This summer we are thrilled to have Kailee Zimmerman as our summer intern. A past Arizona Beef Ambassador and Arizona FFA State Officer, Kailee shares about her roots, and how she continues to share about the beef community.
A recent study by the American Farm Bureau Federation showed that the average American is now at least three generations removed from production agriculture. Rapid population increase and urbanization has left just two percent of United States citizens actively involved in raising, growing, and producing food. We find ourselves in the middle of a reality that we have never faced before – the fact that American farmers & ranchers and consumers are divided by a large gap of knowledge and understanding.
Whew! Now is the time when we can take a deep breath! While these statistics may seem daunting, there is great hope! We also live in a world where many people are more interested than ever about their food and where it comes from. We see foods marketed as “farm to table” and “locally grown” becoming more popular. In order to bridge the knowledge gap between food producers and food consumers, it is so important for agriculturalists to share their story!
I believe that the story of American agriculture (especially, the beef community!) is one of triumph and inspiration. Why wouldn’t we want to share it? I am blessed to come from a family with ranching roots. My Nana grew up on a ranch in Southeastern Arizona in the Aravaipa Canyon. As a little kid, I loved hearing stories about the ranch and the adventures my family would have there. However, as I have gotten older, through these stories and experiences, I have also grown a deep appreciation for the work that goes into raising cattle that will produce nutritious, sustainable protein. I am also grateful for the example of hard work, integrity and perseverance that my Nana and other family members on the ranch set for me.
While I did not grow up on a ranch like my Nana, I am grateful to have experienced a small degree of what it is like to raise cattle and provide food for families by raising and exhibiting show cattle. I have raised market steers since I was 11 years old and have shown them at countless jackpot shows and fairs across Arizona. It is hard for me to list all of the lessons that I learned from raising livestock and showing cattle, but one of the most important things I learned was how important it is to be a good representative of the agricultural community. When we first started showing, my parents taught my brothers and me about the importance of being advocates for agriculture as we interacted with community members and visitors at the fairs we attended. Though it was routine for us to care for our cattle and get them ready to show, this was very foreign to many people who attended the fairs.
Throughout my time exhibiting cattle, I was able to have many conversations with people who were unfamiliar with agriculture and knew very little about where their food came from. I loved getting to talk to them and help give a little more understanding about what farmers and ranchers do to provide us with a safe, healthy and abundant food supply.
These experiences taught me that we each play an important role in advocating for agriculture – even if it feels like our part is small. I hope that the conversations I had left an impact on the people I spoke with. We each just have to be willing to share our story with those around us. As we share our experiences with kindness, people are more likely to listen and respect what we are sharing and, in turn, we are better able to understand their perspectives and experiences.
Though there are challenges facing the agriculture community today, there are also great successes and innovations like we have never seen before. The future is so bright! We each just have to do our part and share our story when we are given the opportunity.
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.
Arizona beef truly is raised by families, for families; and, Father’s Day provides the perfect opportunity to showcase a family of strong men who not only make major contributions to the beef community and the sport of rodeo but also portray the traits of an outstanding father. If you’ve heard of Marana Stockyards, you’ve probably heard of the Parsons.
Clay Parsons was born in 1961 in Carlsbad, New Mexico to Charlie Parsons and Cookie Paddock, and this is where their strong father-son relationship began. At three years of age, Clay began riding horses and helping on their small ranch (well, at least he thought he was helping, you know how helpful most three-year-olds are, much less when on horseback). He fell in love with the lifestyle and for the remainder of his childhood he continued working on family ranches in New Mexico, and later in Arizona.
At the age of five, Clay’s rodeo career began. His father, who rode broncs, introduced him to the rodeo world, and Clay tried everything! He learned how to rope in New Mexico, where he grew up around cowboys who quickly became his role models. Clay shared, “They had the greatest influence on me. They were real cowboys. I did not want to just be a rodeo cowboy, I wanted to ranch AND rodeo.”
Throughout his life, Clay had a strong love for cattle. Whenever he was driving around with his father or anyone else, he was always looking over the fence line at cows, studying them and calling out the breeds. “My room was full of pictures of cows. Not rodeo champions, but cows. I just loved cows,” recalled Clay. He was overjoyed when, at seven years old, his father bought a small ranch in Oracle, AZ. Money was sparse at the time so they would buy roping heifers then later turn them out on the ranch, building a small herd. Clay remembers when their random assortment of roping heifers finally reached maturity and was ready for a bull: “Dad and I went to Wentz Livestock Auction in Tucson, and we bought a bull.”
Clay would walk home from school, either on foot or by horseback, as often his horse was tied up outside the school waiting, and then go check all the cows. “I checked those cows every day except on the weekends when I was rodeoing,” explained Clay. This is where the story hits his favorite memory with his father: “I was nine-years-old and two-thirds of those cows had calved. We had family and friends at our place to help gather the herd and brand. As we were bringing in the herd, I said ‘Dad, we’re missing three.’ Dad said not to worry about them. We would take care of them later. As soon as he went over the ridge, I went back for them.” Clay remembers everyone wondering where he had disappeared to with the answer to the question arising as he came up over the ridge with the three missing pairs. He was scolded at first but then brought to the side where he heard the words he’ll never forget, “Son, good job. You’re gonna be a cowman.”
Although there were years when Clay and Charlie did not have a ranch of their own, the Parsons continued to be a strong father/son name in the cattle world. Clay married the beautiful love of his life, Karen, at eighteen, who quickly jumped right into the lifestyle. Later, there was no ranch for Clay to run and he worked for his father’s business, Parsons Steel Builders. He hated it, and went out on the road to rodeo, with a dream of making it to the National Finals Rodeo. He recalls being in Livermore, California at a rodeo where he sat in the top fifteen for calf roping and was almost there for team roping. His dad called Clay asking him if he wanted to lease and run a ranch and Clay’s response was a simple, “I’ll be there in 14 hours.”
Today, the love for cattle and ranching stays strong in the Parsons family. They built Marana Stockyards after many years of learning and hard work, and still, raise cattle on a ranch near Picacho Peak. If you’re ever around Marana, or at a big rodeo, you’ll most likely see Clay or maybe his father Charlie. If you’re out on their ranch during branding season, you’ll see his brothers Joe and Cutter along with other members of the Parsons family. Maybe at the stockyard you’ll find one of Clay and Karen’s lovely daughters (who all showed cattle as youth). Carly, who helps during the cattle sale, or his son, Clay Buck, who keeps the place running. If you’re lucky, you’ll even catch a glance of Clay’s grandson Cooper, who sometimes helps call out pen numbers to the riders out back putting the sold cattle back in the correct pens (don’t worry buyers, Carly makes sure the pen backers know where to put your cattle).
We start with a father like Charlie, who had a strong influence on his son’s self-sufficiency and taught him to not only do what he loved but also to do it successfully. Next, we move to a father like Clay, who never runs out of words to express his pride and love for his hard-working son, a genuine man who everyone loves and respects, or his beautiful daughters. Finally, we end with a little grandson, Cooper, who never ceases to bring a smile to Clay’s face and attributes to why the Parsons men are so dedicated. Clay says, “I see Cooper liking the same things we like and I want the next generation to get to grow up the way we did.” These men exemplify what it means to be a father. Clay kindly advised, “There are some things you won’t understand until you have a grandson.” Well, Clay, there are some things the world only understands when they look at generations of amazing ranchin’ and rodeoin’ fathers like the Parsons.
Blog post by Nicole Van Eerd, Arizona Beef Council 2017 Summer Intern.