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J ustin Fields has probably spent as much time in the saddle as most of us spend in a chair. He is a modern-day cattle rancher, carrying on the tradition established by his forefathers when they began ranching in South Santa Clara County back in the 1870s. Justin’s grass-fed beef cattle graze on a patchwork of family-owned and leased lands that stretch from Silver Creek Valley in the north along the border of Henry Coe State Park in the East, Rancho Canada del Oro to the West, and just south of Morgan Hill. This includes private ranches, open space and county park lands. Driving, hiking or cycling through South County’s rolling hills, you’re likely to spot Justin’s herds. His cows and calves are a composite of Hereford and Angus breeds known for their good temperament and adaptability to their grazing environment. Justin has sold stock to Harris Ranch, via online auctions, and locally at the Aromas livestock auctions. Butterflies and Beef Exemplary rangeland stewardship and cattle grazing practices have earned Justin the recognition and respect of public agencies, private landowners and professional organi- zations. They have come to know Justin as a man who is not only passionate about cattle ranching but who is in it for the long haul. The fifth-generation rancher and President of the Santa Clara County Cattlemen’s Association has made it his priority to develop trust relationships with 30 other stakeholders, including the Open Space Authority, the California Rangeland Trust and the University of California Extensio n. He has also represented the Cattleman’s Association and other stake- holders in a working group of the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency for several years. “People appreciate the fact that I have local roots and work to protect the land,” he said. That includes protecting sensitive habitats that are home to endangered spe- cies of salamanders, butterflies, frogs, kit foxes and burrowing owls. “Without local cattle grazing, the Bay Checkerspot but- terfly’s only known natural plant habitat would quickly be overtaken by non-native grasses and the butterflies wouldn’t survive.” Good grazing practices also keep natu- ral grasslands trimmed back – a huge plus when it comes to preventing brush fires during Santa Clara’s long dry season. In 2012, the Society for Range Management honored Justin with its annual Excellence in Range Management Award.  Born to Ranch Justin began helping out on his father’s ranch at the tender age of 5. What others might consider chores, he considered fun. “As I got more involved, my dad gave me a few of my own cows to take care of. By the time I graduated from Live Oak High School in 1989, I had raised my own herd as a Future Farmers of America (FFA) project.” Justin was accepted by Cal Poly but he chose instead to spend the next year working on the ranch with his father. It was a deci- sion that accelerated the course of his career. “When the time came for me to pack my bag and head for San Luis Obispo, I realized that I didn’t need to spend four years at col- lege. I was already prepared for a ranching career.” In 1991 Justin met Arleah Nissen, the woman who would become his wife three years later. They were introduced by friends while attending The Firefighter’s Rodeo, an event sponsored by the San Jose Fire Department’s Burn Unit. When asked if their first encounter was love at first sight, GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016 Justin smiled and said, “Yeah, I pretty much knew she was the one.” Like Justin, Arleah had grown up around horses, but her forte had been English style riding and 3-day eventing on sport horses; not the cattle herding and roping on Western cow horses that was Justin’s milieu. “We used to joke that I went over to the dark side when I switched from English to Western,” Arleah said. “I knew my way around horses, but riding Western and working cattle was a whole different thing.” To say Justin knows the lay of the land in South County is an understatement. Over the years, he and Arleah have lived and worked at the Mendoza Ranch, the Dunne Ranch and the Blair ranch; some- times leasing the land, working the cattle, training horses and managing day-to-day ranch operations. They did a lot of moving until 2009, when they began building their current ranch home in the Eastern foot- hills north of Anderson Dam.While mod- est about their competitive riding, Justin and Arleah have won championship titles at local, state, national and international events. They have also shared their knowl- edge by leading clinics in “ranch versatility” for the California Horseman’s Association. The clinics provide expert demonstrations and coaching for riders aiming to compete in Ranch Horse Versatility events includ- ing Ranch Riding, Trail, Reining Patterns, Roping and Confirmation Preserving California Vaquero History As a youth, Justin learned horseman- ship from his father, Joe, his grandfather, and long-time ranchers including Tom Sondgroth, Ike Chisum and Charlie Maggini. They passed down the time- honored traditions that America’s first working cowboys learned from Spanish cavalry and Mexican horsemen sometimes called vaqueros. When horse trainers lack skill or patience and resort to harsh bits and brute- force tactics, they end up with nervous horses and unpredictable or dangerous gmhtoday.com