Life Lessons from Baxter Black

As we promised, here is the next Baxter Black blog in our series. Baxter is a wordsmith, no doubt, and he also offers lots of incredible life lessons. He even went so far as to write a book about it! (Find that book here.) Enjoy these life lessons from Mr. Black and maybe try to put some of them into action soon!


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Sometimes you’ve got to glitz and glam them (to keep ‘em hooked until you can deliver the punch line)!

When Baxter gets on stage he wants to make sure everyone knows he’s the program. A friend named Mary Davis from Dodge City would make him a shirt every year. A Roy Rogers-type shirt. He said about performances, “So I’m walking in and I look like a clown. If they like you, it doesn’t make any difference.” Now he did mention it’s most likely not admiring stares he receives, but more curiosity. But curiosity holds the audience until he can start performing. And then there is nothing but appreciation and entertainment.

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If life crashes and burns, you just get back up.

Life has a way of taking you to places you never imagined you’d go, both good and bad. Baxter instilled upon us that the most important part is to get back up. Don’t sit in the ashes, smoldering. Pick yourself up, dust off your boots (or sandals or whatever footwear you might prefer) and get on with life. There isn’t a whole lot of time to sit around and pout.

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As a young man, Baxter worked on a large feed yard. His new boss walked into his converted office (previously a storage room) two days after he started working at previously mentioned feed yard and handed him a manila folder. It was the rations (feed mixture cattle eat). Baxter had plenty of experience from his time spent at other feed yards, but this had always been a specialist job at those other jobs. This new boss didn’t bother to ask if he’d even taken a class in nutrition, which he had not. He just assumed he could do it. Using this confidence (false or not) to his advantage, Baxter got it done!  Point of this story? Lesson #2 from his “Lessons From A Desperado Poet” book, “You will be amazed at how capable people think you are if they don’t know you well.  Don’t waste that advantage.”

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How to make decisions? Do it the way you want and see what happens. Even if you’re wrong! The previously mentioned boss taught Baxter not to fear making decisions.

When given the opportunity to decide, Baxter says you should do it. Obviously, use your best judgment and do your research but make that decision. Without the chance to make decisions, you won’t have the opportunity to learn.

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Baxter told us a story about a ranch he went to help work some cows in Utah. He was staying at a house about a mile up this big mountain from where the ranch was keeping their cows. He left in his vet truck to head down to the working area one morning and was about a half mile away from the ranch headquarters on the plain. It was a spectacular morning. As Baxter said, “One you could just steal.” From his point of view he can see everything down below. The cowboys were bringing the cows into the working area. The herd looked like a backwards tear drop. It was a beautiful sight. It was so quiet and peaceful Baxter could hear the cowboys hollering at the cows to move them to the corral gate. Well, as he was watching, the point of the tear drop seemed to hit the gate and the cows splattered back!  Baxter said he could hear them a mile away yelling, mooing, some colorful language and over it all, “Git outta the gate you no good sofa ditches I’ma gunnin’ 4 yo shoes a musta linka booda nina tens!”

He said it inspired him to write a poem, one of his first, leanin’ on the hood of his vet truck.  Later that morning when they took a break from preg-testing, he read the poem to the cowboys.  They all laughed and said, “Yea, I know a guy had a dog like that!”

He discovered right there, that he could pick on cowboys, sheep herders, veterinarians, horse people, farmers, and all the wonderful characters that make up his world because…he is part of it.  He’s been there!

He explains that it is the truth in humor that makes it funny…that’s the reason there are no science fiction jokes!

And a bonus from our friend, Baxter, the previously mentioned poem. This poem is part of his column, On the Edge of Common Sense.

THE COWBOY AND HIS DOG
by Baxter Black, DVM

There’s a scene that is really pictorial
That’s been here since time immemorial
The cowboy out riding, his dog right beside him
Somehow it’s almost historical.

They come in all colors and sizes
From dingos all full of surprises
Blue-eyed scene stealers and Queensland blue heelers
And collies that win lots of prizes.

He responds to your love and affection
And waits on his master’s direction
You say, “Put’em in!” and watch with a grin
While he obeys your command to perfection.

And just when you start to go braggin’
On that cow eatin’ wonder, you’re draggin’
The dog you admire, will pee on a tire
Or go lick his nuts in the wagon!

There’s nothin’ that makes me mad quicker
Than a dog in the wrong baliwicker,
You can’t find your niche, you son of a gun!
Go git in the pickup, pot licker!

www.baxterblack.com

Have you ever heard of federal grazing permits? Here in Arizona, these are an integral part of most ranching operations. Jeremy D. Krones of the Diablo Trust sat down with two ranchers to gain a better understanding for federal grazing permits and shared the findings with us on the Diablo Trust blog. We are resharing it here as it contains valuable content and learnings. Enjoy!


ASK A RANCHER: HOW ARE GRAZING PERMIT NUMBERS ON FEDERAL LAND CALCULATED?
FROM: ANONYMOUS

Bob Prosser from the Bar T Bar and Gary Hase, District Rangeland Management Staff for the Flagstaff Ranger District (and longtime Diablo Trust friend), both helped answer the question, “How are grazing permit numbers on federal land calculated and monitored?”

Of the roughly 500,000 acres that comprise the Bar T Bar and Flying M ranches, nearly half are public lands held in trust for the American public by the US Forest Service.

A BRIEF HISTORY

The USFS was founded in 1905, under President Theodore Roosevelt. Coconino National Forest, our local forest, was created not long after by consolidating other, smaller forests.

