Enjoy this write up from Certified Angus Beef (CAB) of Arizona rancher Ross Humphreys who was recently given the Commitment to Excellence award from CAB. Special thank you to Morgan Boecker and CAB for allowing us to reshare their work here.
Ross Humphreys walks like a cowboy and talks like one, too. His adept gaits tells of many days in and out of the saddle on his ranch just south of Patagonia, Ariz.
He wears many hats, but his black felt wide brim fits most naturally, shading him from the sun at San Rafael Cattle Company. Off the ranch, you can find him in Tucson managing stocks and his publishing company.
Grit in every venture makes him a successful businessman, and his unrattled spirit makes the best of challenges. However, it’s his relentless drive for raising high-quality beef that earned him the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) 2021 Commercial Commitment to Excellence Award.
A different background
Humphreys grew up an army brat, frequently moving throughout his childhood. He earned a degree in chemistry and worked as a metallurgical engineer for a bit before going back to school for a Master of Business Administration. That sent him on a new route.
He’s held a lot of job titles in his 72 years, from strategic business advisor to book publisher and CEO of multiple companies, just to name a few.
In 1999 at 50-years-old, never having owned cattle or managed a ranch, he bought San Rafael Cattle Company. Admittedly, he took an unusual path to the cattle business.
“I stood on one of the hills with my older daughter and said, ‘Anybody could run a cow on this place because you can see her wherever she is,’” he says. “So that’s how we got started.”
Consistent little changes
With no agricultural background, Humphreys went straight to the University of Arizona and bought a Ranching 101 textbook.
Always curious, his questions led to new acquaintances, and Mark Gardiner, of Gardiner Angus Ranch in Kansas, became his teacher and connector.
“I’ve hardly ever spent any physical time with Gardiners,” Humphreys admits, “But if I called them up, they’d spend two hours on the phone with me answering questions.”
Humphreys leaned on good information and sound science. No ranch decision is made without running some math and looking at a spreadsheet.
By genetic testing his herd, he saw steady progress by buying a little better bull than the year before. He focuses his selection to ensure balanced cows that can raise replacement females and a calf crop that produces the best beef.
Humphreys confirms his plan works with results at the feedyard. Loads of his fed cattle have improved from 20% Prime in 2013 to 95% CAB or higher, including nearly 85% Prime today.
“My goal is to try to produce the best carcass I can,” he says. “So, I keep trying to nudge up my cow herd so that the calves will be even better the next time.”
Preserving today for tomorrow
Conservation is as much part of the San Rafael story as the cattle. Named after the San Rafael Valley, the ranch is nestled in Arizona’s high desert country bordering Mexico. It’s the north end of a rich ecological site that looks like the Great Plains and is home to various plants and animals, many on the endangered species list.
“Ninety-five percent of this ranch is perennial native grasses,” Humphreys says. “We are the last shortgrass prairie in Arizona.”
Collaboration with conservation groups ensures the ranching operation, endangered wildlife and habitat are protected from housing or industrial development. The easements with Arizona State Parks and the Nature Conservancy led to work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The most important habitats on the ranch are water sources, including the Santa Cruz River, several springs and stock tanks. The endangered Sonoran Tiger Salamander is only found in stock tanks in the San Rafael Valley. Humphreys developed water sources with support from NRCS grants, creating a mutual benefit for the cattle and wildlife.
Environmental investment is key to Humphreys’ long-term goal of sustaining the land.
Even with intensive management, the land still needs water and the current Southwestern drought continues to challenge his resources. As a result, Humphreys sold roughly 65% of his cow herd this year.
Unsure if he will ever get back to pre-drought herd numbers, he remains committed to this final career as a rancher.
“I want to come home to a beautiful place,” he says. “I started doing this when I was 50, but I like the work. I like the cows.”
Ever the student, he meets each new challenge with a thirst for knowledge, determined to sustain, and focused on raising the best, one step at a time.
Ranchers: Layton Cattle Company: Steve and LaRene Layton and family: Kolter Layton & Rokelle Reeve (me) (& family).
Located: Beaver Dam, AZ /Arizona Strip (northwestern corner of Arizona).
