Meet Your Rancher: Ashlee Mortimer

I consider myself fortunate to have been raised in the farming and ranching community. Growing up, I’ve watched this group of people that grow and raise our country’s food do so with dedication and passion for the land they care for, the animals they are raising, and the people they are feeding.IMG_3052

My family runs an agritourism farm and cattle ranch called Mortimer Farms and Ranches in Dewey, Arizona. I get to call myself the Marketing Manager for our family’s farm which means I write blog posts, post lots of exciting news, events, and stories on our social media channels, design flyers, billboards, and signs, and handle all public relation topics. I also get to drive tractors, teach kiddos how to pick veggies, plant crops, take pictures, watch baby cows walk for the first time, and work cattle. I seriously have the best job ever! After I graduate from the University of Arizona in December, I hope to work for a non-profit agriculture organization in their marketing and public relations department as well as continuing to work on my family’s farm and ranch. Now let’s talk about the good stuff… cattle!

The past months have been the driest on record for many Northern areas of Arizona. Yavapai County, the area we call home, has received less than 30% of the normal rainfall this year. At one-point, homes in Prescott Valley were even asked to cut water usage, do laundry on scheduled days, and water their lawns and plants on others. The decrease in the rain doesn’t only affect homeowners. The drought has greatly impacted farmers, ranchers and can potentially affect our food supply.

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A current map of Arizona showing the extreme drought situation we are currently in. More information on the drought can be found here: http://bit.ly/2QIXpKr

Our farm and ranch are greatly affected by the drought. Our water pumping costs have gone up drastically and our cattle just about ran out of grass to eat.

I remember a Sunday afternoon not too long ago when we went out to check cows. Everything looked dead and the grass was just about all eaten down. It is at this point, in a normal year, we would move the cattle to the next pasture – a pasture filled with tall grasses, new growth, and a filled stock tank from which the cattle could drink. Unfortunately, mother nature foiled our plans and that next pasture, the one we had planned to move cattle to since the beginning of the year, had no water. The stock tank was dry. And the pasture which was next in the rotation for our cattle to graze didn’t look any better.

Due to the drought and lack of grass and water, we were forced to sell 95% of our calf crop from the last 2 years, move a 10,000-gallon portable water storage tank and trough system to the pasture with no water, buy an Army water truck, and found ourselves hauling water day in and day out to the cattle.

The Army water truck driving job was passed from one member of the family to the next. At one point my dad and I were driving down the road and we saw the big truck driving past us, but there was no driver to be seen. We soon realized Kolten, my little brother, was driving the truck and was just short enough that we couldn’t see him over the steering wheel.

It was a daily team effort hauling water and hay, pushing cows into new areas with more feed, and finding the baby calves that were left behind, usually in the dense brush.

I never had much time to plan if I am needed to help move these calves and I somehow always seem to be wearing shorts when I got the call. My job (with the help of my cattle dog – Stella) is to run through the thick bush and push the calves out and back with the herd. Now picture me running through, under, and jumping over dense, pokey, dead brush with shorts on. For weeks my legs looked like I was attacked by a feral cat.

Hauling water, hay, and moving cattle was only a short-term solution to a long-term problem. As each day passed, we watched the grass quality deteriorate and eventually get close to depletion in the pasture the cattle were grazing. Each pasture lasted less time and just when we moved the cattle into a new one it was time to move them somewhere else again. We either needed to figure out a way to provide food and water to our cattle in a more sustainable fashion or we needed to sell them.

My dad, Gary, is a big proponent of using the latest technology and practices in his job as a farmer and a rancher. The challenges the drought brought to our business were no different. He used technology and modern practices to combat the effects the drought had on our cattle and on the bottom line. We implemented a grazing technique, very uncommon in Arizona, called intensive grazing.

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This photo shows how the pastures are separated and the drastic difference from the land which has been grazed and that which hasn’t.

