Welcome to the beef community, where fellow members of the community are not merely associates, but good friends and family. Need an example? Dean Fish from Santa Fe Ranch and Dan Bell from ZZ Cattle Co., also known as the Dynamic Duo. Here at the Arizona Beef Council office, our intern pair, Shayla and Nicole, also consider themselves a “dynamic duo,” and set out to spend a week with the aforementioned pair to experience Arizona ranching life and the hard work involved. Enjoy their story of their week working in this segment of the beef life cycle!
For two girls who love cattle, horses, and agriculture, there is no way to describe how excited we were to spend a week in Nogales, AZ helping Dan and Dean on their ranches. Not only was it going to be wonderful being back out on horseback gathering cattle, but we were also blessed to spend time working with two extremely knowledgeable cattlemen learning their reasoning behind everything they do to raise cattle, and gaining insight on the beef story as a whole.
Day one, we arrived in Tucson with the honor of attending the Southern Arizona Cattlemen’s Protective Association (SACPA) to represent the Arizona Beef Council and share information about the beef checkoff with the side benefit of experiencing firsthand how issues in the beef community are handled. We heard debates, opinions, personal experiences, and propositions from representatives from all aspects of the beef community. We were impressed by the efficiency and careful attention to making the best decision for all members of the beef community, the cattle, the environment, and consumers. Next, we headed to Dan’s beautiful family ranch house (well, we drove ourselves, and quickly learned we both were significantly lacking in our navigation skills.) Dan gave us a small tour of his ranch, followed by a delicious beef dinner and a history of the ranch, Nogales, and what it is like to ranch along the Mexican border. It only wet our taste buds for the millions of questions to come.
Day two, we rose bright and early (there will always be a strong appreciation for western cattle growers who must rise at 3 a.m. and earlier to beat the heat and reduce stress for their horses and cattle) to head out and gather cattle on horseback with Dan and some other hands. He explained how he gathered and rotated cattle to benefit their individual needs in each stage of life, as well as properly manage the rangeland. Then, without hesitation, we jumped right in with the others to sort cattle, brand, castrate bull calves, ear tag, keep records, and vaccinate against common diseases. Dan explained his methods and reasoning behind these practices with the intention to provide the best care and health for his herd, and how individual ranchers choose their methods of work to best fit their ranch conditions including herd size and available labor and facilities. Afterward, we helped test the calves for BVD-PI (Persistently Infected-Bovine Viral Diarrhea. Calves that test positive contracted this virus as a fetus, and it inhibits their ability to fight disease. They shed the virus to healthy calves and cattle the entire time they are present in the herd.) This experience helped solidify the importance of record keeping and proper Beef Quality Assurance practices to ensure consumer safety and confidence in beef. Dan spoiled us afterward with the best apple pie (oh, and a healthy beef lunch too) and we saw more of the ranch as we distributed salt to the cattle. Along the way, we bombarded poor Dan with every question we could think of about the rangeland, neighboring ranches, relations with Mexico, cattle care, and his interactions with, and we aren’t lying, Agent Hamburger, a border patrol agent. That evening we joined in a barbecue, meeting more of the Bell family and friends and enjoyed good company, good food, and more learning (including a lesson for Dean on why you should never mess with giant black bugs; ask him next time you see him, you won’t be disappointed). It was a great way to wrap up a day of learning and appreciation for hard working ranchers who still live everyday family lives.
Day three, we rose early again to head over to Dean Fish’s ranch (still solidifying our need to enhance our navigation skills) where we saddled up and rode out to collect cattle. This time, we brought in the cows and used ultrasound equipment to check if they were bred (it is important to know when cows are bred in order to keep proper records, know when to expect the calves, know which bull the semen came from to help with genetics or herd improvement, and for overall knowledge of the herd.) Along the way, Dean explained the science behind his methods for managing and caring for cattle. He explained how keeping stress levels low allows for the best feedback and response from the cattle, whether giving vaccinations, breeding or performing other care. We were both given the opportunity to palpate a pregnant cow and feel the fetus, afterward hearing Dean’s reasoning behind using ultrasound, and how there are several other options for checking the health of pregnant cows, all with their own positive and negative features, that can be selected to fit any management style. We then rode out to learn Dean’s style of working and checking cattle, checked some waters, and again asked our many questions. It was a unique experience to compare two neighboring ranches and see how quickly the rangeland, facilities, and cattle needs can change and why it is essential that ranchers understand their cattle and their ranch to develop a management plan and provide the best care. After a wonderful, authentic Nogales lunch and dessert (Shayla was already making plans to drive back down to enjoy it again), we drove along the border and were informed about additional impacts of ranching with Mexico as a fence-line neighbor. Afterward, we returned to Dan’s to check more waters and fences (including an on-foot chase after a rogue cow that helped Nicole find a new appreciation for deciding to run cross-country back in high school).
Day four, we woke up with heavy hearts as this was the day we headed back to Phoenix but excited to seize our final hours in southern Arizona. We saddled for the last time to gather horses that had been turned out (if you think this sounds easy, we suggest you go home and watch Spirit), then we were able to help vaccinate them. Afterward, we checked more waters (an essential part of this job during the summer), took our final tour of the ranch checking gates and fences. We saw the direct impact of regulations to stop grazing in certain areas and how it created adverse effects due to the benefit of grazing and its history in the West (remember, before the introduction of cattle, bison roamed the west and grazed similarly). The example Dan showed us was a riparian stream that consistently had an area of water housing an endangered fish species. For decades, this area was included in a large pasture utilized by cattle, but one day a dead fish was found and Arizona Game and Fish restricted grazing in this area. Sadly, the reduced grazing caused forage to grow rapidly, including trees and shrubs, and quickly the entire stream dried up, killing all of the fish in the area. This unfortunate consequence was a strong lesson on why it is important to understand the fragile balance in an ecosystem and how every action, including grazing, has a role in maintaining the ecosystem. We also learned the impact of predators and other threats to livestock. Our trip culminated with a farewell lunch headed back up to Phoenix, dreaming of our next chance to be back out on the range. After much pressure, we refused to announce a favorite day as both ranching experiences were phenomenal!
Overall, our week with Dan and Dean was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only did we gain hands-on experience working with cattle, but also learning there is a deep reasoning behind every management strategy and practice implemented by ranchers, as well as the issues they faced in the past, and still face today. Furthermore, we learned how cattle interact with the environment and how regulation and how other confounding circumstances including border security and international relations impact the beef community. With new insight on the beef community, we are now back in the office working to continue to educate America on the ways of the beef community and how we continue to find new ways to serve our cattle, the land, and consumers best. Thank you, Dan and Dean, thank you to the Arizona Beef Council, and most importantly, thank you to the beef community for all you do!
Blog post by Nicole Van Eerd and Shayla Hyde, Arizona Beef Council 2017 Summer Interns.