Bas Aja, a rancher and native Arizonan and Executive Director of the Arizona Beef Council provides us with some thoughts about the food continuum and how it includes not only the people who raise food but everyone, including the consumers.
My, have times changed down here on the ranch. Our previous generations of ancestors were concerned about floods, droughts, fires, losing livestock to predators, markets, and the condition of their animals. Well, we still concern ourselves with all of those items but we now include the 3-C’s: Conservation, Care, and Consumers.
After 100 years in the livestock business in Arizona, we have grown and we need to grow even more. With my family spending that many years in the same area, with the same type of animals, and 7 million Arizonans asking about our food animals and the land, we are bound to be affected by the need for growth and transparency. We now find ourselves answering questions about items we once took for granted. Sure, we took care of our animals, but now we ask: What can we do better? Sure, the beef and protein we produce is safe and nutritious, but now we ask: What can we do better? Sure, we took care of the land, but now we ask: What can we do better? This type of introspection was difficult at first. Somehow thinking that our grandfathers and grandmothers were not doing the best job is a difficult place to be. But once we understood that they were doing the best they could with the information they had, it easier to ask these questions.
We are all part of the Food Continuum – my family, your family, every rancher, every farmer, every gardener, every grain elevator, every grocery store, every hunter, every farmers market, every crop and soils scientist. All of us are part of the food system. It was not always seen this way but for us here on the ranch, that’s how we now see it. We have a triple bottom line that we must meet to be successful: 1) We must be environmentally resilient; 2) We must be socially sustainable, and 3) We must be economically sustainable. The food system under which we produce must meet these three goals in order for us to maintain our ranch, maintain food production, and maintain consumers.
My family is very important to me so I understand how your family remains vigilant about the food you feed your family. We recently rounded up and worked our cattle with family. Of the many experiences from that day, the way in which we handled a calf that had a hernia in its lower abdomen stood out. We sorted off a 450-pound calf and it did not go to market with the rest of our high-quality animals. We took the animal to the farm, individually restrained it in a chute, performed a palpation and medical review, finally determining that it was going to be difficult and medically dangerous for the animal to grow until it reached 1,200 pounds. The animal was purchased by a local person who determined they might harvest it and best use it for themselves. It was healthy and wholesome, but for us it didn’t fit our program, it had a hernia and it would be better for its quality of life if it was harvested sooner rather than later.
Caring for our animals is very important to us, so much so that we don’t hesitate to delay. The thought of doing what is best for our animals isn’t a conscience one. It is so ingrained in our way of life, we just jump into doing what needs to be done. It’s the right thing to do. As we fulfill our role in the food continuum, we naturally keep conservation, care, and consumers top priorities.
Gathering cattle with my family in Rainbow Valley, Arizona.
The beef community has many volunteer leaders who dedicate countless hours to sharing how beef is raised and how they care for their cattle. Wes Kerr, fourth generation dairyman, is the chairman of the Arizona Beef Council. He and the other directors carefully plan the Council’s promotion and education efforts, striving to connect Arizona families to the men and women who raise both beef and dairy cattle. Meet Wes!
My great-grandfather John Kerr Sr. was born in Michigan in 1900 and was the first Kerr to be born in America. He was interested in agriculture from a young age. In 1927 he decided to buy a small herd of Jersey cattle and became the first in our family to be a dairy farmer.
After becoming tired of the harsh Michigan winters he decided to sell the Jerseys and move to Arizona in 1940. He started working for a dairy farmer in Tempe, and when the farmer told him he was planning to sell his cows my great-grandfather bought the herd. This is how my family became Arizona dairy farmers.
I only have one memory of my great-grandfather, however I find it very interesting that the life decisions that he made are largely responsible for what I do today. My family’s passion for caring for animals and raising crops lives on today, four generations later. Those are the main drivers that get me out of bed in the morning. For our family dairy farming is more than just a business, it is a way of life.
