Meet Your Ranchers: Emmett and Lori Sturgill

The setting sun over rugged, mountainous terrain, with a cowboy’s silhouette to finish the image is what many people visualize when they hear someone’s profession is a “rancher.” While that image may be true, ranching and raising beef is also a business. Just like running a grocery store, marketing firm, or other entities, successful ranchers follow the same rules. Raising beef involves a living animal and a lot of heart, but it is still a business.

Emmett and Lori Sturgill are ranchers who have built cattle raising businesses with the end goal of producing delicious, high-quality, and nutritious beef. Now, just because one of their goals is to make a profit, does not mean that they lack the passion for their work. They are lucky because this business is built on the work they love.

Emmett Sturgill, retired law enforcement, comes from a long line of ranchers. Photo by Hazel Lights Photography.

Emmett, retired law enforcement, comes from a long line of ranchers. His dad was a traditional cowboy and moved from cow camp to cow camp as the jobs came available. Lori, formally a successful real estate broker, comes from a farming background but animals were always a part of her life. Together, over the past 10 years, they have worked to build a successful ranching business. Purchasing the main ranch is a story about a good friend helping another good friend. That story ends many years later with Emmett purchasing the ranch from his good friends, the Neals, and their longtime friendship is just an added blessing. Emmett strongly believes he is where he is today because other people helped him get here.

Lori, who sights fellow Arizona rancher Chuck Backus and his educational cattle symposiums as a source of their success, helped turn their cattle business around. Emmett admits that before she came along, his ranch was what he called a “cowboy ranch” meaning he had a variety of breeds and the main goal was producing a calf each year from each cow. Lori came in, found a way to focus their efforts, and has helped to gradually shift the ranch to producing high-quality Angus beef for both the local, national and international markets.

Lori Sturgill, previously a successful real estate broker, and now turned cattle woman. Photo by Hazel Lights Photography.

Lori, having a previous career in real estate, knows business. She knows what is required to succeed and it means time, persistence, and paperwork. The Sturgills worked to mitigate risk by diversifying their cattle. They primarily raise Angus cows which are bred to registered bulls, mostly Red Angus, each year. The calves produced from this part of the ranch are consider “program cattle.”  The Sturgill’s ranch and cattle are 3rd party verified through an audit process which insures the cattle meet certain criteria to sell in various markets, are given certain vaccinations at specific times, are fed qualified feed at weaning, and weaned no less than 45 days. There are many other criteria which the Sturgills and their cattle meet to address the growing concerns of consumers today and be able to ship overseas to other countries. The cattle that are raised in this program enter the traditional beef lifecycle also referred to as the commercial market.

The Sturgills also keep a limited number of animals for use in their local community, providing natural beef to consumers. These animals are grass-fed and fill the demand of people looking to purchase directly from a rancher in and around Kingman, Arizona. There are many challenges with this business including limited processing facilities and the amount of time it takes to raise an animal to harvesting weight, but Lori finds this an integral part of the business, even now.

An example of what a Corriente looks like. Photo by Hazel Lights Photography.

Finally, they also raise Corriente (another breed of cattle) steers for the sport of team roping. These animals are typically smaller in size with horns making them ideal for roping. These steers follow the same vaccination and health protocols as the rest of the herd to ensure longevity and wellness. This has provided customers with a healthy animal who can preform longer and thus led to many repeat customers.

On their ranches, Lori and Emmett are adamant about excellent cattle care. Their animals are all vaccinated and follow health protocol which were developed in conjunction with their veterinarian and also through their learnings from seminars like Beef Quality Assurance and other educational events. They also practice low stress cattle handling. This is a way of working with the animal’s flight zone to move them where you need them to go causing less stress on both the human doing the work and the animal. The goal with both priorities is to keep stress to a minimum to allow the animal to grow to its full potential. Lori also invented a unique way to deal with pests. Dairies often have rollers that scratch the animals’ backs, so Lori bought some of those but has taken them up a notch – adding fly and pest repellent. Not only is there not a fly in sight, but it is also one more way to reduce stress. No all-day flicking of the tail for these girls and boys!

Lori is proudly a self-proclaimed environmentalist, as most ranchers are. Her focus is on the care of their livestock and on the wildlife that coinhabits the range lands their cattle graze. It is tough to care for livestock and the land and not be concerned about the environment in which they live. She is a firm believer in balance to ensure the longevity of a ranch. She has begun to start planting trees at all of the watering areas to help keep the water cool for both her cattle and wildlife. This also keeps the drinkers (water troughs) cleaner as red algae doesn’t have the sun it needs to flourish when shade is present. The ranch is also part of many conservation programs, including increasing the population of pronghorn antelopes and working towards a reseeding program in the valley pasture on the ranch to reintroduce native grasses. The ranch management plan also includes proper rotation of the pastures to maintain the forage conditions with regular monitoring from the University of Arizona.

