This account of the Hopland Stock Farm will be a testament to this historian’s self control in that I will try and NOT go into too many details about the fascinating story of A.W. Foster and his endeavors and focus on the farm.
However…owner A.W. Foster made money hand over fist before he was age 40, owned a brokerage firm, founded a bank, was part of Marin. County’s power elite, was a University of California regent, bought railroads and timberlands and had nine kids around a century ago. Busy Man.
Involved with the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad, the California Northwestern, and the Northwestern Pacific he sold everything to Southern Pacific Railroad. He owned the Diamond D Mill at Northwestern (now Brooktrails) west of Willits and had a 10,500 acre sheep and cattle operation at Sear’s Point. It’s his “hobby farm” at Hopland that is noteworthy.
This is a man who chose not to have himself, but his Hopland Stock Farm, written into the biography section of A.O. Carpenter’s “History of Mendocino & Lake Counties” in 1914. His 2,200 acre farm purchased in 1890 showed what success looked like when money was no object. Foster had a breeding farm for trotting horses and raised registered shorthorn cattle, Shorpshire sheep, Berkshire hogs, Percheron horses, Toulouse geese, bronze turkeys, Hungarian ponies and 8,000 white Leghorn and white Plymouth Rock poultry.
Effusive enthusiasm was used by historian Carpenter to describe the operation. The “sagacious, resourceful and efficient management, recognizing the advantages of soil and climate gives special praise”…that and lots of money. The poultry division was established in 1911 on the 2,200 acres and was promoted as “the largest and best equipped poultry ranch in the world.” Three to four thousand eggs a day in production was the norm.
A mile east of Hopland and the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Foster had administered he had a mile and a half of Russian River frontage and could grow three crops of alfalfa a year. The Stock Farm had nine silos holding 100 tons of feed each. All the best technology and practices of the time were exhibited on a gigantic scale. The Pacific Rural Press magazine in 1913 featured the operation in a story as did Country Gentleman in 1921.
Their poultry system kept breeding information with high laying hens “trap nested” to identify which chicken laid how many eggs. Record keeping for generations of chickens took place. One laying house was 24’ x 400’ in a two story building with two 24’ x 430’ additions. Each building held 2,000 layers with yards fenced with wire eight feet tall seeded to grass. Chickens were supposed to have nine square feet of space each. Electric lights made poultry think sunlight was the same year around and they kept laying.
There were incubator and brooding facilities. Each rooster had 15 hens in the breeding pens and the roosters were switched out frequently. Eggs were gathered and shipped out of the Hopland Northwestern Pacific train station. The “large corps of workman were skilled in the poultry industry and efficient in every particular.” Foster sponsored workers in a baseball team in 1912.
Colony houses grew surplus stock and fattening houses. (The records did not say if they had a slaughterhouse or meat processing facilities.) A mill on site ground and mixed feed from grain often grown on the ranch so “perfect health of the stock can at all times be guarded and maintained.” Hatching eggs were shipped all over the state.
A reader might wonder if this Hopland Stock Farm was an inspiration to the poultry ranchers turning Petaluma into the “Egg Capitol of the World” at that time. At the moment due to pandemic restrictions access to archives is unavailable so what became of the farm in unclear. Foster died in 1930 and his family held the land into the 1940’s. Today Campovida Wine owns the property and makes use of many of the buildings developed for the Hopland Stock Farm and uses the name for commercial enterprises.