watching my kids learn and get better is the best part of ranching.”

Seeing his boys at work, you’re struck by how comfortable they are horseback and working cattle at such a young age.  The men who shaped Aaron’s approach to ranching have undoubtedly played a role in how he so adequately translates that knowledge to his boys.

Bill Dorance has been the biggest mentor in horsemanship and roping for me.

“Bill Dorance has been the biggest mentor in horsemanship and roping for me – directly and indirectly through a good friend of mine, Billy Askew. As far as Range Management, when I met Allan Savory, when I heard him speak when I was in college it was probably the thing that sent me in that direction, the Holistic Management part of it.  As far as Stockmanship, Bud Williams was a big influence on me.”

Time no longer permits him to take a horse through the traditional vaquero training with progressions from the hackamore, to the two rein, to the bridle.  What he looks for in a horse has changed with his family – “At this point I look for horses that are good with kids.  Nice if they have a little bit of cow.  If they’re smart, good minded horses. Solid feet and legs of course but my number one priority right now is that I keep my kids in horses.  Something that will help them learn. “

They are learning well – As 7 year old Ethan recently entered a roping contest in Santa Ynez, taking 3rd  place in the 7 – 14 year old bracket.

“The crowd went wild, it was a lot of fun….We spend a lot of time roping the practice dummy. We have a couple bottle calves that Ethan has been raising that are tame enough for him to rope as well.”

Aaron has studied Horsemanship, Stockmanship, and Range Management under some of the most respected names in the industry, lending that knowledge to his sons and students alike.  With ranchers like Aaron and his family who blend tradition with innovation, the future of the beef industry is in capable hands.

“We feel so blessed to live here and do a little of what we like to do.”

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