Skip Navigation

Flying M Cattle Inc., A Legacy in the Owens Valley

Flying M Cattle-4By Robert A. Pearce, Ph.D., NRCS District Conservationist, Bishop, Calif.

Danielle Mendiburu hard at work on the Flying M Cattle ranch.

Danielle Mendiburu and her sister Nicole Dobrzanski are partners in the Flying M Cattle, Inc. ranch in Owens Valley, California. The ranch is located in the Eastern Sierra Region of the state. They run about 650 head of cross bred cattle on approximately 17,000 acres leased City of Los Angeles, Department of Water and Power (DWP) rangelands and 1,600 acres of DWP irrigated pasture, 3,900 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangelands, and a 19,500 acre United States Forest Service (USFS) grazing allotment. The ranch is primarily a cow calf operation, but this year they also grazed a few yearlings to assess the viability of that type of operation.

The sisters come from a diverse heritage with deep and renowned legacies. Their paternal great grandparents Gregorio Mendiburu and Eulalia Yribarren Mendiburu were both Basque and born Spain in the late 1800s and immigrated to the United State in the early 1900s. Gregorio and Eulalia had two daughters and one son. The son Joe was Danielle and Nicole’s grandfather. Joe Mendiburu was a legend in the sheep and cattle industries in the west. At his peak he had cattle and sheep operations throughout the west. He was one of the largest sheep producers ever in the west with an average of 100 Basque herders under his employment, and at that time, as large as the sheep operation was, it wasn’t as extensive as his cattle holdings. Joe began is operations in Owens Valley in the 1940s.

Danielle and Nicole’s mother Suzanne’s heritage is Native American. Suzanne is Chairman of the Elders Council. They are members of the members of the Tejon Tribe in California. Danielle recently moved to Bishop from Chicago, Ill, where she was a commodity broker. She is now the on the ground Ranch Manager and oversees day to day operations of the ranch. In addition to Joe, Danielle, and Nicole, prior ranch owners and managers included their brother (also Joe), and their father George.

Flying M Cattle-2Fling M is a progressive operation and has worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on a variety of levels. The ranch has Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CStwP) contracts that address both animal and natural resource concerns. Practices and enhancements include prescribed grazing, fencing, herbaceous weed control, structure for water control, brush management, monitoring key grazing areas, and monitoring nutritional status through NutBal. Danielle is also interested in trying targeted grazing with goats or sheep for herbaceous weed control.

Flying M Ranch recently was the host for a joint University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and NRCS Drone workshop. Staff from UCCE provided lectures and hands on Drone operations to show the value of that technology to ranchers and farmers. Livestock producers, alfalfa farmers, USFS Law enforcement, and others from both California and Nevada attended the workshop.

Danielle is active in the local community. She participates in Inyo County Cattlemen’s Association Activities, recently joined the Inyo Mono RCD as a board member, and works with the Bishop Paiute Tribe to provide work and learning experiences on the ranch for tribal youth.

Flying M Cattle-3Danielle and Nicole have long term goals for their ranch. They wish to improve native vegetation species, improve wildlife cover, improve the irrigation efficiency and system, and enhance livestock feed.

Danielle Mendiburu takes time out to discuss her herd while on horseback.

The overall objectives for the ranch are to have a sustainable livestock operation (cow calf herd, horses, and possibly sheep or goats) that also improves or maintains natural resources, provides economic success for the ranch, improves wildlife habitat, and maintains a rural lifestyle. Utilization of NRCS technical and financial assistance programs along with Farm Service Agency programs (FSA) are part of the management approach of Flying M.