This practice puts cattle on small sections of land. The cattle eat all the forages in a short amount of time and then are moved to the next section. We decided to utilize the farmland we were going to grow hay on to implement this type of grazing. We began by planting and growing 30 acres of sorghum-sudangrass. We then, through trial and error, sectioned off one-acre areas by taking a small tractor diagonally across the field with the bucket of the tractor scraping the ground. The tractor pushes down the 15 feet tall grass to make room for a 2-strand temporary electric fence to be put up.

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This simple two strand tempory fence allows for easy movement of our cattle from one area to the next.

After this is done, it is time for the cattle to eat all this grass! 300 cattle are put on this one-acre section of farm-grown sorghum-sudangrass. The cattle enter the section and in one day the entire acre of 15-foot-tall grass is gone. It is like a buffet for cows! At this point, 15 minutes is taken to move the 2-strand electric fence to make a new one-acre section, the gate is opened, 300 cattle move into the next section, and the process starts all over again.

The cattle know the system now and wait by the gate as we move the fencing around. The whole herd of cattle runs into the next section and for a few hours disappear in the very tall grass. It is really is a site to see!

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The cattle enjoying the benefits of intensive grazing.

I asked my dad about the benefits of this type of grazing for the farm and the cattle. 

Why did you decide to do this type of grazing, besides the drought impact?
We are able to grow a crop and not have to use labor, resources, or money to harvest this crop. If we had grown hay in these same fields we would have spent lots of resources cutting, baling, hauling, storing, and then ultimately feeding it to the same cattle that are eating it straight from the field now. 

Is sorghum sudangrass good for the cattle?
Sorghum-sudangrass is a protein-rich grass for the cattle to eat. It also adds nutrients back into the soil.

Will you only use this grazing practice on sorghum sudangrass?
High-intensity grazing can be done in corn fields, sorghum-sudangrass fields, ditches, sorghum alfalfa blend fields, in native grass pastures, and pretty much everywhere else grasses and grains grow.

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High-intensity grazing can be done in corn fields, sorghum-sudangrass fields, ditches. Pretty much anywhere grasses and grains grow.

How does this gazing affect the farmland?
Intensive grazing not only combats the lack of range grasses my family’s ranch has but it also helps the farmland. Each crop grown in a field takes specific nutrients out of the field and puts specific nutrients back into the soil. Due to this, farmers rotate where they grow certain things (i.e. corn, pumpkin, grasses, etc.). The grass grown for the intensive grazing practice not only added a crop to our rotation but also adds more nutrients back into the soil. It also helps with the fertilization of our farmland. The higher density of cattle paired with short grazing periods allows for even manure distribution and an increase of nitrogen back on the land. The cattle act as a living fertilizing system!

How does this grazing affect the ranch lands?
Higher intensity grazing for a shorter duration allows for a longer rest period for the plant to recover fully which promotes the regrowth and in turn, is beneficial for the environment and for the cattle.

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Sometimes the cattle are hard to see but they are there!

Is there anything negative about this type of grazing method?
Anyone would see this type of grazing method as a different management system. This scares some people away from change because there is so much to learn and implement. Overall, the benefits of this program for the land and the animals outweigh the efforts that would need to be taken to implement the program.

Do you see yourself using this practice after the drought is over and the grasses have grown back on the ranch?
Many ranches in the cattle belt use this type of grazing to increase their herd size which in turn positively affects their bottom line. This type of grazing is definitely something we will continue to work with and add to our long-term plan for our native range grazing and our crop grazing.

Intensive grazing saved our cattle herd and our ranch’s bottom line! This way of grazing and feeding our cattle has allowed us to keep ranching through the drought and continue our efforts to care for and protect our animals and the land we raise them on. This is a job that my family and I love very much, and we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be able to raise cattle and care for the land.