For me it is so interesting to see how much dairy farming has changed over the years. Looking at old photographs, one can see how different things looked when compared to today. The cattle in those days looked fleshier and less defined. Instead of metal shades with fans and misters, the cows were shaded by palm fronds thatched together. They were fed hay and during milking a little grain was given. A dairy cattle nutritionist was unimagined in those days. All of the cows were bred to a herd bull using natural service.
Taking stock of all of these apparent differences one can ask, “Has anything stayed the same?” The answer to that question is definitely yes! Our family, like so many farm and ranch families, has continued to use the best technology and know-how available at the time. Each generation worked hard to improve over the previous one.
Today dairy cattle are far more productive, healthier and produce higher quality milk than ever before in history. People often speak of “the good old days”, but when I look at the data it becomes apparent to me that perhaps the “the good old days” are today. I sometimes wonder what my great-grandfather would say if he could see the practices we use today. I suspect that he would find them incredible.
I believe that our job as modern agriculturalists is to share our unique stories with consumers. We food producers are not faceless greedy people who cut corners trying to make a quick buck. We food producers are made up of families who work hard every day through the good times and the difficult times, to bring quality products to feed families.
This week’s feature is Dave Schafer, Resident Director at the University of Arizona’s V Bar V Ranch located in Rimrock, Arizona. Learn how Dave got into the ranching business, low-stress cattle handling and why it is important for a productive ranch.
Arizona Beef: How did you get involved with beef cattle? The University of Arizona ranch, the V Bar V?
Dave Schafer: I grew up on a farm in NW Missouri and we raised cattle but it was not until I entered college that I found I really liked working with beef cattle and wanted to make a career of it. I obtained a B.S. Degree from Northwest Missouri State University then went on to Colorado State University (CSU) to obtain a M.S. and PhD degrees in Animal Breeding/Genetics with emphasis in beef cattle. When I finished my M.S. degree, I was hired by CSU to manage the cattle records and activities for the CSU-Beef Improvement Center, the San Juan Basin Research Center and Four Corners Bull Test. Upon finishing my PhD, I accepted a two-year postdoctoral position at the San Juan Basin Research Center and then assumed management of that facility at the end of my post-doc.
Dr. Roy Ax approached me in 1999 about the possibility of coming to Arizona to run the V Bar V Ranch. I saw many possibilities and a great opportunity so I applied and was fortunate to get the job as Resident Director.
Arizona Beef: What is low-stress cattle handling?
Dave Schafer: Low-stress cattle handling is basically a form of communication between the animal and handler. Animals are usually willing to do the activities we want them to but there is an obvious communication barrier. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the handler to make the animal understand what you want it to do by utilizing the animal’s flight zone and point of balance** to move the animal. Using these techniques, you build trust with your animals and they move more easily and are less frightened.
Arizona Beef: Why is low-stress cattle handling important to you and your ranch?
Dave Schafer:Stressed animals are more susceptible to sickness and their weight gains are affected. As a producer, we want the animals to be healthy not only for the sake of animal but also the economics. Stressed animals cost producers money.
Arizona Beef: How do you ensure low-stress cattle handling happens on your ranch?
Dave Schafer: We use the animal’s flight zone* and point of balance** to move them and do it in a quiet non-threatening way. Another part of low-stress handling is having good facilities. Good facilities ensure not only your workers’ safety but also the safety of the animals. Designing facilities to work with the natural movement of livestock and understanding potential distractions around your facilities can help you move the animals quietly and efficiently. We have tried to design our facilities to be as efficient as possible.
Arizona Beef: How do genetics play into this?
Dave Schafer: There is a genetic component to docility in animals. Therefore, we can collect a chute score on an animal to assess their response to handling. Some animals are naturally more nervous than others despite being treated the same. We can make selection decisions using these scores to select the tamer animals and thereby reduce stress levels within the herd.
