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.
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.
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.
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.
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