You Can Always Come Back

Amber Morin was raised on her family’s cattle ranch in Southeastern, AZ. This experience sparked her interest and career path in natural resource management, agricultural policy, and agriculture communications. She has worked with the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, Arizona’s Natural Resource Conservation Districts, and continues to promote agriculture through her current position at the Arizona Farm Bureau. Whenever time permits, she is back at the ranch helping her family run their beef business, running trails in preparation for “fun runs,” or writing.

Here are her thoughts on the urban agriculture divide and why we are all more alike than different.  

Agriculture has been taking place for the last 10,000 years, and yet, ranchers and farmers are now the minority? What the heck happened?

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With agriculture, humans traded the harsh uncertainty of nomadic life for the somewhat more predictable and controllable agrarian lifestyle. An improvement, for sure. In exchange for their time and dedication to caring for plants and animals, humans were afforded more abundant food supplies, health, wealth, leisure, and the ability to trade for goods that could not be grown in their home climates. In short, agricultural abundance improved lives. It still does.

All of this happened because humans are smart, they experiment, they adapt, and find answers to questions, sometimes out of curiosity and most of the time out of necessity. Agriculture changed the way humans live and it wasn’t long before humans all over the world were adapting to agriculture methods on some level. This took place for 10,000 years, and yet, in a mere two centuries, the same curiosity and/or necessity also brought about another rapid change, the movement away from agrarian lifestyles to industrial lifestyles, and now to what pessimists call virtual lifestyles and optimists call entrepreneurial lifestyles.

 

To break the rapid change down for the readers who love numbers, in 1790, about 90% of the American workforce was related to agriculture. In 1890, that number had dropped to about 43%. In 1990 about 2.6% of the population’s workforce was related to agriculture. Now that number has dropped to about 2%. As people moved out of rural America to pursue an improved lifestyle in urban areas, agricultural advancements have made it possible for 2% of the population to feed the masses.

Why is this important? While about 2% of the population clothes and feeds us, we can do other things with our lives and pursue other careers, and not worry about where our next meal is going to come from. If it were not for ranchers and farmers, most of us would be struggling like the unfortunate souls on the show Naked and Afraid! Although I must admit, there are some very tough people that participate! But, would anyone really want to live that way? Or, go hungry because their backyard garden failed due to a pest infestation? I know what my answer is: an emphatic, no!

Thanks to the ingenuity of agriculturalists, technological advancements and improvements in the industry, and the dedication and care that agriculturalists have for their businesses, we live great lives without a lot of worries. The few feed the many. And, it takes an insurmountable amount of dedication to thrive in the agricultural industry when things like global markets, local markets, weather, genetics, natural resources, financial constraints, and the unpredictability of caring for crops and livestock are just a few of the challenges. Being an agriculturalist requires a high degree of intelligence, resilience, and faith in oneself, in the future, and in the process.

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Mr. Morin showing off some serious dedication which is required for success in the agriculture field.

My own dad knew this when he said to both my sister and me, “You can always come back, but you can’t always leave.” This was a gentle but very blatant way of telling us, this path takes grit and serious dedication, so go and experience life before you make the commitment to come back and manage the ranch. And, when you come back, bring what you have learned to make it better. Like all parents, ours wanted the best for my sister and me. They encouraged us to grow, learn, and improve.

So, when I asked the question, what the heck happened? How did Americans get so far removed from agriculture? It’s simple and it’s practical. Like the nomadic lifestyle, the agrarian lifestyle was not easy. It is still not easy, so Americans changed, and the industrial revolution which made promises of wealth and lifestyle improvements spurred that change. It was the anticipation of an improved future that moved most people out of rural America and into urban centers. At the end of the day, no one can be blamed for trying to improve one’s life or that of their loved ones.

Today’s “entrepreneurial revolution” coined by Seth Godin promises an even better future for Americans, as the ability to market goods, build wealth, and have more control of our lives is at our fingertips via smartphones.

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The Morin Family – Working for a better future!

