California Cowgirl

Sixth-generation cattle rancher Nicole Smith lives true to her family roots, preserving ranching traditions for future generations.

By Amy Witt

The early morning sun rises over the mountains and creeps through old oak and buckeye trees as Nicole Smith saddles her bay tobiano Paint, “Tulip,” at Record Ranch headquarters in Granite Station, California. Rich with history, Record Ranch is sacred land that is home to a wealth of resources, thriving wildlife and rugged terrain with some of the most breathtaking country in which one could be lucky enough to ride. “My favorite thing about ranching is being able to just sit in the quiet of the mountains,” Nicole said. “I really think that’s what peace is. People who work in cities are normally not afforded that opportunity. Each day they are faced with the hustle and bustle of the commute and stresses of city life. Fortunately, I wake up every day to a new adventure, a new problem and a new solution. Most importantly, I enjoy spending time and working with my family and being in a quiet, serene space that the ranch provides.”

Lasting Legacy

For Nicole, raising cattle and ranching isn’t just a job or a passion—it is her heritage and a tradition that has been passed down 125 years through six generations of family. Nicole marks the fourth generation of women to live, work and manage the ranch that will someday be passed down to her and her younger brother, Jared.

In 1898, Nicole’s ancestors started homesteading land in the southern San Joaquin Valley, slowly increasing acreage as the years progressed. For four generations, women have primarily managed, owned and operated their cattle ranch, working diligently every day to provide the best care for their English-cross cow-calf pairs. Ginger Record, Nicole’s great-grandmother was one of the first female ranchers in the family, followed by Glenda Record Johnson, Ginger’s daughter and Nicole’s grandmother; Glenda was recognized as Kern County’s Cattleman of the Year in 2022. While managing the ranch, Glenda raised two daughters: Sarah Smith, Nicole’s mother, and Roselle Wreden.

At age 2, Nicole was given her first calf by her parents. Nicole and Jared never attended public school—the ranch was their schoolhouse, and the cattle operation their curriculum. This lifestyle gave Nicole a different and unique perspective.

“I am very thankful that I was homeschooled my entire life,” Nicole said. “I think it gave my brother and I a better outlook on life and matured us far beyond our years. As adolescents, we had our own bank accounts; we were writing checks, and we helped with all aspects of ranching and worked alongside our family—things normal children are not exposed to while attending traditional school. I just feel like we were more educated about the real world versus kids that had their noses shoved in textbooks.”


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2023 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.