Segment of beef community: We have a ranch which houses a herd of cows who produce calves each year. We keep our calves each year for a short period of time after they are weaned to give them an opportunity to grow some more before we sell them.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and about your ranch:
Rokelle: My great-grandpa purchased our family’s ranch in 1948 and we have raised cattle on it ever since. My two kids are the 5th generation to raise cattle here, which shows our dedication to the land and to the cattle. Our cow herd grazes on the Arizona Strip, which is north of the Grand Canyon, and the land we lease is all made up of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. We have a hay farm and feedlot in Beaver Dam, AZ which is where I grew up. Every year, we bring our calves that we raise on the ranch into the feedlot and feed them over the winter which is called backgrounding. This allows them time to learn about life in a feedlot, meaning they will feel less stressed when they move to a feedlot later in their lives, and it gives them some extra time to grow. Then our calves are sold in the spring at an auction where they will most likely go to a feedlot and continue in the traditional beef lifecycle.
Has the technology you use on the ranch changed since 1948?
Rokelle: We have so much technology at our fingertips! Probably the biggest one we use now is building water catchments (which is a large heavy-duty sheet of plastic that catches the rain/snow and funnels the water into a large storage tank which holds about 100,000 gallons). The range where we place these catchments would not be accessible to cattle because there is no other source of water. Because the water is better distributed, our cattle can more efficiently utilize rangeland and we can rest and rotate our pastures. Resting the grass and other plants cattle use for feed gives them time to reseed and regrow after they have been grazed. With this knowledge we have now about the science of range management, we are able to manage grazing for the benefit of our environment. By cattle utilizing renewable resources like rangeland, we produce beef!
What are some common misconceptions that you think people may have about the way your raise your beef on your ranch?
Rokelle: I think a common misconception is that livestock are not treated humanely. At our ranch, we are very focused on the well-being of our cattle and how they are handled. If animals are not handled properly, it causes them stress and can put us, ranchers, as well as our cattle, in danger. We have found that by working cattle slowly and quietly and working with their natural instincts, things get done a lot safer and easier for everyone, our cattle included.
What is the most important thing that you do on your ranch every day to make sure you are raising safe beef for the consumer?
Rokelle: The most important thing we do to raise safe beef for the consumer is make sure we are raising healthy cattle. This is done by following a good vaccination program to prevent disease, ensuring animals receive proper nutrition, and reducing stress that may be caused by improper handling.
What is the most important piece of information that you want people to know about you and the work you do on you ranch every day?
Rokelle: I think the most important thing I would want people to know about me and my role as a rancher is how much I care for the animals I raise. We as ranchers have a responsibility to keep our animals healthy and well-cared for as well as taking care of our land. I take this very seriously and know other ranchers do to. These animals are not only our livelihood; they are a part of our family. It is also important to ensure the land we raise our cattle on is cared for properly. This rangeland environment is critical for our cattle to survive in. We pay particular attention to the land’s conditions through various monitoring methods such as collecting plant frequency data over time to track the trend of the plants, photo monitoring to watch how things change over time, and we also keep track of the levels of utilization of the plants cattle like to graze on.
If you could describe in one word the life of a rancher, what would it be?
Rokelle: Enjoyable! It is a labor of love for the land and animals!
Lastly and of course most importantly, what is your favorite cut of beef and how do you like to prepare it?
Rokelle: You can’t beat any cut of beef, but I love a good chuck roast in the Instant Pot!
The Klump family has a long and storied history in the southwestern United States. Like many multi-generational ranch families, there were ups and downs in the past but something all these families have in common is the ability to overcome adversity. Ranching is often said to be in a person’s blood, and it seems this statement holds true for the Klump family. Timm Klump, a fifth-generation Arizona rancher, shared his family’s history while also looking to the ranch’s future.
Timm’s great-great-great-grandfather was the first to start in the ranching business. After fighting in the Civil War, he slowly made his way west through Texas, New Mexico, eventually settling in Arizona, west of the Dos Cabezas Mountains. There he raised a family and began to pass down his cow sense and passion for ranching. Timm’s great-grandfather was a skilled cowboy and well-known as such in the community and with the big cattle outfits of the time, working on many of them. According to Timm, though, it was not until his grandfather was older that he started planning for the future of his family and their place in the ranching community.
Timm’s grandfather had many brothers and as they grew, their focus turned towards saving, keeping records on their financials and cattle, and purchasing small parcels of land as they were able. They always paid with cash and never sold their heifers (female bovine who have not yet had a calf), which meant every time they bought a new stretch of land, they had cattle to stock it. At one point during this generation, the Klump ranch stretched, non-continuously, from Willcox, Arizona to the New Mexico state border.
