Photo by Kathy McCraine of Jim O’Haco
Ranchers: Jim and Jeanne O’Haco.
Arizona Beef Council: Where you are located?
Jim O’Haco: Our ranch is located 30 miles south of Winslow, Arizona sitting at an elevation of 6,200 – 7,000 feet. We raise mostly Black Angus cattle along with black baldy (Hereford/ Angus cross) cows who are bred each year to raise a calf. We sell first-calf heifers and bulls, along with calves in the spring and fall.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and about your ranch.
Our story begins in 1898 when my grandfather Michel O’Haco came to this country from the Basque Pyrenees in Europe. He immigrated at the age of 14, landing at Ellis Island in New York and made his way cross-country to Phoenix. He had an uncle who was a sheep man around Wickenburg, who promised him work upon his arrival. He saved his money while working as a herder and eventually bought his own sheep, and thus the O’Haco Sheep Company was started.
For many years, he acquired land and continued to increase his sheep numbers and ranches. In 1946, he was the largest sheep man in Arizona, with properties all over the state, including summer ranges in the northern plateau and winter pastures in the Salt River Valley around Phoenix, Arizona.
My grandfather had 4 children, but only one son, MJ O’Haco, (my father). MJ was attending the University of Arizona when World War II broke out. He was assigned to the last cavalry unit but ended up in the infantry when the horses sank at sea; he served with honors as a Captain. At Nuremburg, Germany, MJ was shot twice in the back by a sniper while saving the life of a commanding officer, which left him paralyzed and unable to walk. At this point, my grandfather began dissolving his holdings, as he figured his only son would never be able to ranch. He kept his best properties, the Chevelon Butte Ranch and the Divide Ranch in Wickenburg.
After five long years, my father regained his health and married his Army nurse (my mother) in 1946, eventually having 8 children. My father returned to Chevelon Butte, and slowly began the transition from sheep to cattle. MJ continued to ranch until his death in 2001.
Fast forward and here is a short history about myself. I was born and raised in Winslow, attended the University of Arizona earning a degree in Animal Science and a minor in Range. I was accepted into veterinary school, but returned home and started running the daily operations of the ranches, which at one time consisted of four ranches and a small farm. My entire life has been devoted to the outdoors and agriculture.
As we’ve learned from our past blog posts, conservation and proper land management are important topics. When did you start conservation projects? What is an example of a conservation project?
Range conservation projects have been a part of our outfit for as far back as I can remember. My father switched from sheep to cattle in entirety in 1948 -1950. He fenced the perimeter, then cross fence pastures, as well as built earthen tanks to provide water to the livestock.
In 1995-1997, the ranch started discussions with the Arizona Game & Fish Department (AGFD), the United States Forest Service (USFS), the Arizona State Land Department (ASLD), and the Natural Resource Conservation Service on a water project we now call High Point. A severe drought had been in existence for several years, and the concept of developing a well that could gravity flow water lines to several different pastures and open country that had no water was the vision and goal. Management agreements with the AGFD, ASLD and USFS were finalized, and the project began in 1998 when a well was drilled that would supply 40 gallons a minute from the depth of 1,350 feet, operated off a 35KW generator with a submersible pump.
A 100,000-gallon storage tank was erected on a state section, on the highest point on the ranch, and connected plastic pipelines. As time and money permitted, more lines were trenched over the following ten years, with drinker troughs strategically placed in pastures that needed additional water. To date, with gravity flow, approximately 35 drinkers (steel troughs holding between 750-1000 gallons of water), and 42 miles of buried pipeline, supply water to 60,000 acres. The last trough is 25-30 miles from the storage tank, all watered by gravity flow.
By providing more water throughout the ranch, it has improved range conditions with the distribution of animals ensuring they are not walking to the same water daily and killing vegetation. The water is cleaner, as it comes out of a storage tank, then to the water drinkers. The average rainfall in the area is between 12-18 inches per year, with an average being 16 inches. All earthen tanks are still cleaned regularly and maintained for rain water and run off. We have not had to haul water since 1998.
How do these water improvement projects effect the wildlife on your ranch?
Water is provided year-round for all animals and critters. After our cattle are removed, the lines are not shut off. AGFD helps maintain High Point Well while we provide the daily operation of starting and maintaining the lines and AGFD helps with the fuel expense and replacement of generators when needed.What restoration projects have you done on the ranch?
Grassland habitat restoration has taken place across 15,000 acres through mechanical mastication of invasive juniper and other brush to enhance grass growth and restore habitat restoration by at least 30%.
Supported by the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Apache- Sitgreaves National Forest Black Mesa District, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Arizona Elk Society, Arizona Antelope Foundation, and Winslow Elk Habitat Partnership Committee, we’ve restored, enhanced and/or improved livestock management practices on more than 20,000 acres of private, state, and federal lands.
What is the most important piece of information that you would want people to know about you and the work you do on you ranch every day?
One is being able to produce good, quality livestock. The other is to improve the habitat I have been blessed with, leaving it better for the next generation.
If you could describe in one word the life of a rancher, what would it be?
The most important question! What is your favorite cut of beef and how do you like it prepared?
A juicy cheeseburger, well done, with all the fixings is the best!!