This same optimism has spurred the technological advancements and environmental improvements in agriculture. We want to improve, be more precise, waste less and have more controlled data-driven outcomes. In the case of food production, doing our best is a necessity because we are not just feeding our families, and yours, with less labor and inputs, we are also feeding the world. Doing less than our best, with so many people who trust us for a safe and reliable food supply, is simply not an option.

Just as the public has always been looking to improve, agriculturalists have too!

The reality is, we are all working toward the same goal – to do our best!

– Amber MorinMorning Sun Selfie (002)

Arizona Monsoon Round-Up

Arizona summers are brutal, to say the least, with reprieve arriving only when you catch sight of dark clouds forming on the horizon, smell a hint of moisture in the air, and the mesquite trees start to rustle as a late afternoon wind tickles their branches. The afternoon monsoon has arrived and if you listen closely, you can almost hear the desert sigh in relief.

Monsoon season is a big deal in our state for the average person but proves essential to the cattle rancher. These life-giving rains replenish basin groundwater, recharge riparian areas, give life back to summer grasses, and fill dirt tanks essential for wildlife and cattle alike to survive. Once the rains hit, gone are the days of trucking water to the far reaches of the ranch, as mother nature lifts one small burden off the shoulders of hard-working cattlemen and women.

Enjoy this round-up of Arizona monsoon photos from ranches across the countryside in honor of another monsoon season.

Cassie Lyman
Photo by Cassie Lyman of the Hat Ranch in Gisela, AZ
Cross B Cattle
Photo was taken at the Cross B Cattle Ranch in Elgin, AZ
Jolyn
Photo by Jolyn Smith of Texas Canyon Brangus in Dragoon, AZ
Micaela
Photo by Micaela McGibbon of the Santa Rita Ranch outside of Green Valley, AZ
Santana
Photo by Santana Nez of the G Lazy 8 Ranch. Photo was taken in Tucson, AZ.
Sarah King
Photo by Sarah Henckler King of the King’s Anvil Ranch outside of Tucson, AZ
Tina
Photo by Tina Thompson of the C Bar Ranch in Willcox, AZ
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Photo by Tina Thomson of the C Bar Ranch in Willcox, AZ

Arizona Beef Council Internship – Sun Devils Love Cattle Too

The summer of 2017 had been one for the books. I ended the hardest semester of my life in Spring of 2017 and then dove into the Arizona Beef Council internship shortly after.

I heard about the internship through my high school agriculture teacher. I thought I would apply along with a few other internships but this one stood outs as it looked like a great learning opportunity and a chance to broaden my horizons. I was sure I would get one of the other internships but was not as confident about this one. A stream of doubt ran through my head. “How, out of all the animal science majors and agriculture giants, would I, a journalism major at Arizona State University, land this internship?” Well, I did, and I can say it had been the best internship of my college career.

My first impression

First, I didn’t realize there would be two interns, and I was a little intimidated by the idea of my counter part; a University of Arizona student majoring in animal science. Was she mean? Did she buy into the rivalry between the UA and ASU and would that affect our relationship?  I didn’t know what to expect. Luckily, all of my worries were blown out of the water when I meant my colleague. She is a hard working and committed individual whom I have grown to love and call my friend over the past two months.

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Lauren Maehling, myself, Nicole Van Eerd and Tiffany Selchow at the start of the internship (Photo by Anna Aja)

Then I met my bosses. While I was under the guidance of the Arizona Beef Council staff, I was fortunate to interact with folks from the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, and they all have taught me more about the beef community in two months than I have learned in my 20 years on this earth. They also taught me the importance of effective communication and building relationships with consumers and growers alike.

The Field Trips

Sometimes I still can’t believe was part this internship paid me to go out with my intern compadre, to meet new people and learn more about the beef world in a real-life setting.

First, we went to the Bill Kerr Dairy and visited with Wes Kerr. He explained that just like so many before him, he is using the latest methods and technology to have a successful dairy business. We were lucky enough to see the process of collecting milk from the cows and even go to the barn where the calves reside.