As it sometimes happens with family, the ranch eventually split apart, but Timm’s father was able to maintain his portion. In the early 2000’s, a major drought hit Arizona, causing the Klumps to sell most of their cattle. Timm did not see a future on the ranch so he went off to college where he completed his bachelor’s degree. The job of a rancher is to care for the cattle and the land, but it is also their job to find a solution when there does not seem to be one. Johnny, Timm’s father, comes from a long line of problem solvers who figured out a way to keep ranching and in this case, he was no different.
The drought left the Klump ranch with few cattle to its name. Johnny took what some would consider high-quality cattle and sold them. With that money he invested in smaller cows or ones that were not as popular in the cattle market at the time. This meant he could purchase and stock his ranch with more cows which were bred to produce more calves. There is often a large emphasis on quality cattle without thought given to the situation or environment a rancher might be in. To combat what might be considered the lower quality cows he purchased, Johnny invested in bulls who carried desirable genetics. By improving his cattle over several years while also producing more calves to sell, the Klumps were able to keep the ranch afloat. This also allowed him to save money for future investments and necessities. Timm has five brothers who all work alongside himself and his dad on their ranches, a story that is not often heard of in the ranching community.
Many things have changed on the ranch in Timm’s lifetime including the usage of vaccinations to help ensure all their cattle stay healthy and are able to produce quality beef. The Klump family also breeds their own horses because the work is never ending, and the horses must be able to keep up. They choose genetics for horses that can go all day and cover many types of terrain, both flat and mountainous.
Because Timm is passionate about caring for cattle and raising beef, he enjoys helping to correct common misconceptions about beef, particularly about food safety, proper cooking temperatures, and shopping for beef.
Myth: Rinse beef under water before cooking.
Fact: One issue that is of particular importance is how to properly handle beef to ensure its safety upon consumption. Timm has heard the rumor that one is supposed to rinse beef under water before cooking which is incorrect. Storing beef at 40 degrees or below, thawing in the refrigerator, and cooking to an internal temperature of 140 degrees for steaks and roasts and 160 degrees for ground beef are ways to ensure food safety when cooking with beef in your kitchen. Check out this link for more food safety tips.
Myth: One method of raising beef is better than the other.
Fact: Another misconception he hears a lot is that beef bought straight from the ranch tastes better. Timm often consumes the beef he raises but commented that he’s also often had excellent beef from the grocery store. Most of the beef you find at the grocery store has followed the traditional beef lifecycle with its last stage of life spent at a feed yard. Feed yardswork with a cattle nutritionist to mix the perfect ration (the mixture of feed fed to the cattle) to ensure health for the animal but also to add marbling and flavor to the end product, the beef. No matter where you get your beef, there is a family like Timm’s who has helped to raise it.
Timm is in many ways a typical millennial. His wife, who is originally from California, has probably helped in this regard, but Timm loves sushi, avocado toast, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and of course, steak. He also knows what it means to work all day, through blood, sweat, and maybe tears. He knows what it means to put other creatures before his own wants and needs to protect and care for them. He also sees the myths and misunderstandings that circulate about the beef community. He feels if he could talk to every person on this earth, he could explain a lot of what happens on a ranch and why, thus helping others to feel more comfortable with eating beef.
When asked what the best part of ranching is, Timm shared that it is doing something tangible. He witnesses the birth of new calves every year and raises those animals until they are sold to the next stage of the beef lifecycle. The feel of the leather reins in his hand, the saddle creaking under him, and his horses’ hooves on the ground are all things he enjoys and encounters almost daily. He knows the struggle, hardships, and passion that go into this line of work and he continues to do it day after day, year after year. We think if Timm did have a chance to talk to everyone, he would have a lot of new friends who feel good about enjoying beef.
The journey to deliver high-quality and safe beef requires collaboration from pasture to plate. At each step of the process—from the beef farmers and ranchers who raise beef and adhere to Beef Quality Assurance standards to the chefs and restaurateurs who prepare beef in their restaurants, there is a strong commitment to delivering high-quality beef that consumers love. That’s why Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner., in partnership with Chef’s Roll, brought beef farmers and ranchers together with chefs to learn about each other’s segment of the beef business.
Executive Chef Ryan Clark of Casino Del Sol in Tucson met with rancher Dean Fish, manager Santa Fe Ranch in Nogales, Arizona. In a day on the ranch, Chef Ryan learned about environmental stewardship, management of the land and water resources as well as proper cattle handling techniques to ensure animal safety. Likewise, Dean spent a day in the kitchen with Chef Ryan as he cooked and served his popular Cowboy Ribeye that he currently serves in his restaurant.
In addition to these Arizona beef-aficionados, Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. and Chef’s Roll will be featuring four additional beef ranchers and chefs from Oklahoma, Georgia, Idaho, and California.
The stories and videos from the ranch and kitchen are featured on Chef’s Roll’s digital properties (see video here). Chef’s Roll is a global digital community that inspires culinary professionals through knowledge sharing with their 18,000 members and followers from 147 countries. They are chefs, wine professionals, mixologists and hospitality professionals. The Chef’s Roll team creates photo and video content to share with their members and social media followers as well as creating live events for chefs.
We asked Chef Ryan and Dean to share a little more about their time spent together. We hope you enjoy hearing about their unique perspectives.
Chef Ryan: When did you realize you had a passion and skill for cooking? I started cooking in Tucson at a small boutique restaurant. Everything was from scratch and it really opened my eyes to the amount of work and passion that goes into preparing a meal. My first big promotion was at 17 when I took over as the Chef De Cuisine… and I never looked back.
Dean: When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career raising cattle and sharing about ranching? I have craved being a part of the beef industry and the western lifestyle since I can remember. I have always enjoyed being around cows and horses while learning more about them. I pursued all opportunities to get more knowledge in all aspects of cattle production and management. I now get to do it every day and realize that it is a great responsibility to produce a safe, wholesome, nutritious and tasty product while taking care of the land, wildlife and other resources.
What did you find most interesting in learning from each other? Chef Ryan: My favorite part of the tour was seeing how Dean interacted with the livestock daily. His relationship with them went far beyond what most would expect. You could tell from his words and actions that he not only respects the process but also loves telling the story. It is moments like these that will continue to push me to visit the ranchers and farmers that make our food possible. Dean: Chef Ryan is a world-class talent that has a passion and a flair I have rarely seen in any field. He is top notch at what he does and makes it look easy. His creativity in preparing the cuts we showcased was the most surprising part to a guy like me that uses salt, pepper and mesquite wood for everything. Chef Ryan was also an exceptionally good communicator and took the time to share his process and explain the steps to me.
Chef Ryan: What part of your visit to the ranch will you most likely share with customers, colleagues and friends? I think as a chef it’s more important than ever to visit our ranchers and farmers. You take back a different respect for food when you see the process firsthand. It helps refresh your outlook and food philosophy and find new inspiration. Every time I make a trip, I come back into the kitchen with new ideas and energy that helps create dishes that tell the story.
Dean: What part of your visit to the kitchen will you be most likely share with visitors to the ranch, colleagues and friends? The creativity was the biggest takeaway for me and encouraging people to try different flavors and preparation techniques.
In what ways can beef farmers and ranchers and chefs continue to work together? Chef Ryan: Collaborations are so important. Our guests love to know where the food comes from that they are eating. Having a beef farmer or rancher come to the restaurant for a special dinner and interact with a guest is an experience like none other. Dean: I think anytime that producers can see the talent, work and effort it takes to showcase beef and encourage the consumer to choose beef is valuable. On the other side, helping chefs realize the work and care it takes to produce beef helps to create appreciation for the process. Ranchers assume beef just gets cooked and sold and chefs may assume beef just shows up in their restaurant. These connections are very valuable and I am a huge Chef Ryan fan!
What is your favorite beef meal (cut and preparation)? Chef Ryan: Anything braised. I don’t want to say that quick cooking methods are easy but there is something about the process of an all day braise that you can really taste in a dish. Oxtails, Short Rib and Chuck Roast are a few of my favorites. Dean: Trick question here! I love all of the cuts. If I had to pick a favorite, I would have to say a bone-in Ribeye cooked over a wood fire would be my favorite. Followed closely by a marinated flank steak cooked the same way and eaten in a homemade flour tortilla!
Stockmanship is how ranchers interact with their animals with a focus on keeping the stress meter low for both the handler and the animal. Most cattle start their life cycle on ranches in large pastures. Here in Arizona, most cows calve alone and don’t usually need human assistance, but ranchers do interact with their cattle regularly. To raise high-quality beef, cattle must be healthy, and ranchers can help their animals achieve that goal with a vaccination program. Vaccinating, along with branding and other activities, does require ranchers to work closely with their animals and good stockmanship can help make it easier on both the cows and the people.
Ranchers don’t put a leash on their cattle to move them like one might a dog. Rather, cattlemen and women use their bodies (and horses) positioned in certain ways to move cattle where we need them to go. To understand this concept better, we first must know a few things about cows. Cattle are prey animals, meaning they want to gather in herds because that gives them more protection from predators. They also have a flight or fight instinct and tend to run if they are frightened. Some breeds of cattle are more inclined to fight if put into a sticky situation, like if a predator tries to attack a cow’s calf. Secondly, they don’t often move in straight lines, but rather in circular patterns. Knowing these two instincts tells us how we can work with cattle to decrease stress on the animal and to increase productivity.
Think about a large invisible ring around a cow. This is her flight zone. Depending on breed and how much human interaction this cow has had, her flight zone might be small or large. Pressure can be applied by stepping into their circular flight zone, in a certain area to encourage her to move forwards, backwards, away, or even towards you. Also knowing how much pressure to apply, meaning how far and how fast you must walk into the flight zone, is critical. If an animal looks at you or maybe flicks an ear towards you but doesn’t move it probably means you have to step a little closer. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, if an animal jumps and runs away you might have walked too far into her flight zone or approached too quickly.
Working with these natural flight zones and movement patterns help to decrease stress on animals while increasing productivity. The less stress an animal experiences, the better, so they can put their energy toward making healthy beef. It also makes it safer for the human involved to utilize these skills as the animal is less likely to tap into their fight response.
Raising cattle is what we would call an active job. You don’t sit a whole lot, unless you consider riding horses a form of sitting, and on the rare occasion, it sometimes involves unintentional running. But some ranchers choose to run for fun. Yup, we said it: run for fun. It’s a crazy thought, we know, but one that Angie Newbold, Arizona beef rancher, embraces.
An active, healthy lifestyle is one that Angie and her husband Cole have always embraced, and, with their current occupations, this goal has mostly worked itself out. Angie and Cole Newbold are both first generation ranchers, meaning they are the first in their family to work on cattle ranches. This couple currently resides and works on the M-K Ranch owned by Oddonetto Family north of Globe, Arizona, where they help to raise registered Santa Gertrudis (purebred breed of cattle who are recorded in a registry) and commercial (cross bred cattle who are not registered) cattle. Cole is the full-time cowboy at the ranch while Angie works in town during the week and helps on weekends and on other busy days at the ranch.
While ranch life is active, a town job isn’t. As an active child, Angie could be found team roping daily, practicing for swim team, along with any number of other outdoor activities so it only makes sense she picked up another physical activity as an adult when life required more sitting. Running was her activity of choice, outside of ranching, because it’s a free sport that you can basically do anywhere and anytime you choose. With miles of dirt roads surrounding the ranch, it’s a logical option to expend energy she builds up from her office job.
For her husband Cole, living and working on the ranch gives him plenty of opportunities for physical activity as the work is never done. Just like all cattlemen and women, Cole and Angie, and the owners of the M-K Ranch, care about the cattle in their care and about the land they use to raise those animals. Just like how Angie is focused on keeping herself healthy, also of importance is keeping the land healthy. This is done in many ways such as pasture rotation, water development, and picking the right breed of cattle for the land. One example is the implementation of the registered herd of Santa Gertrudis cattle. These animals are known for their hardiness, meaning they can do well in hot, dry climates, such as that around Globe. They require less resources than other breeds might.
While Angie might not run with a local running club like many who live in town, she does have an avid group of running companions. These members of her running club all have four legs and bark more than they speak but are the perfect companions on the back roads as they offer some entertainment and protection. Angie jokes that the president of her running club is Josie, a small Cairn Terrier. These dogs not only run with Angie but also work on the ranch to help with gathering cattle which, in many circumstances, can relieve pressure on the cowboys and horses.