Both ranches existed in one way or another before Coconino National Forest, but the Prossers and the Metzgers must now follow Forest Service rules and regulations to continue grazing their cattle on the public land.

“Grazing has occurred on the DT lands since the mid-1800s,” said Bob. The Hash Knife Cattle Company grazed much of the Diablo Trust land area in the late 1870s, alongside homesteaders and pioneers who had claims under the Homestead Act of 1862.

However, due to the lack of water and the small size of homesteads (the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916 allowed new ranching homesteads to be enlarged to 640 acres), most settlers reneged on their title loans to the government.

Bob explained, “It was very common for them to run livestock on non-homesteaded lands (government land) to earn a meager existence. During this time homesteads were failing and bootlegging was the common means of revenue.”

Grazing permits were developed in our region around 1919, to bring structure to the use of the open, public lands of northern Arizona.

Maintaining “commensurate private land” and control of the waters are prerequisites to obtaining a grazing permit. The rights to graze, fence, and manage the waters on a defined area of land can be sold and transferred, as long as the Terms and Conditions of the permit are met by the owner. Permits are renewed every ten years.

“Many of the homesteads applied for and got grazing permits. Some homesteaders sold out to neighboring ranchers when they gave up trying to make a living or were caught bootlegging. These small early permits from Mormon Lake to Red Hill were the start of Flying M and Bar T Bar Ranches today,” Bob said.

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Chavez Pass Camp. Typical Hashknife line camp on the timbered portion of their range, western division, near beautiful Chavez Pass. (Aztec Collection)

WHAT A PERMIT DOES

“There are two important categories when it comes to discussing livestock numbers: permitted numbers and authorized numbers,” explained Gary.

Permitted numbers are the maximum number of AUMs (animal units per month) the grazing permit allows on the established allotment.

Permitted livestock numbers on an allotment are usually established during the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act of 1969) process and are based on an analysis of historical livestock use, forage production and utilization data, and vegetation condition and trend information. The forage and habitat needs of wildlife and the necessary vegetative cover to protect and enhance soil and watershed properties are also key considerations when establishing permitted livestock numbers.

Authorized numbers are the AUMs the Forest Service authorities actually allow to graze on the allotment each year.

“We meet with permittees each year to determine what livestock numbers will be authorized on the allotment that year given the current and predicted resource conditions. [The number] cannot exceed permitted numbers,” wrote Gary. “We also develop the Annual Operating Instructions (AOI) for the upcoming grazing season during this meeting. The AOI contains instructions for the grazing permittee with regards to authorized livestock numbers and period of use, pasture use dates, forage utilization levels, structural range improvement constructions and maintenance, etc.”

After the meeting, permittees apply for the livestock numbers. The Forest Service reviews, modifies (if necessary), and then approves the application, and sends a bill to the ranch based on the current year’s grazing fee. Once the bill has been paid, the livestock numbers and the grazing period are authorized. The Forest Service allotments of both the Flying M and Bar T Bar are on their “summer country,” so the grazing period is usually June 01 to October 31.

The actual number of livestock on the allotment is largely based on trust between the ranchers and the Forest Service officials. Gary says that, “in the ‘old’ days, FS range folks used to count livestock on and off the allotments; [that’s] simply not the case anymore.”

The Forest Service does have the authority to require the permittee to gather their cattle to double-check numbers, or to require numbered ear tags, but Gary has only had to do that once in his entire career.

Gary said that it’s pretty easy to tell if the herd is significantly larger – or smaller – than it should be.

“It’s not just about livestock numbers,” Gary also said. The grazing period includes the season of use, and individual pastures use periods. Anyone can easily monitor when the herd is on or off a pasture or allotment.

Bob agreed with Gary, saying that the ranches are accountable for the numbers and density they have on their permit. He explained that if either ranch sees a problem one year through their monitoring, they will take that issue into account when deciding on a plan in the next year.

Both ranches monitor their lands regularly. Most Diablo Trusters know about the Forage Resource Study Group (FRSG), which monitors over two dozen sites on the ranches triannually, but FRSG is currently limited to just state and private land.

Much like FRSG and IMfoS (Integrated Monitoring for Sustainability, Diablo Trust’s long-term community and landscape-scale survey project with Northern Arizona University), the monitoring that the Bar T Bar and Flying M do on their Forest permits is collaborative.

The Bar T Bar and Flying M survey their Forest permits using a NEPA’ed monitoring protocol (“to NEPA” is the action of putting a program, like a monitoring study, through the process of review outlined in the 1969 Act).

The utilization surveys performed throughout the grazing period by the ranches and the USFS work to ensure permit and AOI compliance, and monitor resource conditions and forage utilization levels.

Allotment and leases can get more complicated, but at the basic level, this is what happens behind the scenes when you see cattle, sheep, goats, or any other livestock on Federal Land.

BORN ON A RANCH: THE FIRST DAY

This is part of an on-going series by Jeremy D. Krones for the Diablo Trust. It is done in an effort to educate readers about the life of a calf born on a ranch in northern Arizona. We will continue to repost the blogs, but you should take some time to check out the Diablo Trust blog for more great content.

SUNDAY, FEB 25

This morning was chilly, as most February mornings are on the range.

It hasn’t been the best winter we’ve seen, but with the new year came our first snow, and at least we aren’t in a total drought.

The cows are doing well, even those that didn’t get pregnant during the too-dry summer on the mountain. Unfortunately, they’ll probably be auctioned off, but that’s how it is on a modern ranch. We follow the Lasater Philosophy: selection, selection, selection. If a cow doesn’t take, she’s out of the herd. She might go on to live on another ranch, or become part of the marketplace, providing meat and dozens of other products for everyday use.

But we’ve still got a good number of healthy, fertile, and pregnant cows in our herd, so the future looks bright.

It snowed yesterday, adding about 40/100s of an inch to the eight inches we’ve accumulated thus far. Again, not the greatest, but good enough.

Cows like to birth (or ‘calve’) with the low pressure, so with the storm we expected a few new calves on the ground this morning. It helped that we fed the mamas last night, too. Feeding late in the day helps warm up the rumen, and that encourages the birth.

One of our cowboys, Jim, lives out at the calving cell, in a rustic cabin. It’s not high society living, but it’s not a hovel, either. It’s just fine for a single man living there for a couple months, with the important task of caring for the cows during calving season.

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A cow checks on her newborn calf on the Flying M Ranch February 2017 (Photo by Sheila Carlson)

At 5AM he sent us a text that one of our favorite cows, Zelda (aka #52), was about to give birth.

After about 45 minutes, he sent us a picture.

It really only takes 15 to 20 minutes from the time the water breaks to the calf on the ground, but Jim knows what to look for in a cow who’s ready to drop: she gets agitated, tries to go off on her own. A good way to tell if she’s ready to give birth is when her tail is kinked up to the side.

From there it’s a waiting game.

When she’s ready to go into labor, she’ll lie down on the ground.

If Jim had seen the water break and then nothing really happening in the next 10 minutes, he’d have gone out to help Zelda, strapping her in to a tight chute, feeling inside of her to determine the calf’s orientation, and trying to get the calf’s hooves out around its snout.

But fortunately, for us, Zelda, and the calf, it was a smooth birth – far more common than what most people think. Zelda is 4 years old, which means that this is her third ‘rodeo,’ and that usually means smooth sailing.

Little 52 was born, and Zelda turned around to ‘talk’ to her baby, and lick him clean.

Zelda’s attention to the little bull calf helps him wake up, breathe, and get moving – instincts are much stronger in cows (and pretty much all animals) than in humans.

The bull calf, once on its wobbly legs, hobbled over to his mother’s udder to nurse. If a calf –any baby mammal – doesn’t get colostrum, or the first milk, in the first couple of hours, their immune system can be really compromised.

Fortunately for us, Zelda’s a pro and her calves inherit that trait right quick.

After the calf gets his fill, Zelda licks him down some more.

Jim has been watching from the fence this whole time, making sure Zelda and the calf are doing well. Now that they’re both moving and nothing’s awry, the cowboy gently moves them to a larger part of the corral and turns his attention to some of the other mothers who haven’t calved yet.

We’ll check back in with Zelda and her baby bull next month!

The Arizona Beef Council is excited to present to you a blog series about the one and only Baxter Black. Baxter is a celebrity in his own right, but those of us here in Arizona consider him a state treasure and are proud to say he chose this piece of the southwest to make his home. Many thanks are owed to his beautiful wife, Cindy, for dragging him back to the best state in the Union. While we realize our writing will leave much to be desired in the wake of the true poet’s work, we hope you enjoy reading anyways.


In a house tucked in the hills of the outskirts of Benson, lives a man, or might we say “legend,” and his wife. Here they peddle books of poems written by this man to places near and far. Guests are welcome with open arms and are given a great opportunity to hear prose in real time while talking about the past, present, and future. Upon stepping out the front door of their ranch-style home, you are greeted by an impressive wall constructed of many different types and styles of stone. These stones, bricks, and even a concrete Texas (which was accidentally placed upside down in the wall) make an impressive sight and are made even more significant when talking with Baxter about each individual piece’s origin.

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These stones, bricks, and the concrete Texas are all mementos from Baxter’s travels over the years.

In case you don’t know who Baxter Black is (we won’t judge too hard), let us explain. Baxter is a cowboy poet who has performed for cattlemen, cattlewomen, dairymen, ranchers, cowboys, cowgirls, and even made a few appearances on the Johnny Carson show. But he’s not just any cowboy poet. He’s a cowboy poet who has made a living entertaining people with his witty poems based on real-life situations, mostly from personal experience. Some of our favorites, and we would venture to say classics, include The Vegetarian’s Nightmare, The Oyster, along with his continuing column seen in many publications across the country properly titled “On the Edge of Common Sense.”

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Baxter performing The Vegetarian’s Nightmare on the Johnny Carson Show.

But Baxter didn’t start off his professional career as the cowboy on stage dressed in hand-embroidered western shirts. He comes with a history, just like most successful people. His started out with work on a feed yard, went to veterinarian school and then, as life has a way of doing, turned him on his head and pushed him in another direction. He shared with us his meaning behind the saying “down to no keys,” when life has taken everything from you to the point where you end up with no keys: nowhere to call your own and nothing to drive. But, in true Baxter style, he didn’t let this setback stop him.

He continued on and ended up managing the veterinarian work for a large feed yard. During his time at the feed yard, he began speaking and entertaining people with his wit and poems. One of the biggest blessings in his life was ending up in the same place as his wife. She was playing the fiddle in the band at the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association Annual Convention and he noticed. The rest really is history!

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In true Baxter style, he keeps life fun!

One of the many things we learned from Baxter on our visit was his philosophy on shooting arrows. You can’t do something unless you keep asking and doing and that’s exactly what Baxter did. A fun fact about Baxter is that he was featured on NPR for 20-years! NPR wasn’t looking for someone like Baxter, but he made himself known and kept reminding them that he might have something else to offer. Finally, when Yellowstone was burning up in ’84, they took notice. No one on NPR was reporting on this huge fire and Baxter told them they should be. He wrote a poem about it, sent it to the station and then they called him. They kept calling him after that asking for more, so he gave it to them. When asked why it worked, Baxter says, “I was the oddity. That’s why it worked.”

Now that you have some history on this guy (or character?), get ready for some serious life advice from this wise man in next week’s Arizona Beef Blog post.

This blog is a repost from our friends over at the Diablo Trust. This particular post was written by a cowgirl named Sheila Carlson who has worked on the Flying M Ranch for 10 or so years and before that worked on the Bar T Bar Ranch. She’s a horsewoman from Utah and is a good hand on a ranch. Enjoy some thoughts from her perspective on caring for the land.


Caring for the LandThe myth of the rancher who is out to make a buck by letting his livestock damage and destroy public lands is far from the truth as I know it.

In reality ranchers care more about the land and the waterways than most people I’ve come across. They make their living off the lands and over-grazing it is NOT something that is done.

They carefully monitor the land, use grazing rotations, watch for invasive and non-native species of plants and work closely with local agencies to maintain a positive impact on the land. Many times they will not use a pasture in their rotation because they feel there isn’t enough growth or moisture and would rather let it rest than use it.

They are the ones hauling water during drought times, not only for their livestock but for the wildlife in the area. The run-off from winter snows and summer rains flow down ditches they maintain, to fill water tanks and flow into lakes.

This isn’t something that nature has created in most places; this is something that they have worked hard at accomplishing each year. Those ditches need to be cleared and cleaned. The same with those water tanks that provide a life source for so many different species.

Without the rancher taking time, money. and effort, those same water tanks would fail.

There are so many scare tactics out there, so many un-truths being spread and the saddest part is that so many will believe what they are told without questioning the source.

Speak to your local rancher if you have a question. Treat them as you would like to be treated; don’t just assume they are the “bad guy.” I think that people would find out they have a common interest when it comes to care of the land . . .

Does the thought of kids helping in the kitchen send you into a fit of anxiety with visions of big messes and broken dishes? Fear not! Though we can’t guarantee the prevention of a mess or two, there are many benefits to having the little ones help to prepare meals. Here are some tips from Katy Wright, Arizona cattlewoman, mom, and survivor of letting her three kids (all under 5) help in the kitchen. And she does it all with grace.


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The Wright family: Katy and Kelly, HB, Katherine and Richard.

Memories from my childhood include hot meals on the table and beef on the menu more than anything else. I grew up completely confident that beef was a “no brainer” for feeding families, especially children. I still hold this same opinion today with my own kids and am grateful I can frequently include beef as our protein of choice. I’ve learned some tips for including beef on kid-friendly menus as well as some ideas on ways to include kids in the kitchen.

Tip #1: Cook once, eat twice.

Or three times. Time is valuable, isn’t it? Even if you don’t have multiple small children underfoot, time always seems to be in short supply. One of the best tips I can offer while meal planning, is to plan on cooking your cut of choice and then how you would like to use the leftovers. This saves both time and money in the long run. One of my favorite ways to do this include roasts in the slow cooker (like a Crock-Pot). The slow cooker always makes me look good because I can “set it and forget it” and go about the business of my day with minimal thought about dinner. Just last week I put a top round roast in the slow cooker with a can of beer and packet of onion soup mix. It cooked all day, and I served it with potatoes and a vegetable that night. I made the most of my leftovers by making roast beef sandwiches the next day, and burritos the day after that. Win-win-win.

HB helping cook ground beef. For enchiladas, I lay out the ingredients and HB helps assemble.

Tip #2: Provide safe opportunities for kids to participate.

My kids are at the wonderful (and sometimes chaotic) stage of life where they want to help with everything. Whether it’s washing windows, changing laundry or cutting vegetables, they are often asking if they can chip in. And while it is easier and more efficient at times to charge forward without them, this is the time of their lives to be creating helpful habits for the future. They also take pride in the tasks in which they get to contribute. When it comes to kids helping in the kitchen, slow down, and find tasks that can be completed safely by small hands. In my own kitchen, some of these tasks include stirring ground beef as it cooks, peeling carrots and adding spices.

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Katherine helping make biscuits. Stirring anything is a task all three of my kids are qualified for.

Tip #3: Choice is the spice of life.

My kids love getting to choose. It doesn’t matter what the options are, they love having the power to choose. If you struggle with getting kids to eat their dinner, whether it’s just the vegetables or all of it, make choices a consistent part of your dinner time routine. When I’m meal planning, I ask for suggestions from my kids on what we should include on that week’s menu. More often than not they request hamburgers but it still makes them feel included. Another way to incorporate decision making, is to allow your kids to choose what they eat and when. I don’t mean letting them choose cereal over a hot meal for a dinner that you’ve prepared, instead allow them to choose if they’re going to eat their beef or vegetables first. This empowers them and allows them to feel like they have a little control over their own decisions.

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Richard does not look particularly helpful in this photo, but he loves “helping” no matter what’s involved. He’s often stationed on the counter next to me while I cook.

Like all things in life, children change and grow constantly, forcing us parents to adapt and grow with them. Intentional choices like meal planning leftovers, slowing down to allow children to help and providing opportunities for choice can make a huge difference in their lives.

This week’s blog post was a realization I (Tiffany) had on a recent tour we conducted for dietetic interns. We typically tour a large feed yard with the interns and have a fairly set routine of how the tour proceeds. This year, we decided to mix it up and instead of immediately getting off the bus at the office, we stayed aboard and took a driving tour of the cattle pens first. This offered our tour participants an elevated view of the feed yard because we were in a larger tour bus which sets you up much higher than the average vehicle. This was a unique perspective and one I’m glad we were able to show our dietetic interns.

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Photo by Heidi Crnkovic from our rather large tour bus, which to these guys probably looked similar to the feed truck (hence their movement towards the feed trough.)

Part of my typical work week with the Arizona Beef Council has traditionally been heading out to Arizona high school classrooms to teach students on topics ranging from how cattle are raised in Arizona to preparing a delicious beef meal. Most teachers request that I share the beef lifecycle whether they are learning about culinary and have no connection to agriculture or are traditional students in an agriculture education setting. People are asking the question more and more, “Where does my food come from?” and these students, and often times the teacher, want to know the answer. So, we talk about the cow-calf ranch, the weaning process, why we give vaccinations and brand in the state of Arizona. We cover the feed yard and then talk about the harvesting plant with the conclusion of that story being a juicy, delicious steak on the consumer’s plate. (For a more detailed account of the entire beef lifecycle click here.)

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Talking all things beef with high school agriculture students from Rio Rico High School.

A presentation slide I always enjoy showing is an overhead view of a feed yard. This photo does a great job of representing an average feed yard set up. I let the students talk me through what they see instead of telling them what I see and what they notice is often very different from the common misconceptions you hear about feed yards. They tell me they see lots of space for the cattle to move around. They also mention that the cattle are bunched together, but not because of the fences, so we have the conversation about herd instincts (cattle are flight animals by nature and prefer to spend their time surrounded by their own kind). They talk about how there are some cattle gathered at the front of the pens. We talk about why that is: that’s where they get fed and have free choice as to when and how much they eat.

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This photo is great to share because it’s close enough to see details like the cattle huddled together and the fence line.

Then I show another photo. This was a photo taken of Lauren and me a few years back at one of our Gate to Plate tours. We were excited to see a lot of hard work coming to fruition, and that excitement is written all over our faces. Because of Lauren and I’s personal perspectives earned through many visits to this and other feed yards in our lifetime, we see nothing but happy cattle in the background and happy, productive employees, in the foreground. But to others who may not have had the privilege to visit a large feed yard, this photo might say something else.

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Lauren and me with curious Holsteins. If you’re not careful, they’ll steal your phone out of your back pocket.

The perspective of this photo shows only one flat view. Immediately behind us, the view is of lots of curious black and white steers standing at the fence line watching us. We interpret their stares as curious, for which Holstein cattle are known, but it might not read that way to someone with less cattle experience. As you look further back into the frame of the photo, your eye is met with more cattle who also looked squished together. Unfortunately, as much fun as this picture is for Lauren and me, it only shows one perspective of a feed yard which doesn’t accurately describe how cattle are housed.

The thing that struck me was this is often the perspective the average person has of feed yards or even dairies (which are often set up similarly). Most people only drive by a feed yard or dairy and never get the chance to talk with the person running these locations, or even better, get to see it from a bird’s eye view.

And it is also a reminder for myself and others in my unique position to be very mindful of the photos we share. I love posting photos on social media of my experiences on feed yards, dairies, and ranches throughout Arizona, but considering what the photo says if there was no explanation given is an important factor to consider. Not every person is going to see or read the text you attach to a photo. Remember, a photo says a thousand words only offers one perspective.

Lots of great stories were shared in 2017 here on the Arizona Beef blog ranging from delicious beef recipes to family stories of our Arizona beef ranchers and farmers. Here is a round-up of the top ten blog posts you enjoyed reading the most this past year. Take a moment to give them another read or if you didn’t get a chance to when they were originally published, now you can catch up with the times. Here’s to a great year of storytelling and to another year of amazing stories to share with you all!

10th Most Read Blog Post:

Meet Your Ranchers: Joe and Sarah King

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The 9th Most Read Blog Post:

The Congratulatory Slap

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8th Most Read:

Meet Your Dairyman: Mark Rovey

Healthy Cows

7th Most Read:

Ranchin’ and Rodeoin’: The Tale of the Parsons Fathers

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6th Most Read:

Meet Your Rancher: Dr. Sam Garcia and Family

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5th Most Read:

Meet Your Rancher: The Menges Family

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4th Most Read:

Meet Your Rancher: Jim and Jeanne O’Haco

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3rd Most Read:

Booke’s Spicy Beef Stir Fry

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2nd Most Read:


10 Life Lessons Herd from the Ranch

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And our most read blog post of 2017 goes to:

Meet Your Rancher: Dan Bell

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Meet Your Cattleman: Paul Heiden

Meet Paul Heiden! Paul’s family has a long history of farming and raising cattle in the west valley of Phoenix. Not only does he share the legacy of his family in this Q&A blog post, but also how his family works hard to be good neighbors to those who have moved in around their feed yard and farm.


What is the history of your family’s farm and feed yard?
Paul: My great-grandfather started farming in the 1940’s which is when he acquired the current farm and feed yard my family still owns and operates. Along with my grandfather, he started with just 320 acres, which is where our headquarters currently is, and a few corrals of cattle. We are fortunate to now farm a lot more land and raise about 5,000 head of cattle per year.

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Pictured are only a few of the Heiden farm family. Left to right: Richard, Paul, Helen, Dugi, Les, Regina and Cody Raney, and Bruce.

 

What does your family currently farm?
Paul: We grow cotton, wheat, alfalfa, and cattle.

Who in your family is still involved in the farming and feeding business?
Paul: Myself, my brother, my father, my uncles, and my grandfather.

When did you start working at the feed yard?
Paul: I grew up on the farm and feed yard, so I guess you can say I’ve always been here. I started irrigating fields when I was in 5th grade. In 7th grade, I was promoted to tractor driver and did that through my sophomore year of high school. Then I started driving a feed truck on the feed yard. I attended Arizona State University to further my education and after graduation, I came right back to the feed yard. I’m proud to say I still live on the feed yard along with my grandfather who lives just a few yards from me.

What changes have you seen with the town of Buckeye?
Paul: When I was growing up, Buckeye’s population was about 5,000 people. Now the population is close to 65,000. Before we didn’t have neighbors anywhere close to us and now we have neighbors half a mile away in one direction and a mile away in the other direction. This has brought both advantages and challenges to our farm.

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Checking on the cattle every day is an important part of the job. This helps to ensure all the animals are healthy and doing well.

What challenges do you face with neighborhoods so close to the farm and feed yard?
Paul: We make a great effort to be good neighbors. I can remember being younger and there was a noticeable dust cloud around the feed yard. Now with residences closer to our farm and feed yard, we manage the feed yard and cattle much differently. We want to ensure we are cautious of what is going to affect our neighbors and keep the goal of being good neighbors top of mind.

To accomplish this, we water the corrals daily to help keep the dust down with a goal of not allowing dust to leave this property. We clean the corrals yearly, so any smell associated with the feed yard is kept to a minimum.

Flies can also prove an issue, so to keep the population small we use a predator fly from a company called Kunafin. This is a natural way to control pests with the use of a fly that feeds on the common house fly. Looking around a feed yard you would expect a lot of pests and flies, but there aren’t any because of these guys. The lack of flies also helps to prevent the spread of illnesses between cattle as flies are great hosts for common cattle-related illnesses.

What benefits are there to managing a feed yard close to an urban area?
Paul: We have the chance to interact with consumers in this setting much more frequently whereas before we hardly saw anyone not related to or working at the farm or feed yard. I often conduct tours through the Arizona Beef Council which allows people to experience a family-owned feed yard first hand. These folks are always curious about what we do and come with misconceptions I can help clear up by simply taking them around our place and showing off what we do here.

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Clearing out the manure from the pens allows the Heidens to reuse a waste product by applying it to their farm fields as fertilizer.

How do you care for the environment around you?
Paul: We are big proponents of reusing and recycling here at our farm and feed yard. We clean all the manure out of the pens on a yearly basis and then apply that manure as fertilizer to our farm fields. What others see as only a waste product, we see as an invaluable resource full of nutrients for the plants we grow. You might say, you only clean the pens once a year?! Let me tell you why that’s a good thing. Because we do live in such an arid climate, we are able to leave the manure in the pens during the year because it dries out quickly. This also helps to form a layer on the top of the dirt which also aids in the control of dust.

When it rains, we have a pond which catches all the runoff from the cattle pens. We store this wastewater in the pond and when that gets full it’s used to irrigate our crops, providing more nutrients for the plants. Basically, our goal is to not allow any waste to leave our property. It’s reused in some way.

Do you work with any government agencies?
Paul: We work closely with the Maricopa Air Quality Control. They come out once a year to check out air quality. We work with this agency to make sure our farm and feed yard are not adversely affecting the air quality around us. Working with agencies like the Maricopa Air Quality Control is an important part of our work. We care about the environment and the land we use, and these folks help verify we are doing a good job reaching that goal.

What sort of technologies have you implemented on your feed yard and how have they changed over the years?
Paul: We now use radio frequency identification tags, also called RFID tags, which make it easier to track our animals. These work by inserting a small button tag into the ear of the animal, much like an earring, when they arrive at our place if they don’t already have one. This allows us to scan the tag, which automatically brings up all the information we’ve previously logged about that animal while allowing us to add more information, such as vaccinations, illness records, which medications were given, etc. I also use apps on my phone to track weather changes. I check out the temperature, humidity, and if it’s going to rain. This helps us predict if the cattle will start to eat more or less feed depending on the day. Cattle’s appetites greatly depend on the weather.

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Paul and his family work hard to ensure the best quality care is given to the animals at their feed yard.

What do you do to ensure the beef you raise is safe for consumers?
Paul: We work closely with a veterinarian who is on call seven days a week. If something happens, which is out of the ordinary, we can call him any time of the day to find out what we should do to ensure the safety and welfare of the animal in question.

We also take great strides to prevent illnesses and other issues. Two of our employees walk through the cattle in the pens every single day. They look for any sign of illness, most times being able to identify those signs before the cattle are showing great signs of sickness. Because these cowboys are so good at their job, we can pull them out of the regular pen and transfer the animal to the hospital pen. This is where our veterinarian really becomes integral to our feed yard and the welfare of our animals. We treat the animal with whatever our veterinarian recommends. Whatever product we gave to that animal comes with a strict withdrawal time to ensure all the product is free from the animal’s system before it goes into the harvesting process. At our family feed yard, we actually double the required withdrawal time, airing on the side of caution as each animal metabolizes products differently than the next. If an animal becomes sick and has to be treated within four months of leaving our feed yard, we separate that animal from the usual group, as one additional safety guard against any chance of sending an animal to harvest before their withdrawal time is up.

