If you have ever spent any time working cattle, you know that it is a team effort. Who is in the starting lineup? It isn’t always just cowboys; a rancher’s company is usually made up of a trusty horse and, you guessed it, hard working Lassie! Dogs have been used to help humans since they were first domesticated, and a main use for them is helping ranchers. Cattle dogs herd, gather, sort and protect, both out on the range and in chutes and holding areas. Our canine friends are perfect for this job due to their quick speeds, smaller size, and agility. They are also prolific barkers, effective in directing even the most stubborn cattle. There are many breeds favored for ranch jobs including Collies, Border Collies, Blue Heelers, Australian Shepherds, Catahoulas, Pit Bulls and more, including the all-American favorite: the mutt. The best cattle dogs usually have strong loyalty, high energy, and solid training; so the Arizona Beef Council went out in the beef community to find them!
Out in Santa Cruz County, amidst the beautiful Santa Rita Mountains, you can find Salero Ranch. If you’re lucky, you might also find Mari Hudson out working cattle with her trusty partner, Sage, by her side. A two-year-old Border Collie and Hanging Tree cross, Sage is learning how to help around the ranch. Her favorite jobs include helping sort off neighboring cattle from the herd (so they can be returned to the neighbors without the Salero Ranch herd going as well), trailing cattle to keep them moving in the right direction, and keeping lazy cattle moving (if they stop, they might turn back and lead the herd astray or double the time ranchers must spend working.) Sage’s owner, Mari, speaks very highly of her furry friend, “When I’m out working cattle alone, she’s a huge help. Especially with cattle trying to shade up (cattle will stop moving forward when tired of being moved and continually turn around to try to go back to the treeline).” Mari also spoke about ranchers she knows who have outstanding dogs for working and stopping wild cattle. Without the dogs, their job would be much harder and more dangerous. Although she doesn’t have very wild cattle, Sage is still an excellent hand, and a cute one too!
Cattle dogs like Sage are an important tool for ranchers to help move cattle efficiently and safely.
Dogs also “hold” cattle, having them not move forward or push them, a helpful sorting technique especially when weaning calves.
In addition to working cattle, dogs can help ranchers train horses. If a horse is acting up, a well-trained dog can bark and apply pressure in a manner that causes the horse to stand quietly or go where being directed. An example of how dogs can help includes encouraging a horse to walk forward instead of fighting against a halter when being halter-broke. By using dogs, tasks involving livestock and horses can be done with less man power and stress.
Dogs are called “man’s best friend,” and cattle dogs work hard to prove it. When gathering or checking cattle out on the range, there are many great reasons to bring along the pup so desperately wanting to go, including their help in moving cattle, companionship, and safety. Safety? Yes, a story from a rancher down in Nogales attests to this reason. Maco, a hand at ZZ Ranch Cattle Co., always takes his mutt when out on the range. One day, he was attacked by a mountain lion. Without a moment of hesitation his dog stepped in, warding off the predator and saving Maco’s life. While the hero did suffer injuries, Maco stitched him up, and he healed quickly, ready to go back out again. Now that is a best friend.
Not every working cattle dog works out on the ranch, and a perfect example is Sis (Sister) at Marana Stockyards. This tough little stockyard employee lives to work. According to Karen Parsons, she works so hard that when the weather is unbearably hot, Sis must be left at home because her work ethic is too strong and she won’t quit! If you venture out back around the cattle pens, you will see Sis hard at work pushing, stopping, and holding cattle. She is stubborn and agile (often jumping through fence panels sideways), and a dependable helper. She is dedicated to her work, and it does not matter who is out there checking and moving cattle, she will come and help.
While dogs are great companions at home, they are also an essential tool for many ranchers and cattlemen in the beef community. They can reduce the number of cowboys needed, work cattle with lower stress, handle wild and unruly cattle, give protection to people and livestock, and bring a smile to your face. Man’s best friend, and man’s best worker.
Blog post by Nicole Van Eerd, Arizona Beef Council 2017 Summer Intern.
Welcome to the beef community, where fellow members of the community are not merely associates, but good friends and family. Need an example? Dean Fish from Santa Fe Ranch and Dan Bell from ZZ Cattle Co., also known as the Dynamic Duo. Here at the Arizona Beef Council office, our intern pair, Shayla and Nicole, also consider themselves a “dynamic duo,” and set out to spend a week with the aforementioned pair to experience Arizona ranching life and the hard work involved. Enjoy their story of their week working in this segment of the beef life cycle!
