CLICK to download a pdf of this article
From Cows to Timber
California’s Diamond R Ranch takes diversification to the next level
By Kathy Coatney
How do you combine dairy cows, beef cattle, and logging? For Diamond R Ranch it was a relatively smooth transition, says Tim Renner, part owner of Diamond R Ranch in Ferndale, Calif.
Diamond R is a family owned and operated business. Tim handles the forestry side along with this son Alex, while brothers Dave and Robin manage the dairies. His sister, Marilyn, a botanist for Humboldt Redwood, is also an owner of the company.
At 90, Renner’s father, Rob, remains active in the business. “He goes to the barn twice a day, every day. He can’t get away from those cows,” Renner says.
From Logging to Cattle to Logging
Renner’s parents settled in the northern California coastal community of Ferndale in the 1940s and built the dairy from the ground up. Originally a camp where railroad ties were made out of old-growth redwoods, the property was covered with tree stumps. Renner’s father used more than 140 cases of dynamite to remove them.
After the dairy was established, Renner’s father began purchasing 80-100 acres of adjoining cutover land from timber companies.
Renner and his brothers began logging when they were in grammar school. A typical summer day consisted of milking the cows and doing the chores on the dairy, then Renner and his brothers cut the trees with their father. At the end of the day, they’d take a load of logs to the mill, then go back and milk cows.
Steeped in Logging
The boys learned at a young age to run the logging equipment, and the family purchased their first logging truck in 1974, a Kenworth.
“We’d skid logs to the landing and load them. We had one old International log truck, and my dad would drive the truck until my brothers and I got old enough to get a license, and then we started driving the trucks,” Renner says.
After Renner and his brothers got out of school, they started looking for contract logging jobs, and the operation evolved into a logging business and two dairies—one organic and one non-organic.
Going organic has literally saved our bacon, Renner says. “If it wasn’t for that market, there probably wouldn’t be as many dairies here.”
Diamond R also raises organic beef cattle and runs them on the property’s open ground.
Owning his own timber gives Renner the flexibility to contract log or harvest timber from the ranch.
“If there’s years when there’s not a lot of jobs, or you can’t find a job that pays well enough, we’ll log on our own property,” he says. “Or if the price of logs is really good one year, we might cut some of our own timber. It comes down to wherever we can make the most money whether we cut our own timber or let it grow.”
Logging Short Seasons
Renner anticipates working all year at his current site, which means year-round employment for his crew. This is unusual as a normal season for him is June first to October fifteenth due to California regulations.
Renner says he’s fortunate to have loyal employees who’ve stayed with him, but that goes hand-in-hand with treating your employees fairly and paying them a decent wage, he says.
In order to pay a fair wage, he has to get a fair price for the jobs he contracts, and the landowners have to get paid enough to log the timber from their land.
One Side Operation
Renner says he only runs one side. “Most of the time, there’s only four of us out here and one truck driver.”
Diamond R does mostly grapple hooking and a small amount of cable logging. “There are some steep slopes that require line logging, but as far as yarder logging, we don’t do any of that type of cable logging,” says Renner.
Using one logging truck, Renner can only get out two loads a day. “If we had enough trucks to haul for us every day, we’d get at least six or eight loads a day, but as it is, it’s only one truck.” On the weekends and later in the season, more trucks are available to hire, but in the meantime the log decks just keep getting bigger.
Renner will have to replace or convert his logging truck in 2017-18 to meet California’s air quality standards. This has created a dilemma for him. He has been using a dump truck as a water truck, and so far it’s been able to keep up, but it’s only capable of watering about a third of the 13-mile road every day. It will get him through one year of a two-year job.
The big dilemma is with the air quality regulations on trucks, he would be better off buying a new log truck and turning the other log truck into a water truck, but the old truck would still have to be upgraded to the tune of about $13,000 to meet air quality regulations.
Renner, for the most part, is a CAT man, like a majority of the loggers on the northern California coast. This is primarily due to the fact Caterpillar is the only dealer in the area.
Renner is sold on his experience with CAT’s reliability, longevity, and ease of getting parts and service. “It’s just too difficult without a local dealer, especially on the coast where it’s more isolated,” he says.
Renner’s current lineup of equipment includes:
“We’ve run Stihl for years, and we’ve had good luck with them. They’re tough, durable. We run them for years and have had some saws for 10 years,” says Renner. “They hold up really well.”
Renner purchased the Thunderbird log loader used from the Peterson CAT dealer about nine years ago. “It’s actually been a pretty good loader,” he says.
Renner is able to get parts for the Thunderbird because the early machines were built out of Hyundai excavators. He has parts delivered overnight from a Hyundai dealer, and the company has mechanics who are familiar with the equipment available for consultation.
Overall, Renner has been able to fix any problems with the Thunderbird, which have been few and far between. With more than 15,000 hours on it, Renner says it has proven its reliability.
Renner hasn’t purchased any new equipment since the CAT 517 track skidder in 2005 and luckily doesn’t anticipate any new purchases. “The only thing I could see that we might do in the future would be if we wanted to get more mechanized getting a processor or something like that,” he says.
In the meantime, Double R is going to do what they do best — keep a highly diversified business going strong, juggling between cows and trees.
This page and all contents ©1996-2012 Logging and Sawmilling Journal (L&S J) and TimberWest Journal.