The V Bar V Ranch: A University of Arizona Gem
Cruising up the I-17 North, you reach Exit 298: Sedona, Slide Rock. A breath-taking hike in Oak Creek Canyon might be your only thoughts; unless of course, you are an Animal Science student at the University of Arizona or a local Arizona rancher looking for some resources. What are your thoughts then? We’re almost to the V Bar V! (You would also be turning right at that exit, instead of left).
Located in Rimrock, tucked away between the beautiful red rocks and acres of green, rocky, northern Arizona rangeland, is the V Bar V Ranch, an experiment station for the University of Arizona (UA). The Morrill Acts of 1862, 1890, and 1994 ensured that universities such as UA would be instituted to teach agriculture, mining, and military tactics. Land grant institutions now serve as centers for research, extension, and education. Thus, the V Bar V is a priceless resource for local ranchers and students alike, addressing environmental, wildlife and domestic livestock issues applicable to Arizona and the Southwest, providing research and hands-on opportunities for students, and serving as a crucial link between the beef community and academia.
Today, the ranch superintendent at the V Bar V is Mr. Keith Cannon, or as everyone knows him by, Bopper. Bopper is a 4th generation rancher, whose family came to Arizona from Texas in the late 1890’s. He was raised ranching, and in 1990 participated in an educational program sponsored by the University of Arizona for ranchers. He brought his two sons, Keith and Jacob, and their involvement was so praiseworthy that they received an invitation to the Santa Rita Ranch for a similar, more extensive opportunity. Shortly after, Bopper was invited to be involved in research, then serve as a cowboy at the V Bar V Ranch, working his way up his current position as ranch superintendent and later joined by his son Keith in 2001.
Bopper shared, “The V Bar V is a unique opportunity to combine old school ways and traditions with new technologies. The goal today is to run this experiment station as a profitable ranch to serve as a model for Arizona ranchers while showcasing the ability to improve continuously by using new technologies and research.” The current focus is improving cattle breed genetics and creating more cross-breed cattle that perform well in Arizona conditions (high drought and heat tolerance) while still grading high in meat quality. With those goals in mind, the Waygu breed was introduced to the predominantly Angus and Hereford herd and found that the cattle were well-suited for the environment while grading 90% choice or better.
Bopper sees the importance of the V Bar V in outreach to Arizona ranches, commenting, “It’s easier for ranchers to accept strategies from a fellow cowman than from academia. We aren’t just saying this is what you need to be doing. We are showing them that we are also doing it ourselves and it’s working.”
Ever been to the Phoenix Zoo? If so, you’ve most likely been directly touched by the V Bar V. Do you remember seeing the Hereford cow in the farm section? Yes, the one with the cute calf that visitors get to help name each year. She came from the V Bar V! And every year, Keith and Bopper, along with their interns, prepare and breed her so zoo attendees can continue to learn about the beef community.
The positive impacts in helping local ranchers and the community are only part of the mission of the V Bar V. Bopper smiles as he comments, “The most enjoyable thing about my job is working with students and interns. There is a lot of heritage on my side, and it’s great to be able to pass that on.” Bopper has welcomed interns from Japan, South Africa, Brazil, France, Germany, and around the United States. He views them all as part of his family (rumor has it, his wonderful cooking proves helps build this sense of community!). Interns, high school and university students alike participate in calving classes, branding, and cattle handling, along with basic veterinary practices. Bopper aims to spark their interest in both the cattle community and the University of Arizona.
This year’s intern, Andrew Miles, says, “The V Bar V is a crucial part of the University’s Animal Science program, providing opportunities for students to learn about cattle and ranching. Furthermore, its unique location includes rangeland transitioning from low to the high desert, spruce and brush, and all the way up to high mountain country. It serves as an incredible resource for students from a variety of academic backgrounds to be involved in research benefiting many different fields of study and the state of Arizona as a whole.”
Want some wisdom from the ranch that every intern learns?
“Don’t ever tell me you can’t do something… Tell me you won’t, but can’t isn’t in my vocabulary.”
“Every morning when I wake up and go outside, it’s a new day, so every day you must be open to learning something new.”
“I’m always looking for the missing link, and that’s Newton’s Law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you manage and make decisions based on the reaction, you are always two steps ahead. What you do today will affect tomorrow; what you do tomorrow will affect the future.”
“The most important thing I have learned is how well you can integrate new technologies and ideas into tradition. Keep challenging yourself and never stop trying to improve methodology,” says Keith Cannon who has been involved in the University of Arizona’s School of Animal Science since 1997 as a student, working at the feedlot for ten years, and now helping run the ranch.
While at the ranch, Hyatt, Keith’s son, gave us a wonderful tour of his market goat project and we were enlightened on the importance of knowing your animals and knowing their needs (and we got to see a newborn kid! I guess ranches aren’t always just about the cattle.)
Bopper and Keith show a beautiful picture of a generational love of ranching traditions as well as improvement, and display the importance of extension resources including the V Bar V. There is plenty that the ranching community, the public, and students can learn from the V Bar V, and we agree with Keith and Bopper’s final desire: “We hope that the UA keeps the V Bar V as an operational ranch and that it can become more useful to the University as well as Arizona ranches, serving as a true extension resource for the state.”
Blog post by Nicole Van Eerd, Arizona Beef Council 2017 Summer Intern.