*This photo “illustrates the flight zone of a large flock of sheep, herds of cattle behave much the same way. Notice that the sheep are circling around the handlers while maintaining a safe distance and keeping the people in sight. Note that the sheep tend to move in the opposite direction of handler movement.” (Source)
** The point of balance is usually at the animal’s shoulder and it is determined by the animal’s wide angle vision. All species of livestock will move forward if the handler stands behind the point of balance. They will back up if the handler stands in front of the point of balance.
***This photo provides a bird’s eye view and allows one to see the point of balance. Where the handler is currently standing is called the point of balance because the animal will not move (if out of the flight zone). If the handler moves towards the back of the animal, behind the point of balance, the animal will move forward. If the handler moves towards the head of the animal, it will move backward.
Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.® Of course.
I think we can all agree on one thing: no one wants to get home from a long day at work and slave over the stove as our precious time ticks away. Maybe you’ve just sat in traffic for an hour or maybe you just got home from sweating up a storm at the gym. Either way, something quick and easy for dinner is in order.
I’d like to share with you one of my go-to weeknight dinners: steak salad. The ingredient options are endless and they can be a snap to throw together, while also remaining healthy and delicious. Have New York Strip leftover from last night’s steak house outing? Toss it in a salad. Out of ideas for that shredded or Ground Beef from Taco Tuesday? Make a salad. What to do with some of our favorite lean beef cuts (like Flank Steak)? Marinate them and, you guessed it, make a salad! Plus, it gets hot here in the desert and who wants to slave over a hot stove in the summer? Not me.
This week, I found my inspiration from a BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com recipe: Beef Steak Salad with Dried Cherries. I had a Skirt Steak ready to marinate and violà – a delicious, nutritious and fulfilling meal option. Prep was a snap. It could even be packed for lunch at work. Salad ingredients are easy to keep prepped in the fridge as easy go-tos. Then you can say a little “abracadabra” while tossing the salad ingredients in bowl and you are set in a jiffy.
The beauty of salad recipes? You don’t have to follow them exactly. If you don’t like blue cheese – exchange for feta. Have Tri-Tip to use? Go for it. Here are my ideas but don’t let me stifle your creativity. This is in the style of a no-recipe-recipe. If you are the type who needs a recipe, click on the link below.
BEEF STEAK SALAD (modified from this inspiration)
- Beef Skirt Steak (or Top Sirloin, Flank Steak, any leftover steak). Note: see marinade idea below.
- Lettuce – I used romaine that I cleaned and chopped. Spring mix or Boston/Bib/Butter lettuce (apparently they are different) will also do.
- Dried cherries or cranberries or golden raisins. Use your discretion on how much you like.
- Crumbled blue cheese or feta cheese
- Sliced red onion
- Some nuts: I really like sweet and spicy pecans but other options are pine nuts or coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans, toasted.
- Diced avocado
DRESSING (I did follow this recipe and it was tasty. Or you can simply use extra virgin olive oil and red wine or balsamic vinegar and a dash of salt and pepper).
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Important: If you are pre-marinating the beef (Flank and Skirt Steak need this extra treatment), here is a marinade you could use and follow these marinade tips. Or use the one in the original inspiration recipe.
- Combine dressing ingredients in medium bowl.
- Cut steak lengthwise in half and then crosswise into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick strips. Add beef to remaining dressing; toss to coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes.
- Remove beef from marinade; discard marinade. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add 1/2 of beef; stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until outside surface of beef is no longer pink. (Do not overcook.) Remove from skillet. Repeat with remaining beef.
If you are using leftover beef, start here (so easy!):
4. Combine lettuce and reserved dressing in large bowl; toss to coat. Don’t over dress! No one like a soggy salad. Arrange beef over lettuce; sprinkle with cheese, cherries, red onion, nuts, and avocado, as desired. Serve immediately.
Enjoy! What are your favorite salad ingredients to go with beef?
