The setting sun over rugged, mountainous terrain, with a cowboy’s silhouette to finish the image is what many people visualize when they hear someone’s profession is a “rancher.” While that image may be true, ranching and raising beef is also a business. Just like running a grocery store, marketing firm, or other entities, successful ranchers follow the same rules. Raising beef involves a living animal and a lot of heart, but it is still a business.
Emmett and Lori Sturgill are ranchers who have built cattle raising businesses with the end goal of producing delicious, high-quality, and nutritious beef. Now, just because one of their goals is to make a profit, does not mean that they lack the passion for their work. They are lucky because this business is built on the work they love.
Emmett, retired law enforcement, comes from a long line of ranchers. His dad was a traditional cowboy and moved from cow camp to cow camp as the jobs came available. Lori, formally a successful real estate broker, comes from a farming background but animals were always a part of her life. Together, over the past 10 years, they have worked to build a successful ranching business. Purchasing the main ranch is a story about a good friend helping another good friend. That story ends many years later with Emmett purchasing the ranch from his good friends, the Neals, and their longtime friendship is just an added blessing. Emmett strongly believes he is where he is today because other people helped him get here.
Lori, who sights fellow Arizona rancher Chuck Backus and his educational cattle symposiums as a source of their success, helped turn their cattle business around. Emmett admits that before she came along, his ranch was what he called a “cowboy ranch” meaning he had a variety of breeds and the main goal was producing a calf each year from each cow. Lori came in, found a way to focus their efforts, and has helped to gradually shift the ranch to producing high-quality Angus beef for both the local, national and international markets.
Lori, having a previous career in real estate, knows business. She knows what is required to succeed and it means time, persistence, and paperwork. The Sturgills worked to mitigate risk by diversifying their cattle. They primarily raise Angus cows which are bred to registered bulls, mostly Red Angus, each year. The calves produced from this part of the ranch are considered “program cattle.” The Sturgill’s ranch and cattle are 3rd party verified through an audit process which ensures the cattle meet certain criteria to sell in various markets, are given certain vaccinations at specific times, are fed qualified feed at weaning, and weaned no less than 45 days. There are many other criteria that the Sturgills and their cattle meet to address the growing concerns of consumers today and be able to ship overseas to other countries. The cattle that are raised in this program enter the traditional beef lifecycle also referred to as the commercial market.
The Sturgills also keep a limited number of animals for use in their local community, providing natural beef to consumers. These animals are grass-fed and fill the demand of people looking to purchase directly from a rancher in and around Kingman, Arizona. There are many challenges with this business including limited processing facilities and the amount of time it takes to raise an animal to harvesting weight, but Lori finds this an integral part of the business, even now.
Finally, they also raise Corriente (another breed of cattle) steers for the sport of team roping. These animals are typically smaller in size with horns making them ideal for roping. These steers follow the same vaccination and health protocols as the rest of the herd to ensure longevity and wellness. This has provided customers with a healthy animal who can preform longer and thus led to many repeat customers.
On their ranches, Lori and Emmett are adamant about excellent cattle care. Their animals are all vaccinated and follow health protocol which were developed in conjunction with their veterinarian and also through their learnings from seminars like Beef Quality Assurance and other educational events. They also practice low stress cattle handling. This is a way of working with the animal’s flight zone to move them where you need them to go causing less stress on both the human doing the work and the animal. The goal with both priorities is to keep stress to a minimum to allow the animal to grow to its full potential. Lori also invented a unique way to deal with pests. Dairies often have rollers that scratch the animals’ backs, so Lori bought some of those but has taken them up a notch – adding fly and pest repellent. Not only is there not a fly in sight, but it is also one more way to reduce stress. No all-day flicking of the tail for these girls and boys!
Lori is proudly a self-proclaimed environmentalist, as most ranchers are. Her focus is on the care of their livestock and on the wildlife that coinhabits the range lands their cattle graze. It is tough to care for livestock and the land and not be concerned about the environment in which they live. She is a firm believer in balance to ensure the longevity of a ranch. She has begun to start planting trees at all of the watering areas to help keep the water cool for both her cattle and wildlife. This also keeps the drinkers (water troughs) cleaner as red algae doesn’t have the sun it needs to flourish when shade is present. The ranch is also part of many conservation programs, including increasing the population of pronghorn antelopes and working towards a reseeding program in the valley pasture on the ranch to reintroduce native grasses. The ranch management plan also includes proper rotation of the pastures to maintain the forage conditions with regular monitoring from the University of Arizona.
Lori and Emmett are firm believers that cattle take care of you if you take care of the cattle. The love the Sturgills have for their cattle, the land, and the people who buy their beef is evident in many ways. As we wrapped up our visit by the horse pens, with Lori scratching on one of her favorite colts, another family pulled in for a visit. Community is important and both Lori and Emmett embrace and nourish the relationships they have with fellow ranchers and town people, alike. Ultimately, this is a business, and a successful one at that, but it’s a business with heart.
This blog post is made possible by the generous support of the Arizona Cattle Industry Research and Education Foundation.