For two girls who love cattle, horses, and agriculture, there is no way to describe how excited we were to spend a week in Nogales, AZ helping Dan and Dean on their ranches. Not only was it going to be wonderful being back out on horseback gathering cattle, but we were also blessed to spend time working with two extremely knowledgeable cattlemen learning their reasoning behind everything they do to raise cattle, and gaining insight on the beef story as a whole.
Day one, we arrived in Tucson with the honor of attending the Southern Arizona Cattlemen’s Protective Association (SACPA) to represent the Arizona Beef Council and share information about the beef checkoff with the side benefit of experiencing firsthand how issues in the beef community are handled. We heard debates, opinions, personal experiences, and propositions from representatives from all aspects of the beef community. We were impressed by the efficiency and careful attention to making the best decision for all members of the beef community, the cattle, the environment, and consumers. Next, we headed to Dan’s beautiful family ranch house (well, we drove ourselves, and quickly learned we both were significantly lacking in our navigation skills.) Dan gave us a small tour of his ranch, followed by a delicious beef dinner and a history of the ranch, Nogales, and what it is like to ranch along the Mexican border. It only wet our taste buds for the millions of questions to come.
Day two, we rose bright and early (there will always be a strong appreciation for western cattle growers who must rise at 3 a.m. and earlier to beat the heat and reduce stress for their horses and cattle) to head out and gather cattle on horseback with Dan and some other hands. He explained how he gathered and rotated cattle to benefit their individual needs in each stage of life, as well as properly manage the rangeland. Then, without hesitation, we jumped right in with the others to sort cattle, brand, castrate bull calves, ear tag, keep records, and vaccinate against common diseases. Dan explained his methods and reasoning behind these practices with the intention to provide the best care and health for his herd, and how individual ranchers choose their methods of work to best fit their ranch conditions including herd size and available labor and facilities. Afterward, we helped test the calves for BVD-PI (Persistently Infected-Bovine Viral Diarrhea. Calves that test positive contracted this virus as a fetus, and it inhibits their ability to fight disease. They shed the virus to healthy calves and cattle the entire time they are present in the herd.) This experience helped solidify the importance of record keeping and proper Beef Quality Assurance practices to ensure consumer safety and confidence in beef. Dan spoiled us afterward with the best apple pie (oh, and a healthy beef lunch too) and we saw more of the ranch as we distributed salt to the cattle. Along the way, we bombarded poor Dan with every question we could think of about the rangeland, neighboring ranches, relations with Mexico, cattle care, and his interactions with, and we aren’t lying, Agent Hamburger, a border patrol agent. That evening we joined in a barbecue, meeting more of the Bell family and friends and enjoyed good company, good food, and more learning (including a lesson for Dean on why you should never mess with giant black bugs; ask him next time you see him, you won’t be disappointed). It was a great way to wrap up a day of learning and appreciation for hard working ranchers who still live everyday family lives.
Vaccinations are a crucial step in ensuring cattle health and a safe beef supply. Pictured is Nicole administering them to a calf.
Shayla is ear-tagging a calf, a vital component of record keeping and animal identification to maintain proper care.
Day three, we rose early again to head over to Dean Fish’s ranch (still solidifying our need to enhance our navigation skills) where we saddled up and rode out to collect cattle. This time, we brought in the cows and used ultrasound equipment to check if they were bred (it is important to know when cows are bred in order to keep proper records, know when to expect the calves, know which bull the semen came from to help with genetics or herd improvement, and for overall knowledge of the herd.) Along the way, Dean explained the science behind his methods for managing and caring for cattle. He explained how keeping stress levels low allows for the best feedback and response from the cattle, whether giving vaccinations, breeding or performing other care. We were both given the opportunity to palpate a pregnant cow and feel the fetus, afterward hearing Dean’s reasoning behind using ultrasound, and how there are several other options for checking the health of pregnant cows, all with their own positive and negative features, that can be selected to fit any management style. We then rode out to learn Dean’s style of working and checking cattle, checked some waters, and again asked our many questions. It was a unique experience to compare two neighboring ranches and see how quickly the rangeland, facilities, and cattle needs can change and why it is essential that ranchers understand their cattle and their ranch to develop a management plan and provide the best care. After a wonderful, authentic Nogales lunch and dessert (Shayla was already making plans to drive back down to enjoy it again), we drove along the border and were informed about additional impacts of ranching with Mexico as a fence-line neighbor. Afterward, we returned to Dan’s to check more waters and fences (including an on-foot chase after a rogue cow that helped Nicole find a new appreciation for deciding to run cross-country back in high school).
Their are several ways to check a cow’s pregnancy, and many ranches use palpation to feel the cow’s progress. (Featuring Shayla)
An important management practice on a cow-calf ranch is checking cattle pregnancies, and one method for this is palpation.
