Obituary: Former Placer County rancher Jim Bickford, 96, was progressive cattleman

01/24/2014 5:03 PM

01/24/2014 5:04 PM

Jim Bickford, an innovative Northern California cattleman who sold his family’s Placer County ranch for development, died Jan. 17 at 96, his family said.

The son and grandson of ranchers, Mr. Bickford pursued a professional career. He studied electrical engineering at UC Berkeley and worked at Mare Island Naval Shipyard during World War II. He spent a decade as a civil engineer on the Nimbus Fish Hatchery and other projects for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Giving up his office job in 1957, he returned to his roots on his family’s Bickford Ranch, a 2,000-acre livestock operation near Lincoln started by his grandfather John in 1876. He helped his father, Joseph Arthur Bickford, convert the business from dairy to beef cattle and bought out the operation in 1962.

Leaving engineering “was a big sacrifice on Dad’s part,” said his daughter Carol Buckman. “But he had four children in five years, and he thought growing up on a ranch was a better way of life. He loved being out in the field, and he missed that when the (Bureau of Reclamation) kept him in the office.”

Mr. Bickford worked closely with experts and students at UC Davis and Sierra College as a member of the animal health committee of the California Cattlemen’s Association. He helped test improvements in raising cattle, including freeze branding, selenium testing in calves and methods to prevent abortions in cows caused by a tick-borne virus.

“Jim was an incredibly smart man. He was a progressive cattleman,” Shasta County livestock farm adviser Larry Forero said. “He was always willing to open his ranching operations to UC projects that were going to have benefits beyond his ranch gates.”

Citing high inheritance taxes, Mr. Bickford sold his family’s Placer County land to an investor in 1988. Plans to develop Bickford Ranch into a 1,900-home residential community were stymied by environmental lawsuits before the project fell apart with the collapse of investment banking giant Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bickford moved his operation to Beaver Creek Ranch in the Lassen County town of Pittville. Besides expanding the operation to include purebred sheep and hay, he introduced technology to sell cattle through video auctions.

James Herbert Bickford was born Aug. 1, 1917, in Sacramento. He graduated from Lincoln High School in 1934 and UC Berkeley in 1941. He joined the Army in 1946 and served in Okinawa, Japan.

Mr. Bickford was a charter member of the Tahoe Cattlemen’s Association, which named him 1982 cattleman of the year. He was honored as 2011 cattleman of the year by the Fall River/Big Valley Cattlemen’s Association. He held leadership positions as a member of Freemasons groups for 67 years.

Besides his daughter, Mr. Bickford is survived by his wife of 65 years, Dorothy; three sons, Ken, Ron and Larry; a sister, Myrtle Findley; six grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

A memorial is set for 1 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Inter-Mountain Fairgrounds in McArthur, Shasta County. A celebration of life is planned at 1 p.m. March 22 at Fowler Nursery in Lincoln.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Shriners Hospitals or to Fort Crook Museum, 43030 Fort Crook Ave., Fall River Mills, CA 96028.

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