Next, we went all the way down to Nogales, AZ where Dan Bell and Dean Fish took us in and showed us their worlds. We spent half the time on the Bell’s ranch, helping round up cattle, branding, vaccinating and gathering some less-than-compliant horses. Mr. Fish took us horseback to see the Santa Fe Ranch with the bonus of an explanation of the mysteries of life. He also explained how every rancher has different methods of raising cattle, but the goal is still the same: raising cattle in an efficient and safe way to make consumers feel good about what they are eating and to have happy cattle. We left with words of wisdom in our pockets for our future careers.

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Tagging calves at ZZ Cattle Company (Photo by Dan Bell)

I grew up farming with my dad and other members of our family. The sights and smells of alfalfa and cotton were the norm, along with the sounds of squealing pigs coming from the show pig barn at my house. I never really considered myself as a cowgirl mostly because I didn’t know what that really meant. I was a farm girl and a pig girl but not a cowgirl. Thanks to the efforts of Dan and Dean, I was able to discover who cowboys and cowgirls are. They are not just individuals who buy a pair of boots and a felt hat, walking with some sort of saddle swagger; they live and breathe cattle. It’s a way of life and a source of income. I will be forever grateful to have had the honor to live in that world for the short time that I did.

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Nicole and I embarking on our ride with Dean Fish (Photo by Dean Fish)

Then, we came back up to Pinal Feeding Co. in Maricopa, AZ. Our fearless chauffeur, Caline Gottwald, showed us the ins and outs of running a feed yard. It was incredible to see the sheer number of bovine on the property and the massive amounts of feed rations it takes to feed them. Feedlots may not be as glamorous as the dawn rising over the hills of a cattle ranch, but their role in raising beef for consumers is just as important as any other part of the beef life cycle.

It was fascinating to see how well kept the facilities are and the amount of care paid to all the cattle. Feedlots generally have a vet on staff and a nutritionist who make sure the cattle are kept healthy and thriving. Of course, life happens and sometimes it can be hard to work on a feedlot when things are not going according to plan, but I am confident that these devoted individuals do everything they can to prevent and protect their animals.

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Nicole and me at the Arizona/Mexico border in Nogales (Photo by Dean Fish)

 

Lastly came the tour of the JBS Beef Plant in Tolleson, AZ. Our energetic tour guide, Maria, took us through the various stages of meat processing and explained to us the importance of handling the meat safely as well as treating the cattle humanely when they come to their facility. It was an eye opening experience where I learned how my beef came to be from the farm to the table, and I can confidently say I am proud of where my beef comes from.

Convention and Other Fun Events

I had the opportunity to serve as an intern at the Arizona Cattle Growers Association Convention in Prescott, AZ. There, I talked with cattle ranchers from all across Arizona and learned a bit more about how beef is raised in my home state. It was an amazing opportunity to network and connect with the dedicated ranchers in the Sonora desert.

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ACGA Convention Intern Mackenzie Kimbro and I at the Steak Fry Dinner and Dance (Photo by Heidi Crnkovic)

I also went to the Arizona Academy of Dietetics and Nutritionist Conference in Phoenix, AZ with Lauren.  I was a little unsure how beef promotion would go over in a room of nutritionists, but the results were pleasantly surprising. I was able to communicate my love of beef and its nutrient value to many people and I was able to learn about their health concerns as well.

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Lauren and I at the ABC booth at the AZAND conference

We also went along on the Summer Agriculture Institute where teachers came to learn a little more about where their food comes from and how they can bring that knowledge into their classrooms. Coming from a strong agriculture background, I sometimes forget how little those who do not have the opportunities I have had know about animal and crop production. It was neat to see the important messages cattle ranchers like Andy Groseta had to share about the hardships of raising cattle but that it was worth the end result: food on the table.