In Arizona, and other states across the country, there is a group of athletes who proudly wear their T-Bone-emblazoned jerseys as they run, cycle, CrossFit, and hike on their quest to lead healthy lives through physical activity. Though they hail from different backgrounds, the one thing Arizona Team Beef members share is the need for high-quality protein in their diets and for these athletes, beef is what fuels them.
Arizona Team Beef has participated in marathons, adventure runs, triathlons and even spends many days horseback gathering cattle on the Arizona range. Athletic skill ranges from beginner to record holding race winners but, no matter the level of fitness, we all recognize the nutritional benefits of protein in one’s diet. Lean beef can play an important role in repairing and building muscle, maintaining weight, and benefit heart health, all while providing fuel for the finish.
Beef provides 10 essential nutrients including iron, which shuttles oxygen from your lungs to your hard-working muscles ensuring you sustain and maximize your performance throughout the whole race (or whatever activity in which you engage). It also begins and speeds post-activity recovery leading to stronger muscles in a shorter amount of time. Include lean beef in your post-race regimen, just like our Team Beef members, to give your muscles what they need to recover quickly for your next adventure.
Bottom line? Beef really helps you perform.
As April begins, so does Million Mile Month, an athletic movement empowering people across the country to live healthier lives. Team Beef members from many states are logging their miles and/or minutes of activity (running, walking, biking, yoga-ing, CrossFitting, gardening, farming, swimming, zumba-ing). Sign up if you are interested – there are prizes for leaders nation-wide as well as Arizona specific! Running the month of April, this challenge is a great way for Team BEEF members, beef farmers and ranchers, and other beef lovers to participate together in this all-abilities challenge as we power up with protein.
Another feature of the Arizona Beef blog is the chance to “Meet Your Rancher.” For our inaugural post in this series, Arizona rancher Chuck Backus of the Quarter Circle U Ranch, was an easy choice. Chuck and his wife Judy have been an integral part to the successes of a tour series we do each year entitled the “Gate to Plate” tours (more on that in later posts). He is always open to visitors and never turns us down when we ask to bring folks out to tour his ranch. Luckily for us, many have found Chuck fascinating including Steve Suther from Certified Angus Beef. A few years back, Steve wrote a blog post for the Black Ink with CAB blog about Chuck and his use of science in raising his cattle. With Steve’s permission, we are proud to repost that blog for you to enjoy. Without further ado, here is the story of Chuck and Judy and their ranch nestled in the Superstition Mountains.
Chuck Backus is one of my heroes. This Arizona rancher is a PhD nuclear engineer who began in the 1960s working with Westinghouse on NASA’s manned mission to Mars. His grandfather lived nearly a century in West Virginia with no utilities and nothing but actual horsepower. . .
ANYWAY, as Chuck would say to get back on track, the NASA work included a lot of focus on solar energy, too, and political winds suggested a move to earth-based applications. So he and wife Judy came out to The Valley of the Sun, and he helped launch Arizona State University’s solar energy program, even setting up a lab that certifies most of the solar cells in the world.
ANYWAY, he was still a farm boy from West Virginia at heart and looking for a small ranch in the 1970s…a friend in the Farm Credit System alerted him that a historic 10-acre tract was going to be foreclosed on just a few miles southeast of Phoenix. Turns out it was the Quarter-Circle U, where the first men crazy enough to try ranching many years before claimed an unlimited number of desert acres for their 5,000 cattle. By 1974, it lay up against a 22-section state lease rated for 207 cows. Wow. More than he wanted perhaps, but he saw potential for research, and by the end of that decade, he had converted all power to solar. Not long after he turned away from exploring our Solar System, he began to speak of his own solar system.
When the United Nations hosted seminars on solar energy around the world, Chuck presented and transfixed audiences with his documented practical applications. Even his cows were solar branded then.