Cole, Angie’s husband, was a runner in high school and helped encourage Angie to start running. “He said, just try a 5k and see if you like it,” reports Angie who then mentions it was all down hill (or uphill, depending on the course) from there. Being a competitive person, Angie couldn’t stop there and has three marathon finishes to date with goals of more. She has recently discovered trail running and is actively competing in races around the state of Arizona. With a busy schedule at work and on the ranch, adding training runs into her schedule can be challenging but Angie states it’s a good mental break. In addition to multiple runs a week, Angie cross trains with weights on a regular basis and tries to stick to a healthy, balanced diet. Her fuel of choice includes lean beef, pinto beans, and fresh veggies and fruit, along with eggs and whole milk.
When asked for her advice on staying active with running, Angie emphasizes cross training, whether that is with weights or ranch work, if you have that option. Angie’s favorite distance to run is 6 miles because it serves as a great way to stay in shape and offers her a mental break from her office job and from recording cattle information such as birthdate, location, health records, progeny reports. The power of rewards is an important part of training too. After every race, Angie always has a good old fashion cheeseburger with all the trimmings and the good cheese. A big side of fries is always welcome! She says that during training her go-to beef meals are fajitas and pasta with meat sauce. Both are easy, filling, and packed full of the nutrients her body needs to get her down the back roads and back home.
This blog post is made possible by the generous support of the Arizona Cattle Industry Research and Education Foundation.
Where are you located: Gisela and Roosevelt Lake, Arizona
Q. Tell us about yourself, your family and about your ranch:
A. I am a first-generation agriculturalist (in other words, I am the first in my family to be a farmer or rancher). I grew up a city kid even though my family had what most would consider a hobby farm. We raised typical backyard farm animals and participated in 4-H and FFA. I showed rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, pigs, sheep, steers, and horses. I have been riding horses since my mom was pregnant with me, so I like to say before I was born. Growing up, I loved competing with my horses in breed association horse shows, 4-H competitions, and high school rodeos. I always wanted to be a real cowgirl and dreamt of one day marrying a real cowboy.
My dream came true just after high school when I married my husband Jared, a sixth-generation cattle rancher. We have been married for 18 years and have four boys: Elias 14, Haskin 11, Tate 8, and Pratt 5. They all love to ride horses and help at the ranch, and we hope they will carry on our family legacy as 7th generation cattle ranchers. Of course, I started out all my boys on horses the same way my mom did (while they were in my belly), then hanging on behind me, and as soon as my kids can reach the stirrup of a kids saddle, they take the reins and ride their horse all by themselves.
A little more about our ranch: We have a cow-calf cattle ranch on the north shore of Roosevelt Lake in Arizona and co-own and operate an additional ranch with my husband’s parents in Gisela, Arizona. Between the two ranches (Hat Ranch and Bar L Bar Ranch), we run just over 300 head of cattle on over 50,000 acres of public land. We raise commercial Angus-cross cattle (Angus breed because that is what the market desires and a touch of Brahman breed because of its adaptability to the Arizona desert environment our cattle forage in). We sell our calves to the commercial market, which means the beef you buy in the grocery store or eat at your favorite fast-food restaurant starts at a ranch like mine. We also direct-sell beef to consumers by the individual cut or by whole, half, and/or quarter beef. With an increase in people wanting to know where their food comes from (how it was raised and making the connection to their food), we too are growing in the number of beef we raise for consumers from start to finish right on our ranch.
Q. What is the best part about ranch life? What are the struggles?
A. I really have a hard time picking favorite things and best parts, so I will narrow it down to my top favorites. Family makes the top. Getting to be with and work alongside my family every day is one of the best parts. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say there are “those days.” There is a saying in the cattle community, “Sorry for what I said, we were working cattle.” So yes, there are days when you may need to go to town for “groceries,” aka “a minute away,” but we all have those days in every profession. It truly is a blessing to get to help each other out every day, to depend on one another, knowing the inside and out of the work stress of your spouse. The opportunity to be a team in your home life and work life, as one and the same, is irreplaceable. The whole family, kids, and parents, working together toward the same goal and learning together along the way is priceless.
Another favorite of ranch life is the opportunity it provides to teach my children to have a strong work ethic. Animals are depending on us, come rain or shine, school activities, or sports to provide for them. My kids know that even when we have a late-night or a holiday, chores still need to be done. They are taught to work and work hard until the job is done no matter what, something our society is missing these days.