Takeaways and Thank Yous

From knowing little about the beef community in Arizona to annoying my family friends with the copious amounts of knowledge I have gained over the summer this experience is something for which I will forever be grateful. I feel I am more educated and can address more consumer concerns about how beef is raised.

I have never felt more welcome and appreciated for my efforts as I have at this office working with Lauren, Tiffany, Heidi, Maria, Kim, Patrick, and Bass. I have made unforgettable memories which I will cherish through the years. From porcine to bovine, I love all meat; but remember Beef…It’s What’s For Dinner.

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Lauren, myself, Nicole and Tiffany at the end of the internship (Photo by Heidi Crnkovic)

Father’s Day Favorites Features… BEEF!

Father’s Day is fast-approaching, and what better way to appreciate the role of a father than by preparing him a hearty, home-cooked beef dinner. While it does not have to be Father’s Day, nor do you have to be a father to eat beef, a day like this calls for special attention to this beloved red meat. We asked some local ranch dads what their favorite beef meals are as they should know how to best prepare a hearty, tasty beef meal after spending all day out on the range!

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Bas Aja with his grandson.

“A thick and juicy RIBEYE,” stated Dan Bell who picked the cream of the crop while many others attested to its supremacy as their favorite meal. “Do you need any time to think?” “Nope! Ribeye on mesquite, with salt and pepper. Garlic salt” was the rapid reply of Bas Aja, Executive Vice President of the Arizona Cattle Feeders’ Association and a rancher in Southwestern Maricopa County. Dean Fish agreed, also specifying over mesquite. Maybe we need to check this one out in the office!

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Dan Bell and family all dressed up at the annual Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association convention.

Of course, all beef is great and some fathers had a little harder of a time settling on one beef dinner. Jim Webb of the Scottsdale, AZ answered, “Anything that comes with beef is good. If I had to pick one, it would be a steak dinner. Steak with potatoes. No vegetables…well, maybe asparagus.” Out on the V Bar V Ranch in Rimrock, AZ, Bopper Cannon gave a vote to the rib steak. His son, Keith Cannon, who is also a dad, was raised right with good beef cooking and wasn’t even willing to specify a cut, “Anything!”

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Dean Fish with his son, Garrett, and daughter, Laurel, receiving his president’s buckle from the Arizona National Livestock Show.

Wes Kerr from the Kerr Dairy in Buckeye, AZ followed suit in loving all cuts of beef, but managed to narrow it down while proving to be a fan of his mother’s cooking by saying, “Ooooh I like it all!! Hmmmmm, well my mom makes THE BEST meatloaf.” And in case you’re reading this Wes, we’re expecting an invite over for dinner to prove this true!

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Wes Kerr and family at their family dairy, Kerr Dairy.

Some other popular favorites include grilled tri-tip, volunteered by Patrick Bray, rancher from Goodyear, AZ and a vote for grilled brisket from Joe King of Green Valley, AZ, who also informed us, “We are actually having that for our dinner on Sunday [Father’s Day]”.

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Joe, Sarah, and Evelyn King.

With ground beef, steaks, ribs, roasts, and more, there are endless combinations for delicious and nutritious beef meals that fit you and your family. Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner can help you plan your next meal. The Interactive Butcher Counter allows you to explore the different meat cuts while providing information on how to cook those cuts, the nutrition facts, and some tasty recipes.

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A great example of an Arizona ranching family: proud of each other and proud of their beef! Pictured are the Aja and Bray families.

Every dad enjoys a delicious home cooked meal, and what better dinner foundation than beef, packed with powerful protein and 10 essential nutrients? After reading some favorites from fathers out in the beef community, we hope you gain some inspiration and enjoy beef as much as they do! From Arizona Beef to all the fathers out there, Happy Father’s Day!

Blog post by Nicole Van Eerd and Shayla Hyde, Arizona Beef Council 2017 Summer Interns.