The Cauzza family has been ranching in the greater Julian area for a 100 years. The family has played an intricate role in the San Diego backcountry agricultural industry. In 1921, Victor Cauzza joined his cousin Florenzo Moretti who worked at a dairy operation on the Santa Ysabel Ranch that surrounded Santa Ysabel, Mesa Grande, and Julian areas. Shortly after Albino joined his brother Victor. When Florenzo died in 1926, his wife Emelinda “Linda” relied on Marco Moretti, Jacob Fiegel, and Victor Cauzza to run the operation because she had no surviving children. Victor became the manager of Santa Ysabel Ranch and Mesa Chiquita Ranch in 1955 when Linda passed. The family raised holstein cows (milk cows) at three dairies. When the dairy industry began to decline Albino’s sons, (Philip “Sonny”, Richard “Dickie”, and Albert “Tino”) pivoted from raising dairy cows to dual-purpose cattle. This led to the creation of the Cauzza Brother’s Cattle Company.
Sonny managed the Mesa Chiquita Ranch, Tino took over the Santa Ysabel Ranch, and they co-owned the Julian Ranch. Sonny ultimately made the decision to close the dairy in 1999. Leaving only one remaining dairy in San Diego County. He began running a straight beef operation with his children. Being that the closest USDA processing plant is in central California, the cattle was and is still mainly sold at live auction in Chino, CA. Sonny decided to pursue ranching outside of California so he left his eldest son, Adam, to take care of the operation. He currently runs a modest herd of cattle on the open pastures of Mesa Chiquita Ranch with his wife Jennifer, daughter Allison “Alli”, and son Joseph “Joe”. Alli noticed that there is an opportunity to serve San Diego County locally sourced beef from birth to harvest. Selling beef directly never crossed her great grandfathers, grandfather, or fathers mind. For generations, the family has been raising cattle as a cow-calf operation. Which, essentially means they raise calves to weaning weight and sold at auction. Today, Alli and her husband, Bryce Fender are carving their own path in the family business by pivoting from commercial beef to direct to consumer all while raising the fifth generation.
Growing up on the family ranch, Alli was surrounded by cows, family, and beautiful rolling mountains. She was actively involved in 4-H and FFA. Being involved in these agricultural and leadership clubs only peaked Alli’s interests in livestock, business, and continuing the family legacy in her own way. In high school, she started dating Bryce Fender, who she met at “The Welcome Freshman Dance.”
After graduating from Julian High School Alli and Bryce attended San Diego Mesa College. Alli earned a Veterinary Technology Associate of Science Degree and played soccer on the women’s team. Bryce transferred to San Diego State University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
When the high school sweethearts tied the knot in 2014, the father of the bride, Adam, gifted the couple 10 heifers. Keeping the family brand her Grandpa Sonny created, “Flying Seven'' on a lazy bar, in mind the Fenders established the -F- (“Flying F”) brand. Alli and Bryce are blending traditional ranching ways with modern-day trends. Raising quality beef is only part of their ranching operation. With the move away from eating beef gaining popularity, educating consumers about the beef industry is important to the Fenders. They are very transparent about their ranching methods and keeping things locally sourced. They truly give a flying f about beef. Their first harvest of beef was grass-fed on open pasture, barley and cracked corn finished. The finishing barley was grown on the ranch and harvested with a 1959 combine Bryce bought online from the midwest. When available, the Julian Pie Co. apple scraps are given to all their cows as treats.
This next harvest, the couple is switching gears on their feeding program by reaching out to local brewers and distillers to help up-cycle waste into nutrient-dense protein and promote sustainable practices. As well, the steers will finish on a beef builder grain that is carefully crafted by a grain company. The cattle are also on pasture and eating oat hay that was grown and baled on the ranch.
After researching all their options for selling the cattle, the couple decided to start selling directly to consumers just before COVID-19 hit. This pivot allowed their first beef harvest as -F- to be done by a Ramona based butcher in the most humane way right on the ranch. Their beef is available a few times a year. The next harvest is expected to be in March 2021.
Beef is not the only passion the Fenders are pursuing. In addition to raising their two boys Warren and Wells, they each are also pursuing multiple other passions. Bryce is a full-time ER nurse and Alli is a Veterinary Technician at Adobe Animal Hospital. Bryce is also an avid hunter. “You can’t get much more organic than wild game,” Bryce said as he explained the many benefits of hunting. Alli is very active in the San Diego CowBelles, a unit of the California CattleWomen's Association. Most recently, the couple started breeding Australian Shepherds. Alli plans to show several of the puppies in conformation shows which brings back some of her 4H and FFA passions and memories. The kids are also experimenting with entrepreneurism.
The family legacy will continue.
To learn more about the Fenders endeavors and to subscribe to their email list in order to be notified when the beef is available, visit their website, or follow along on their journey on Instagram at @flying_f_ranch.
*This article was featured in the January 2021 issue of the Julian Journal.
You can also listen to Alli on these podcast episodes: