Ranching by the Scientific Method


The Quarter Circle U Ranch

Another feature of the Arizona Beef blog is the chance to “Meet Your Rancher.” For our inaugural post in this series, Arizona rancher Chuck Backus of the Quarter Circle U Ranch, was an easy choice. Chuck and his wife Judy have been an integral part to the successes of a tour series we do each year entitled the “Gate to Plate” tours (more on that in later posts). He is always open to visitors and never turns us down when we ask to bring folks out to tour his ranch. Luckily for us, many have found Chuck fascinating including Steve Suther from Certified Angus Beef. A few years back, Steve wrote a blog post for the Black Ink with CAB blog about Chuck and his use of science in raising his cattle. With Steve’s permission, we are proud to repost that blog for you to enjoy. Without further ado, here is the story of Chuck and Judy and their ranch nestled in the Superstition Mountains.



Chuck Backus takes the scientific approach to just about everything.

Chuck Backus is one of my heroes. This Arizona rancher is a PhD nuclear engineer who began in the 1960s working with Westinghouse on NASA’s manned mission to Mars. His grandfather lived nearly a century in West Virginia with no utilities and nothing but actual horsepower. . .

ANYWAY, as Chuck would say to get back on track, the NASA work included a lot of focus on solar energy, too, and political winds suggested a move to earth-based applications. So he and wife Judy came out to The Valley of the Sun, and he helped launch Arizona State University’s solar energy program, even setting up a lab that certifies most of the solar cells in the world.

ANYWAY, he was still a farm boy from West Virginia at heart and looking for a small ranch in the 1970s…a friend in the Farm Credit System alerted him that a historic 10-acre tract was going to be foreclosed on just a few miles southeast of Phoenix. Turns out it was the Quarter-Circle U, where the first men crazy enough to try ranching many years before claimed an unlimited number of desert acres for their 5,000 cattle. By 1974, it lay up against a 22-section state lease rated for 207 cows. Wow. More than he wanted perhaps, but he saw potential for research, and by the end of that decade, he had converted all power to solar. Not long after he turned away from exploring our Solar System, he began to speak of his own solar system.

The ranch has been operated on solar energy since the 1970s.

When the United Nations hosted seminars on solar energy around the world, Chuck presented and transfixed audiences with his documented practical applications. Even his cows were solar branded then.

ANYWAY, cows were kind of along for the ride until he had all the solar and water issues lined up, and bought a few more acres, including a tract up north to allow his base to have six months of rest each summer, and room for 400 cows. No rest for Chuck, however. He was retiring from ASU, but chomping at the bit to dig into cattle ranching with a new emphasis on cattle quality. He thought back to the wild, rodeo-stock cows he’d had to keep on the place the first year just to show his first herd what to eat, and the huge risk of bull mortality coming into a canyon better suited to rattlesnakes than beef cattle.

Cows must learn what plants can sustain them, and where the water is.

Using artificial insemination (AI) to breed half of his herd cut that risk, and replacement heifers from top Angus AI sires would grow up knowing their desert resources. Chuck joined the Certified Angus Beef brand’s email discussion list called Black-Ink and added much to discussions of AI and herd improvement strategies. He knew a lot about a lot of things, but adapted the attitude of an eager student in this field.

ANYWAY, he sent a benchmark set of steers to a Texas feedlot in 2006 and found the Beefmaster and Brangus crosses made about 50% Choice, but no premium Choice. Last year, after five years of culling and breeding up and including the first stacked generations of high-quality Angus genetics, a load went 12% Prime and about 80% Certified Angus Beef brand. Wow. He’s not done yet, only halfway through a 10-year genetic upgrade that is now adding an emphasis on feed conversion. This year, a load of steers are being fed at Cattleman’s Choice Feedyard near Gage, Okla. As of today, most of Chuck’s heifers are AI-sired and include some ¾ Angus. How far can he go? Only as far as profit allows.

Eric Grant, of the American Angus Association came with me on this visit, and as I made some comment about the predictability of straightbred Angus from registered bulls, Chuck acknowledged that. But he added, “Just because you can predict the outcome, doesn’t mean it is the desired outcome, or that it maximizes your profit. This country is so rough. I am in the middle of this experiment to see if the higher percentages or straight Angus can do well here.

“If I use primarily AI to bring these super genetics in, and they are raised by my cows on this pasture, and they get all the enzymes in their system that will let them eat what is here—cactus included—if they are raised on this as a baby calf, and learn what they can eat, what they need to eat, then they should be well adapted as replacements. If they fail, it should come back to genetic reasons.”it’s not rocket science, just sound thinking.

ANYWAY, it’s not rocket science, just sound thinking. Look for the full story on the Backus Quarter-Circle U experiment in a future Angus Journal or Angus Beef Bulletin.


Eat Beef, Keep Slim

LilDudetteThrough the years, there have been many creative methods implemented to talk about the great beef which is raised in Arizona. One of those ways, in the 1950s, was to create a mascot for Arizona beef. Reg Manning, a famous artist best known for his cartooned saguaro cactus with the prominent nose, created a character who fit the bill perfectly for this job. This cartoon character was named Lil’ Dudette, and she had a hearty message to share with everyone: “To keep yourself trim – Eat Beef – Keep Slim!”