Day four, we woke up with heavy hearts as this was the day we headed back to Phoenix but excited to seize our final hours in southern Arizona. We saddled for the last time to gather horses that had been turned out (if you think this sounds easy, we suggest you go home and watch Spirit), then we were able to help vaccinate them. Afterward, we checked more waters (an essential part of this job during the summer), took our final tour of the ranch checking gates and fences. We saw the direct impact of regulations to stop grazing in certain areas and how it created adverse effects due to the benefit of grazing and its history in the West (remember, before the introduction of cattle, bison roamed the west and grazed similarly). The example Dan showed us was a riparian stream that consistently had an area of water housing an endangered fish species. For decades, this area was included in a large pasture utilized by cattle, but one day a dead fish was found and Arizona Game and Fish restricted grazing in this area. Sadly, the reduced grazing caused forage to grow rapidly, including trees and shrubs, and quickly the entire stream dried up, killing all of the fish in the area. This unfortunate consequence was a strong lesson on why it is important to understand the fragile balance in an ecosystem and how every action, including grazing, has a role in maintaining the ecosystem. We also learned the impact of predators and other threats to livestock. Our trip culminated with a farewell lunch headed back up to Phoenix, dreaming of our next chance to be back out on the range. After much pressure, we refused to announce a favorite day as both ranching experiences were phenomenal!
Overall, our week with Dan and Dean was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only did we gain hands-on experience working with cattle, but also learning there is a deep reasoning behind every management strategy and practice implemented by ranchers, as well as the issues they faced in the past, and still face today. Furthermore, we learned how cattle interact with the environment and how regulation and how other confounding circumstances including border security and international relations impact the beef community. With new insight on the beef community, we are now back in the office working to continue to educate America on the ways of the beef community and how we continue to find new ways to serve our cattle, the land, and consumers best. Thank you, Dan and Dean, thank you to the Arizona Beef Council, and most importantly, thank you to the beef community for all you do!
Blog post by Nicole Van Eerd and Shayla Hyde, Arizona Beef Council 2017 Summer Interns.
The buzz of tour day was in the air this past spring at the University of Arizona’s Maricopa Extension. The buzzing people were 24 culinary students and Chef Chris Wolf, who serves as their instructor at the Arizona Culinary Institute. “At the Arizona Culinary Institute we cover the full spectrum of culinary education, including meat fabrication, so our students are definitely being exposed to various beef, pork, lamb, and poultry cuts already during their time here at school. Our students are generally very excited to broaden their culinary education in any way possible, and the interest in attending this event was amazing. I actually had a WAITING LIST of students to come on the tour. They all had a great time,” reported Chef Wolf when asked about the Institute and their interest in the tour. These students all voluntarily signed up to spend a day learning about the beef lifecycle from a firsthand perspective.
As the day unfolded, with an introduction and high-level overview of the entire beef lifecycle from staff, it was clear there were striking similarities between these students and Arizona beef farmers and ranchers. Both groups are incredibly passionate about what they do. Common ground was easily found after that realization.
The group toured the JBS – Tolleson plant with Bill Munns, Director of Marketing and Product Management, which gave the students a much better understanding of how a large beef plant works and the high level of safety and science which goes into it. A visit with Paul Heiden at Heiden Land and Cattle was next, providing a better look at the live side of the producing beef. Important discussions continued on many subjects including animal handling and care, water issues, and the controversial topics of antibiotic and growth-promoting technologies.
“I think the value of this tour is obvious: It gives the average person a REAL opportunity to see where their meat is coming from. It’s not a-he said/she said issue, or what they saw online, or what they read somewhere…it’s an actual real-life chance to see the industry in action so that they are educated and can make their own decisions about how they feel about the meat industry,” shared Chef Wolf. “There is no question that this is a worthwhile use of time. The entire tour from start to finish was well managed, educational, and exceeded expectations. I feel that EVERYONE left the tour knowing more than when they began.”
While ranching is hard work all year round, often times the most intensive work is done in the fall or spring season here in Arizona. This is the time of year when ranchers wean calves from cows, meaning calves are old enough to eat grass and forage and no longer need nutrients from the cow’s milk. At the same time, other important work can be done, like vaccinating cows to ensure their health into the future as well as vaccinating calves for the same purpose. This also tends to be a time when family and friends get together to work hard and enjoy each others company. Please enjoy this collection of photos from Arizona ranch families and all the hard work they’ve put in this fall.
A special thank you to the the McGibbon, Homack, Garcia, and Lyman families for sharing these beautiful photos with us from your ranches!