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Oak Knoll rancher knows her Herefords
Cathy Tobin is kind of small. Standing next to one of her registered Hereford bulls, she looks down-right tiny.
This female rancher, the owner and operator of Oak Knoll Herefords on Weston Road in Flournoy, is tough-as-nails. But as she scratches the back on one of the two 1,900-pound red and white bulls she is taking to the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale next week, it is apparent she has a real soft side as well.
Standing in their corral, the bulls, Domino 2098 and Domino 2105, crane their necks for the 64-year-old Tobin to scratch that just-right spot, acting more like friendly dogs than animals that could crush you.
"I've kind of turned these two into pets," Tobin said, "not something I usually do."
Her ranch sits among the wilds of the Mendocino Range foothills, speckled with oak trees, water troughs, barns, fences and Tobin's cattle.
"I like it here," she said on Wednesday, going about her daily chores. "We get to see a lot of wildlife and it's quiet."
The "we" in the statement is Tobin and her husband, Ron Tobin, and daughter, Tracy Bjornestad, who has a home on the ranch.
Start talking Herefords and Tobin gets a gleam in her eye that denotes the pride she takes in her animals.
"My Herefords are all from line breeding, all related and of the same family," she states. "Breed them to another registered Hereford from another family and you get hybrid vigor."
That's cattle-talk for extremely well-bred, healthy, strong animals with superior qualities.
Tobin has buyers from all over the country calling and coming to the ranch to buy spring or fall bulls.
Taking bulls to the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale isn't something she has done a lot of.
She moved to her Flournoy ranch in 2003 and donated the Water for Life bull to the sale in 2005.
"That bull sold for $11,000," she said. "I've sold bulls at the Red Bluff Sale sporadically since then."
Deciding it was time to get her ranch's name out to new buyers, Tobin started a year ago to select and prepare the "Dominoes" for the sale.
Getting up at the crack of dawn every morning to feed her cattle, and then back again to do the same every evening, working for the Tehama County SERRF program every school day, while heading the CattleWomen's Beef 'n Brew event and Cattlemen's Annual Winter Dinner — finding time to halter break the yearling bulls wasn't easy.
"We put a halter on them and let them drag the rope around for a week or so," she explains. "As they drag the rope and step on it, they get used to the feeling of the halter. Then you spend some time grabbing the lead and putting pressure on the bulls head until they turn their head and release the pressure, then you let go."
The process goes through tying the lead to a fence as the bulls are fed, another step in getting them comfortable with the halter and being handled.
"It takes time, but is pretty easy," Tobin said. "By this point you can lead them and start getting them used to being rinsed and brushed."
All that work in the past, Tobin spent part of this week clipping the bulls' faces, and will sand and shine-up their horns before hauling them to the Tehama District Fairgrounds on Monday.
"The rest of the prep work will be done at the fairgrounds. Clipping their bodies, bathing, and all the other stuff," she said. "I'm having Big Jim Vietheer handle by bulls at the Sale."
Over the past three months Tobin has sold three Hereford range bulls at the Shasta Bull Sale, heifers at the Western Nugget National Hereford Show and Sale in Reno, and is now on her way to the Red Buff event.
"My dad was a rancher," Tobin says. "I don't know any other way of life. I like it and couldn't imagine doing anything else."
As a child she followed her father, Hobart Carter, around helping him with the daily chores on the different ranches he leased in the Santa Rosa area, and learning the ropes of operating a commercial cow and calf business.
She showed her first Hereford steer at the Sonoma County Fair at the age of 9, and from her second steer project started purchasing heifers to form her own small herd of Herefords. Things have come along way for this cattlewoman. In 1992, one of the bulls Tobin and her daughter exhibited at the Cow Palace in San Francisco earned the Super Bull title over all breeds. Two years later, the duo made history with a clean sweep at the Cow Palace when their bulls earned the titles of champion and reserve champion in their breeds and then went on to earn Super and Reserve Super bulls.
In November Tobin was named Cowbelle of the Year by the Tehama County CattleWomen's Association during its 55th annual Luncheon and Fashion Show.
Back at the ranch, early chores done for the day, squinting against the bright winter sun, Tobin pets her dog Ruby and goes to the house to get ready for work at Woodson Elementary School.
This is the life Tobin loves.