ANYWAY, cows were kind of along for the ride until he had all the solar and water issues lined up, and bought a few more acres, including a tract up north to allow his base to have six months of rest each summer, and room for 400 cows. No rest for Chuck, however. He was retiring from ASU, but chomping at the bit to dig into cattle ranching with a new emphasis on cattle quality. He thought back to the wild, rodeo-stock cows he’d had to keep on the place the first year just to show his first herd what to eat, and the huge risk of bull mortality coming into a canyon better suited to rattlesnakes than beef cattle.
Using artificial insemination (AI) to breed half of his herd cut that risk, and replacement heifers from top Angus AI sires would grow up knowing their desert resources. Chuck joined the Certified Angus Beef brand’s email discussion list called Black-Ink and added much to discussions of AI and herd improvement strategies. He knew a lot about a lot of things, but adapted the attitude of an eager student in this field.
ANYWAY, he sent a benchmark set of steers to a Texas feedlot in 2006 and found the Beefmaster and Brangus crosses made about 50% Choice, but no premium Choice. Last year, after five years of culling and breeding up and including the first stacked generations of high-quality Angus genetics, a load went 12% Prime and about 80% Certified Angus Beef brand. Wow. He’s not done yet, only halfway through a 10-year genetic upgrade that is now adding an emphasis on feed conversion. This year, a load of steers are being fed at Cattleman’s Choice Feedyard near Gage, Okla. As of today, most of Chuck’s heifers are AI-sired and include some ¾ Angus. How far can he go? Only as far as profit allows.
Eric Grant, of the American Angus Association came with me on this visit, and as I made some comment about the predictability of straightbred Angus from registered bulls, Chuck acknowledged that. But he added, “Just because you can predict the outcome, doesn’t mean it is the desired outcome, or that it maximizes your profit. This country is so rough. I am in the middle of this experiment to see if the higher percentages or straight Angus can do well here.
“If I use primarily AI to bring these super genetics in, and they are raised by my cows on this pasture, and they get all the enzymes in their system that will let them eat what is here—cactus included—if they are raised on this as a baby calf, and learn what they can eat, what they need to eat, then they should be well adapted as replacements. If they fail, it should come back to genetic reasons.”it’s not rocket science, just sound thinking.
ANYWAY, it’s not rocket science, just sound thinking. Look for the full story on the Backus Quarter-Circle U experiment in a future Angus Journal or Angus Beef Bulletin.
Through the years, there have been many creative methods implemented to talk about the great beef which is raised in Arizona. One of those ways, in the 1950s, was to create a mascot for Arizona beef. Reg Manning, a famous artist best known for his cartooned saguaro cactus with the prominent nose, created a character who fit the bill perfectly for this job. This cartoon character was named Lil’ Dudette, and she had a hearty message to share with everyone: “To keep yourself trim – Eat Beef – Keep Slim!”
In 1955, after using a mannequin version of Lil’ Dudette in shop windows to promote beef, it was decided a live version was needed to help spread the word at larger events like the Arizona State Fair. The Arizona State Cowbelles, a strong organization of women who share information about beef, were on a mission to find the perfect Lil’ Dudette and when a Cowbelle is on a mission (now and then) you better not stand in her way. It sounds like it was an easy decision as Connie Cook from Willcox fit the description wonderfully. The Cowbelles are even quoted as saying, “Connie looks exactly like Reg Manning’s famous character, Lil’ Dudette ‘ought to look.” Connie’s family was also deeply rooted in Arizona ranch history having been in the cattle business in Willcox since 1893. It was a perfect fit.
Lil’ Dudette, aka Connie, was a hit! She made appearances at the Arizona State Fair that year and drew a crowd. It is reported in the November 1955 issue of the Arizona Cattlelog that 10,000 “7 Ways for 7 Days” beef-recipe folders were given away and nearly 30,000 people entered into a drawing to win 25o pounds of choice beef donated by the Beef Council. In the next year, it was reported that there was a film was produced entitled, “Lil’ Dudette,” which was entered in the Beef Promotion Contest at the American National Cattlemen’s convention and it won first prize!