In 1955, after using a mannequin version of Lil’ Dudette in shop windows to promote beef, it was decided a live version was needed to help spread the word at larger events like the Arizona State Fair. The Arizona State Cowbelles, a strong organization of women who share information about beef, were on a mission to find the perfect Lil’ Dudette and when a Cowbelle is on a mission (now and then) you better not stand in her way. It sounds like it was an easy decision as Connie Cook from Willcox fit the description wonderfully. The Cowbelles are even quoted as saying, “Connie looks exactly like Reg Manning’s famous character, Lil’ Dudette ‘ought to look.” Connie’s family was also deeply rooted in Arizona ranch history having been in the cattle business in Willcox since 1893. It was a perfect fit.

Lil’ Dudette, aka Connie, was a hit! She made appearances at the Arizona State Fair that year and drew a crowd. It is reported in the November 1955 issue of the Arizona Cattlelog that 10,000 “7 Ways for 7 Days” beef-recipe folders were given away and nearly 30,000 people entered into a drawing to win 25o pounds of choice beef donated by the Beef Council. In the next year, it was reported that there was a film was produced entitled, “Lil’ Dudette,” which was entered in the Beef Promotion Contest at the American National Cattlemen’s convention and it won first prize!

We can’t say Lil’ Dudette was too far off when she sang out Protein Challengeher slogan about eating beef to keep slim. Significant research shows that people looking to lose or maintain a healthy weight, support a healthy metabolism and/or age more vibrantly may benefit from consuming a balanced amount of high-quality protein, within calorie goals. Luckily for us, we have a few more tools than Lil’ Dudette did to help people achieve these goals. One of those tools being the 30 Day Protein Challenge which is a fun, step-by-step way to help you get an optimal amount of protein throughout your day. Significant research shows that some people can lose and/or maintain a healthy weight, support a healthy metabolism, and age more vibrantly when they consume more high-quality protein, within calorie goals. Interested? Check it out here.

Who’s blogging?

g2p cell_26_tiffany and laurenYou’re going to be meeting a lot of people coming up so we’d thought we’d start off with the staff of the Arizona Beef Council.

We, Lauren Scheller, Tiffany Selchow, and Bas Aja, execute the plans put into place each year by the Council’s board of cattlemen and women, cattle feeders and dairymen. Our goal is to let people know how great beef is and we do that by sharing the facts and bringing a little sparkle to the table (really there isn’t much you have to add to table if it’s already set with steaks).

Lauren is a beef-loving, car racing enthusiast, who enjoys making things pretty with calligraphy and bows. She was raised on her family’s beef cattle ranch in California and has adapted to and embraced all things Arizona ranging from hiking Camelback Mountain to enjoying delicious tacos across the state. On behalf of Arizona’s ranchers, Lauren works with chefs, retailers (aka where you can buy beef in the meat case), and the media to communicate about all things beef.

I, Tiffany, am a recently married, somewhat typical millennial, who can cook a mean steak but is working to increase her efficiency in the kitchen. Finding a new recipe on Pinterest
and trying it out on my husband, who is patient and eats whatever is put in front of him, is a newly found interest. My favorite project here at the Beef Council is exploring our state, one school and ranch at a time. Some of my time is spent in culinary and agriculture classrooms doing fun things like beef cooking demos, while a lot of time is spent online, sharing yummy info about beef.

We are all here as a resource to YOU! When you have a question about beef pop up, we want you ask us. See that link in the top right hand corner? It’s your direct connection to us. Give us a shout whenever a beefy question pops into your mind!

Arizona Beef Council: The What, Who, Where, When, and Why

AZ Beef Council_cactus_checkoff_color (2)Oh look, another blog for you to read on the interwebs! So the question begs to be asked, why take more of your time to cruise through our blog? Because this is where the story of Arizona beef and the ranchers and farmers who make it possible is told. It is a place to learn about a new cut of beef which may have looked intimidating at the meat case, but after reading our blog post will leave you feeling confident and ready to tackle something new. The list could go on and on!

So I’ll try to keep this from reading like your 2nd-grade current events report, but it only makes sense to give you the background of the Arizona Beef Council before we head off on our journey through Arizona and the great beef it has to offer.

The jury is out on when the Arizona Beef Council was officially founded (we have conflicting reports which point to 1955 and shortly after to 1956), but one thing is certain: the goal of this organization was and is to promote and educate about the incredible beef product Arizona ranchers work so hard to produce.

This sounds like an easy task, but once you start to break it down, LilDudetteone realizes there are many ways to accomplish this goal and vast amount of beef things to talk about. Some of the fun projects through the years have included TV and radio commercials which were aired during numerous notable shows including Bob Crosby, Edgar Bergen, Bing Crosby and Danny Thomas back in 1959. Another great project which is still functioning currently is providing money to culinary instructors to purchase and use beef in their classrooms. If you are currently an agriculture or culinary teacher and would like more info about this program and how you can get involved, check out our website. Lil’ Dudette (pictured) was another source of promotion. Her obvious appeal to the masses and tag line “To keep yourself trim, Eat beef, Keep slim” earned a large audience of receptive beef eaters. She hung out (in mannequin form) in stores and the state fair.

Check back soon. We will have an exclusive on the folks behind the scenes and then we’ll really get into the meat of this blog. Pun intended!