We also have a nutritionist who formulates all our feed rations which are the mixture of feed we feed to our cattle. It’s extremely important to ensure our cattle’s nutrient needs are met throughout their lifecycle as this helps to ensure they stay healthy.

 

What is your favorite thing about raising cattle?
Paul: I really enjoy going to work each day and spending the majority of the day outside. I also really enjoy knowing I work hard to raise a safe, wholesome, and nutritious beef product for my family to enjoy while other families get to enjoy the same product.

What is your favorite cut of beef?
Paul: Grilled New York Strip

Meet Your Ranchers: Joe and Sarah King

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Photo by Heidi Crnkovic.

The King’s Anvil Ranch located in the Altar Valley outside of Tucson, Arizona is a piece of history. Unlike some relics, this ranch and the King family continue to implement the latest scientific research and technology to ensure this ranch doesn’t become a thing of the past and continues to move forward with the rest of our society. A day-long visit to this beautiful desert gem with husband and wife team Joe and Sarah King gave us the opportunity to learn all about what they do and bring you this blog post.

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Sarah and Joe King with son George and daughter Evelyn. Photo by Heidi Crnkovic.

Tell us about yourself, your family and your ranch:
Joe: Our family ranch is the King’s Anvil Ranch, west of Tucson in Three Points, Arizona. I am 37 years old, a fourth-generation rancher and have lived on this ranch nearly my entire life. We have a long history here on this ranch and in this area. My great-grandad founded our ranch, and my grandad followed in his footsteps, including roping in the first Tucson rodeo. My great-grandad had an extremely large ranch and what we currently operate is a small parcel compared to what they used to manage and raise cattle on. He was the one who bought barbed wire for the fence on this ranch way back in 1895. We have not bought barbed wire since then. I’m still fixing his barbed wire and I’ve never met him.

Sarah: I grew up moving around. I was born in Wisconsin, moved to Mexico City for two years and then on to New Jersey. When we lived in Mexico City, we would go on weekend trips and there would be horses by the side of the road you could pay to ride and that’s where I started getting into horses. I rode in New Jersey at a small English stable where we did the little horse shows.

My family frequently visited the Elkhorn Ranch, which is just south of the King’s Anvil Ranch, for vacations as I was growing up. This led to my employment at the Elkhorn Ranch in Montana, originally to be the babysitter, and then I ended up being the Peanut Butter Mother which is the kiddy wrangler who organizes the kids’ activities during the summers of my college years. I came down here my first fall out of college nine years ago to work at the Arizona Elkhorn. The barn boss, who was a childhood buddy of Joe’s, got to scheming that Joe and I should get together. He had just gotten married, so love was in the air. And he was right! It panned out! Here we are nine years later with two children hopping around. I went back to Montana for one more summer and then Joe and I got married in 2011, so we’ve been married for six years now.

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An example of useful technology on the ranch is this feed trailer which allows the King’s to efficiently feed weaned calves being held in pens close to the headquarters of the ranch. Photo by Heidi Crnkovic.

How has technology changed on the ranch?
Joe: In many ways. I just got an iPhone! I can now use it to do all my cattle records on. The apps are fun and help to keep track of the age of cows better. We also use a sonogram to check if cows are pregnant. We also now use cars, horses, barbed wire and a mixer to feed calves, just to name a few.

We almost take smartphones for granted these days, but they’re definitely something that generations before me didn’t have on the ranch. We have two new cowboys, who haven’t made it to every corner of the ranch yet. The other day, I needed to run to town for parts, and they were going to ride to a gate in the mountains. We went over verbal directions in the morning, but I wasn’t sure it had clicked. Midway through the day, they called, and they were in the wrong spot. I was able to pull up the Maps app on my phone, drop a “pin” where the gate is, and then send it to one of the guys, and he brought it up on his phone, and they rode to the point. It saved them several hours of lost time riding through the mountains searching for the gate.

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The yellow tags shown in the photo above help with identification of cattle throughout their lifetime which makes record keeping a much easier process. Photo by Heidi Crnkovic.

What apps do you use?
Joe: Dropbox so I can save stuff between computers. If I ever smashed my phone everything would be backed up. I have Beef Market Central. I have a tally counter so I can count everyone’s ages as they walk by without having to do it 9 times. Now we have an accurate count of their actual ages.

How does the sonogram help?
Joe: It makes it easier and eliminates some human error when checking for pregnancy in our cows. It also speeds up the process! We can tell if a cow is bred much earlier (for example, in the first trimester) which means we can turn these cows out to a large pasture. If we check by manual palpation (feeling the uterus with a hand to check for pregnancy) and a cow comes up open, we hold them in a pasture or pen nearby and recheck later, because she could either be only in the first trimester or could truly be open. We can identify these bred cows earlier so they can go on to better pastures.

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Another piece of modern equipment used on the King’s Anvil Ranch is a calf table. This table is designed to put less stress on calves as they are branded, given calf-hood vaccinations, and have an ear tag put in their ear. Photo by Heidi Crnkovic.