Another great thing about ranch life is the time spent outdoors. Our whole family loves the outdoors, and yes, ranch life offers a lot of that. A long day riding my horse under the big blue sky, as large fluffy clouds dance across the horizon, with my four boys horseback following me, while we gather cattle from the mountain range, is sometimes surreal. I often pinch myself to remember I’m not dreaming. I consider myself so very lucky. I love the opportunity we have to be outdoors, caring for the land and for God’s creations. To watch a calf be born and trying to take his first steps, their cute noses, and soft coat. These top my “best part of ranch life” list too.
Though struggles, there are many. The top would be government regulations and consumer misinformation. As time goes on, these two struggles are getting harder and harder and are forcing many production agriculture operations out of business.
Q. In addition to ranch and mom life, in what other things are you involved?
A. I wear many hats, and I am not just an ordinary mom, I guess (even though I really think I am). Not only do I do routine household chores, but also bake from scratch, garden, and do canning or home food preservation. From my ranch Facebook page, many know I am completely involved in the day to day operations of the ranch from fixing fence and helping calve to being horseback gathering cattle and even hauling calves.
Other activities I give a lot of time to include:
4-H project leader
Volunteer to help youth with projects including livestock, horse, working ranch horse, cooking, sewing, canning, robotics, photography, public speaking, S.T.E.A.M., shooting sports, leadership and more
Cattle community organizations such as my county and state cattle growers’ associations. I’ve served as Gila County Farm Bureau President and served on the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation State board.
Volunteer with the Arizona Farm Bureau Agriculture in the Classroom
Serve on the Northern Gila County Fair board
Young Women’s President of the Tonto Basin Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Q. Why do you commit so many hours to volunteer in your community?
A. I have thought about this question time and time again, and I never feel I have a right answer. I always say, “I don’t know, I just do.” As I have really taken the time to ponder, it is because serving makes me happy! Putting someone else’s needs before my own, helping to make a difference, seeing the joy of others because of the time I was willing to give are the reasons why! As a selfish reason, maybe validation. I absolutely love inspiring youth and advocating for agriculture. The warm fuzzy I get inside when someone says thank you, couldn’t have done this without you, is a fantastic feeling. When someone asks me where I find the time to do what I do, I tell them you make time for the things you love. Investing your time in people is time well spent. And anything worth having takes hard work!
Q. What would you like to share with someone who is not familiar with raising cattle?
A. As cattle ranchers, my family and I truly care for the land and natural resources. John James Audubon once said, “A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his father but borrowed from his children.” We want to pass our ranch(es) and our ranching legacy down to future generations, to see our grandchildren and even great-grandchildren and on, productively and sustainably raising cattle on the same land we raised cattle on. We study the land in cooperation with the University of Arizona and the U.S. Forest Service collecting data and analyzing forage trends. We provide water for wildlife. There are significant misconceptions around western cattle ranching and grazing on public lands. It is essential that if people have questions, they ask a real rancher, visit the ranch and get first-hand information. It seems agriculture is always under attack, but don’t fall for the latest headline getting media attention or the product labeling jargon. Know your farmers or ranchers, and you’ll know your food. Stop fighting against agriculture and start making friends in agriculture because without them, who will feed you and your family?
Q. If you could describe in one word the life of a rancher, what would it be?
A. I don’t do good with picking just one, and as I weigh the good days with the stressful days, the words I come up with seem to cross each other out. Things I considered are the beauty of riding under an indescribable Arizona summer sunset and still cattle ranching like the old-time western movies (wide open spaces, riding horseback to gather cattle, working as a family, and homemade meals together at the table). This is then compared to the fall of the cattle market prices, drought-stricken parched land or losing your best mother cow because she was torn to pieces by a reintroduced protected species called a Mexican Gray Wolf (this is reality for many of our ranching family friends Northeast of us). The hard work, blood sweat and tears and, the joy of summer rains, and a good calf crop. The highs are high, but the lows are low, so my one word would be: ineffable!
Q. Lastly and of course, most importantly, what is your favorite cut of beef, and how do you like to prepare it?
A. I am going to pick Lyman Ranches #ranchraisedbeef Rib Steak. Bring steak to room temperature. Heat BBQ grill to high heat, liberally apply (course ground) salt and pepper each side of steak, sear each side, reduce heat to low and cook till internal temp is at least 130⁰ but no more than 145⁰ (needs to be pink still). Garlic butter sauce or melting blue cheese crumble on top to serve!
To learn more about the Lyman family visit their website here.
This blog post is made possible by the generous support of the Arizona Cattle Industry Research and Education Foundation.
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?
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.
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.
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!