After five years of drought, Rancho Mission Viejo revived its annual roundup

Moments in Time by Jan Siegel
Moments in Time by Jan Siegel

By Jan Siegel

As we get ready to celebrate another Swallows Day Parade, it is important to remember the three R’s that are part of the San Juan Capistrano landscape: ranchos, roundups and rodeos. All three are still around because of Rancho Mission Viejo.

This year, the Ranch celebrated its 135th year by bringing back the cattle roundup. It had been five years since the last one because of the drought conditions. Cattle were sent to Colorado because there was no grazing for them at the Ranch. But this year they were able to stay home. Although the herd is much smaller than in past years, the tradition of the roundup was still in full swing.

Several hundred members of the community were invited to the festivities. The hardest part of the branding is separating the calves from their mothers, but the process is quick. Each calf is vaccinated and branded before being reunited with their mothers.

In a 1993 Los Angeles Times article, Gilbert Aguirre, who headed the Ranch’s ranching operations at the time, said, “branding has changed very little over the years. The only modernization is better vaccines and better horses.”

The main goal of the roundup is not to harm the calf. The calf represents real money, so care is given to cause them as little stress as possible. In that same Los Angeles Times article, Tony Moiso, who heads Rancho Mission Viejo, was quoted saying, “I am a rancher first. I am proud of perpetuating ranching in Orange County.” That comment is still true 24 years later.

The Ranch is also famous for its annual rodeo, which is held every August. The event is the richest two-day rodeo in the country. After the prize money is distributed, the proceeds from the rodeo help support local charities, including some in San Juan Capistrano.

Originally, cattle were raised for their hides and tallow to be used in soaps and candles. Meat was not part of the equation. It was not until the 1849 Gold Rush when miners needed meat and the ranchos started selling meat as well as hides and tallow. However, with the arrival of more Americans once California became a state, land previously used to raise cattle was being used to raise sheep, which were more profitable. But as the population increased, so did the desire for beef, so once again cattle were returning to Orange County. By 1950, land was needed for housing and the cattle were once again forced out. There are very few ranching families left. The Rancho Mission Viejo family continues the culture and traditions that keep our heritage alive.

You can spend a “Moment in Time” and drive out Ortega Highway just past Antonio Parkway, and enjoy the landscape that is still Rancho Mission Viejo. Enjoy the cowboys and the cowgirls on their horses at the Swallows Day Parade and understand that this is still part of our history and heritage.

Jan Siegel is a 28-year resident of San Juan Capistrano. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years and has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 18 years. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.

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