We can’t say Lil’ Dudette was too far off when she sang out her slogan about eating beef to keep slim. Significant research shows that people looking to lose or maintain a healthy weight, support a healthy metabolism and/or age more vibrantly may benefit from consuming a balanced amount of high-quality protein, within calorie goals. Luckily for us, we have a few more tools than Lil’ Dudette did to help people achieve these goals. One of those tools being the 30 Day Protein Challenge which is a fun, step-by-step way to help you get an optimal amount of protein throughout your day. Significant research shows that some people can lose and/or maintain a healthy weight, support a healthy metabolism, and age more vibrantly when they consume more high-quality protein, within calorie goals. Interested? Check it out here.
You’re going to be meeting a lot of people coming up so we’d thought we’d start off with the staff of the Arizona Beef Council.
We, Lauren Scheller, Tiffany Selchow, and Bas Aja, execute the plans put into place each year by the Council’s board of cattlemen and women, cattle feeders and dairymen. Our goal is to let people know how great beef is and we do that by sharing the facts and bringing a little sparkle to the table (really there isn’t much you have to add to table if it’s already set with steaks).
Lauren is a beef-loving, car racing enthusiast, who enjoys making things pretty with calligraphy and bows. She was raised on her family’s beef cattle ranch in California and has adapted to and embraced all things Arizona ranging from hiking Camelback Mountain to enjoying delicious tacos across the state. On behalf of Arizona’s ranchers, Lauren works with chefs, retailers (aka where you can buy beef in the meat case), and the media to communicate about all things beef.
I, Tiffany, am a recently married, somewhat typical millennial, who can cook a mean steak but is working to increase her efficiency in the kitchen. Finding a new recipe on Pinterest
and trying it out on my husband, who is patient and eats whatever is put in front of him, is a newly found interest. My favorite project here at the Beef Council is exploring our state, one school and ranch at a time. Some of my time is spent in culinary and agriculture classrooms doing fun things like beef cooking demos, while a lot of time is spent online, sharing yummy info about beef.
We are all here as a resource to YOU! When you have a question about beef pop up, we want you ask us. See that link in the top right hand corner? It’s your direct connection to us. Give us a shout whenever a beefy question pops into your mind!
Oh look, another blog for you to read on the interwebs! So the question begs to be asked, why take more of your time to cruise through our blog? Because this is where the story of Arizona beef and the ranchers and farmers who make it possible is told. It is a place to learn about a new cut of beef which may have looked intimidating at the meat case, but after reading our blog post will leave you feeling confident and ready to tackle something new. The list could go on and on!
So I’ll try to keep this from reading like your 2nd-grade current events report, but it only makes sense to give you the background of the Arizona Beef Council before we head off on our journey through Arizona and the great beef it has to offer.
The jury is out on when the Arizona Beef Council was officially founded (we have conflicting reports which point to 1955 and shortly after to 1956), but one thing is certain: the goal of this organization was and is to promote and educate about the incredible beef product Arizona ranchers work so hard to produce.
This sounds like an easy task, but once you start to break it down, one realizes there are many ways to accomplish this goal and vast amount of beef things to talk about. Some of the fun projects through the years have included TV and radio commercials which were aired during numerous notable shows including Bob Crosby, Edgar Bergen, Bing Crosby and Danny Thomas back in 1959. Another great project which is still functioning currently is providing money to culinary instructors to purchase and use beef in their classrooms. If you are currently an agriculture or culinary teacher and would like more info about this program and how you can get involved, check out our website. Lil’ Dudette (pictured) was another source of promotion. Her obvious appeal to the masses and tag line “To keep yourself trim, Eat beef, Keep slim” earned a large audience of receptive beef eaters. She hung out (in mannequin form) in stores and the state fair.
Check back soon. We will have an exclusive on the folks behind the scenes and then we’ll really get into the meat of this blog. Pun intended!