January 9, 2020 by Markie Hageman

A bright, red barn embellished with the Certified Angus Beef, and Five Star Land and Livestock logos, greeted ranch tour visitors as they drove by pastures of black angus cattle onto Mark and Abbie Nelson’s property. As part of the California Rangeland Trust’s partnership with Raley’s and AT&T through the “Where Your Food Grazes and Grows” program, our last ranch tour of the year was nothing short of perfect.

Five Star Land and Livestock is a diverse operation. The Nelsons run a black angus cow-calf operation, breed and raise American quarter horses, and grow both zinfandel and petite sirah wine grapes in Wilton, California. This made for the perfect ranch tour, because guests were able to learn about many different areas of agriculture and what a family-operated ranch is like.

The Nelson’s origin story is quite unique, as told by Mark to attendees during lunch: 

“When I bought this ranch, I was in real estate development. I never owned a ranch before; I came up here from Newport Beach, I was a surfer. I came up here and decided I would buy a ranch. I bought this ranch, I had some cattle and decided I would show some at the state fair. Every class I entered, I was last. And every class I entered that Abbie was in, she won. So, I figured the best way to improve my herd was to find out who she was and marry her.”

Attendees were treated to a tasty tri-tip sandwich lunch prepared by Smokehouse BBQ while listening to Abbie and Mark tell more of their story. Rangeland Trust’s CEO, Nita Vail, shared with the group the purpose of the ranch tours, and partnership with Raley’s and AT&T.

After lunch was served, attendees were split into two groups to tour the ranch. Part of this unique ranch tour experience included hopping into a livestock trailer to be “hauled” around the ranch. Guests laughingly jumped in and waved to onlookers as they drove away from the cattle pastures towards rolling hills of fall-colored grape vines and horse pens.

Mark Nelson stopped the truck to unload the group and briefly gave details about his wine grape operation and answered questions from the curious audience. Everyone loaded back into the trailer and drove down to the second tour stop— the horse pens.
The Nelson’s breed and raise cutting horses. Mark spoke about a couple of the horses they have raised, including the 2017 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Open 5K Novice Horse who was also the 2017 NCHA champion stallion. The Nelson’s grandson is also a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association roper, so Mark explained how they breed rodeo horses as well. During the College National Finals Rodeo, the horse they bred and raised for their grandson was named the Men’s Horse of the Year. After the tour of the horse pastures, the group was taken back to the red barn to meet with Abbie Nelson. She led everyone to the inside of the barn, where a pen of bottle calves peacefully slept, to discuss their breeding program, how they treat cattle which become ill, and how cattle are loaded and handled in the working chute.
Image of woman standing near stable
The day ended with some time to socialize and ask any questions that remained. Nita thanked the Nelson’s for offering their time and ranch to host the tour, Raley’s and AT&T for making the tour possible, and the attendees for helping make our last tour of the year a great success. We are excited to continue working with great ranchers, partners and team members to bring more ranching education in 2020!