In your lifetime, how have you seen technology change the way you are doing things on the ranch?
Joe: We used to employee many more cowboys than we do now. Technology has helped us do this job more efficiently and make up for the loss of skilled workers. We used to have to keep forty or more horses to make sure we had enough horsepower to do the required work. While we don’t use ATVs to move cattle like some folks do (still just horses), we will use a helicopter at times to close out our fall round-up and have them gather the last remnants in a pasture, as we ride our horses along with and bring out what the helicopter pilot finds. The helicopter has shortened the time to finish out gathering a pasture from three weeks to three hours, along with a much better success rate of finding all the cattle in that area. The terrain in our pastures can be rocky and tough to get into and the flat area is large, so it takes time to cover all that land.

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Joe King and son George pictured in the pen getting ready to brand, vaccinate, and ear tag calves. Photo by Heidi Crnkovic.

What are some common misconceptions the average person has about raising cattle?
Joe: As previously explained, Sarah has a strong connection to the guest ranch, the Elkhorn Ranch, next door so we often visit and talk with the folks who are staying there from all across the U.S. (and even internationally!). They ask lots of questions, which is great. There’s a lot of basic questions but one that I enjoy the most is when they realize our ranch is more than just a hobby – it’s a full-time job. Like when we start to talk about trade issues and about how the price of cattle is trailing the price of oil, and they are surprised that I know what the cost of oil is. As it is a large factor in the price of live cattle, it’s an important one for me to watch. They are surprised by that. I tell them my job depends on it. They don’t take the second level of thinking unless you push them to and then it makes sense to them.

Sarah: It’s really the same as anyone thinking about someone else’s job. You might know about the first layer of what a job requires, but I think this job happens to be one people romanticize and might think the same thing is going on from times past. It’s also a visual job, allowing people to be more set into their perceptions of what they think goes on at a ranch versus seeing the business layer. As a rancher, you are in charge of making all the business decisions to ensure your family business stays afloat and that’s not something people often see.

In terms of misconceptions, they can go both ways. There tends to be a view of people in ranching or agriculture that those folks are simple or uneducated, which I don’t think is the case at all. I also think there are some missed opportunities to communicate when we go on the defensive instead of listening. Sometimes when you’re deeply involved in something, you can’t understand how others wouldn’t understand it. But sometimes if we take a step back and think, “why would someone know that?” we might understand why they’re asking the question.

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Gentle cattle are an important part of this ranch. These calves and cows demonstrate just how gentle they really are. Photo by Heidi Crnkovic.

What is the most important thing you do on your ranch every day to make sure you are raising safe beef for the consumer?
Joe: Keeping gentle cattle is the biggest thing you can do to ensure that yourself, your family, your employees and your animals all stay safe and healthy. When your animals stay safe, you don’t have to worry about doctoring them and it helps to ensure our end product is high quality. By working on gentling our cattle while they are here, they avoid stress when being trailered somewhere else, they settle into new environments, such as a feed yard, faster and with less weight loss, they know how to eat out of a feed bunk and how to drink water out of a trough. These things ensure they are relaxed so they can grow healthier, just like anyone else would.

We also ensure our cowboys adhere to the philosophy of calm, gentle cattle handling and Beef Quality Assurance designations. It’s the philosophy you want your group or team to follow to produce the best product.

Sarah: Additionally, we also must stay on top of research and continually educate ourselves even after we are done with our college degrees. We must stay on top of vaccinations, medical treatments, range management, etc. This can mean we have to make a change to how we are doing something. All this thought and research goes into our cattle and our ranch. This is a product which not only has the end game of putting a delicious meal on the shelf, but also has benefits for the landscape, for wildlife, and for people broadly, such as hunters coming to the ranch. This product helps us keep our little portion of the universe in good, healthy, functioning condition.

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An example of the range on the King’s Anvil Ranch. Photo by Sarah King.

What do you do on your ranch in terms of range management and conservation?
Sarah: The King’s Anvil Ranch is a founding member of the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance, which is the local collaborative conservation group. This group is made up of ranchers and agriculturists who live and work in the Altar Valley. It was founded in 1995, in the spirit of the Malapi Borderlands Group and the Diablo Trust. The goal is to conserve the Altar Valley for future generations. We work to promote, sustain, and maintain the habitat. A lot of what we’ve done has been to get partners to work together at the table and find common ground in discussing challenges and resolving issues. Even if we can’t have some of those big conversations at the national level, we can bring them down and have them at the small, local level.

There are a lot of different players in this valley. Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan was enacted in 2001, and their Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan was finalized recently. This led Pima County to purchase a couple of the ranches in the valley. The valley is the largest open, unfragmented space in Pima County. This area is a cornerstone of their conservation plan. Some of the other stakeholders in the Altar Valley are the Arizona State Land Department, national designations such as the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, which used to be a cattle ranch, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Forest Service toward the south end. The Alliance is focused on getting those partners to come together to talk and collaborate. The best way we’ve found to do that is by working on tangible stuff on the ground. There have been a whole variety of projects. We here at the Anvil are working on a prescribed burn plan, along with low maintenance road care.

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A calf patiently waiting in the pen. Photo by Heidi Crnkovic.

Pick out a piece of info that you want everyone to know about you and the work you do on the ranch every day:
Joe: I’m really in the people business. It’s the most fun part of my job. When I can get people to see eye-to-eye on the ranch and work together to get tasks done, it’s a great accomplishment. Managing people and working with people is the best part and the most difficult part. But when it goes right it’s just a home run.

What is your favorite cut of beef?
Joe: I’m always up for a good rib-eye, but smoked brisket on my new smoker is a new favorite. But it’s always a floating favorite. Beef ribs are another good one.

Sarah: Flank steak