Lori and one of her horses. Photo by Hazel Lights Photography.

Lori and Emmett are firm believers that cattle take care of you if you take care of the cattle. The love the Sturgills have for their cattle, the land, and the people who buy their beef is evident in many ways. As we wrapped up our visit by the horse pens, with Lori scratching on one of her favorite colts, another family pulled in for a visit. Community is important and both Lori and Emmett embrace and nourish the relationships they have with fellow ranchers and town people, alike.  Ultimately, this is a business, and a successful one at that, but it’s a business with heart.

This blog post is made possible by the generous support of the Arizona Cattle Industry Research and Education Foundation.

Meet Your Rancher: The Murphys


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Ranchers: John and Joan Murphy of the OX Ranch

Ranch Location: 15 miles northwest of Congress, Arizona off the Date Creek Road.

Arizona Beef: Tell us about your ranch.
The Murphys: The OX Ranch is a desert ranch consisting of 65,000 acres of private, BLM, and Arizona State Trust land located 80 miles northwest of Phoenix, Arizona. The ranch also leases a 30,000-acre summer grazing allotment in the Coconino National Forest south of Flagstaff, Arizona. We are a cow/calf ranch with 650 Black Angus, Hereford, and Brahma-cross cows, using Angus bulls of a diverse genetic base. Operating in harsh desert conditions, our goal is to produce a smaller-framed animal needing less forage to sustain itself, the ability to thrive in high temperatures, calve unassisted on the open range, and the genetic potential to grade choice or prime at the harvesting facility.

Animal health is a primary focus. The ranch has been an active participant in the Beef Quality Assurance Program for many years and is registered with Premise ID, and the National Animal Identification System.

What have you done to improve the ranch?
The OX Ranch has an enormous amount of history and through work with various partnerships (i.e. Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, U.S. Forest Service, Arizona State Land Department, University of Arizona and UA Extension Service, and the Prescott Audubon Society) we have been able to take a run-down and abused ranch in the desert and return it to a healthy state, both economically and environmentally. A few completed projects include the eradication of invasive species in two riparian areas, the fencing of three riparian areas to allow controlled grazing, the placement of solar pumps on desert wells to assure reliable water for cattle and wildlife, and much more.

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What are some common misconceptions that you think people may have about the way your raise your beef on your ranch?
It is our belief that few individuals in the state realize how many ranchers work to improve the health and productivity of the land they’re managing.

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How does wildlife benefit from the improvements made to the ranch?
We enjoy the many varieties of wildlife and love seeing our winter flock of Canada geese fly overhead several times daily. The geese, as well as our deer herd, are seen in the alfalfa fields regularly. Both lakes attract waterfowl year around, and a pair of blue heron have taken up residence. All the watering facilities on the ranch have access for wildlife in compliance with NRCS specifications designed to protect all kinds of desert dwellers. All new cross-fencing is wildlife friendly with smooth lower wires. Quail nesting habitat was created by piling up vegetation removed from the fields, offering protection from predators. An island was constructed in the lake to promote safety for ground nesting waterfowl.

Many trees have been planted for birds, and provide a continuous route from the lake, along the fields, and on down through the riparian area. As recommended by the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, this assures connectivity of habitat – an important aspect for birds. Audubon Arizona, in their state publication, recently identified 5 Arizona birds whose numbers have declined from 63%-93% due to loss of habitat and development. Maintaining ranch lands was cited as an important way to counteract this trend.

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What practices on the ranch have made a difference in how you raise cattle?
Many practices have affected our ranching business, with the sustainability of the land always key to those efforts. Just the investment in numerous water facilities, including 20 solar well pumps, 9 well pumps on grid power, 57 stock ponds, 26 water storage tanks, 138 drinkers made from metal or concrete along with 150 miles of fencing, 150 miles of dirt roads, and 43 miles of water pipeline, has enabled the use of thousands of additional acres of grazing land by cattle and wildlife, allowing for a more consistent annual impact. We have been able to increase our herd size, and have modified our grazing methods and rotation of pastures to improve forage health. By employing the most stringent health practices available and having the willingness to scrutinize and invest in herd bulls that are both geographically suited to our area, and have the best genetic makeup for our specific needs, we have made significant improvements in herd and carcass quality. All these steps have translated into higher production and greater profitability in the product we market.

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What is the most important piece of information that you would want people to know about you and the work you do on you ranch every day?
We have a passion for caring about the land and caring for the land – that is what ranchers have done historically and continue to do.

If you could describe in one word the life of a rancher, what would it be?
John – Hard work
Joan – Commitment