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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
In June, sixteen culinary experts from across the country got a taste of the beef industry during the Pasture to Plate Beef Tour, sponsored by beef councils in California, Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma and Texas. Invited to the checkoff-funded event were the culinary chairs responsible for the 28 International Culinary Schools at the Art Institutes across the country. The non-profit Art Institutes operate the largest system of culinary schools in the United States.
The tour featured a visit to a cow-calf ranch, feedlot and the JBS beef processing facility in northern Colorado, along with presentations from beef experts that helped the culinary leaders understand beef’s role in a sustainable food system, and ideas for incorporating sensory and beef umami exercises into their classrooms. Attendees also had an opportunity to participate in a beef cooking competition that demonstrated their culinary talents.The spark for development of this tour was generated last fall during the California Beef Council’s Beef Leadership Summit, according to the CBC’s Christie Van Egmond, director of retail and foodservice marketing, who helped organize the tour. At that time Dave Hendricksen, the national culinary director for the Art Institutes, expressed interest in giving the Institutes’ culinary leaders more backgrounding in the beef industry.
“This is a great way to connect the next generation of chefs with those who produce the food,” Hendricksen said. He said it was “critical” that information this type of event provides gets carried down from the participating culinary leaders to the students in culinary schools studying to be chefs or operation managers.Standing out to those attending the tour was the well-being of animals throughout the process, Hendricksen said. “The constant theme of this event was animal welfare and the care for the environment,” he said. “It was amazing.”
Arizona is home to the Arts Institute of Phoenix that includes a large culinary program. The Arizona Beef Council sponsored Chef Noel Ridsdale, culinary program chair, to attend the national tour. Here is Chef Noel’s feedback about his experience.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to the Arizona Beef Council for sponsorship of my attendance at the beef checkoff-funded Pasture to Plate Beef Tour for the Art Institutes (AI). This experience was very educational and collaborative in the ways that we were able to connect with the beef council professionals, as well as with each of the AI national directors individually.The tour started on a high note with a tour of a Colorado ranch, with some great knowledge shared by the breeders on how the cattle are treated, the process for the birthing and production management. The aspects of feed analysis and herd health were very interesting. We had dinner on the ranch, and the chef turned out to be an alum of AI, and his selection of items and ways to use beef was very good.
The trip to the packing plant was very interesting. I have been in Certified Angus Beef processing facilities before but never in a mainline producer. This was one of the highlights of the tour for me. I was very interested in the sanitation, inspection process and the zero waste production aspects of the tour. I cut meat myself, but my skills do not match the speed and accuracy of the cutters on the floor there. Watching the entire process enlightened me to the accuracy and technical aspects of production but at the same time still marveled at the human element that is still involved in the process.The science of the feedlot was interesting, and it was great to see that the industry is using green technology by utilizing byproducts of other industries, such as the beer industry. This use of their byproducts as opposed to just corn would add more flavor to the beef.
The presentations on the science of beef and the practical cooking aspects were very good, and our recipes will be featured on www.BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com soon. Overall, experiencing these aspects of beef production gave me additional knowledge that I am able to utilize in my classrooms.
Thank you very much for the opportunity!
Noel G. Ridsdale, MBA, CEC, CCA, AAC
Program Chair – AI Phoenix
Editor’s Note: The Art Institute of Phoenix is closing December 28, 2018 due to unfortunate circumstances. The Arizona Beef Council is glad to have met Chef Noel and we look forward to working with him in his next ventures.
In March of 2017 I was just your average college student: persistently bugging my professor for more work with cattle out at the feedlot, telling every high school student (and even some 10 year olds) how amazing college (the University of Arizona, of course) and Animal Science is, working at a cattle sale barn, spending every paycheck on my horse’s never ending credit line, dreaming of being back out on the ranch, and making plans for graduate school and a future in the beef community… ok, so maybe not your average college student. But, I was just going through my spring semester with a page long list of all the possibilities for my rapidly approaching summer when my old agriculture teacher, my boyfriend, my best friend, a professor, and several others all told me to apply for the Arizona Beef Council Internship. I looked it up, saw social media, and closed the screen. But after thinking, praying, and, I admit, mostly persuasion, I applied. A phone call interview, follow-up with references (the plus of working for cowgirls in high school is they are very stubborn, very persuasive, and thus the perfect reference), and a few months later, I arrived at the office in downtown Phoenix. Yes, DOWNTOWN PHOENIX! I said a quick farewell to dreams of cool weather and countrysides, then quickly smiled with astonishment and excitement that it was honestly me being blessed with this incredible opportunity to intern for the Arizona Beef Council. This is how the next nine weeks went; well, a very condensed version anyway. (I invite you to read the past AZ Beef blogs to learn more!)
The first week, Shayla and I were able to join other agriculture leaders and 30 teachers for the Summer Agriculture Institute, a program that teaches kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers about agriculture in Arizona. The intent is to provide the educators with information and resources on how they can incorporate agriculture into their curriculum to educate today’s youth. While I do work with Ag in the Classroom, teaching kindergarten students is very different than teaching adults, and this week further developed my passion for educating Americans about the truth of agriculture and the beef community. Some of the stops included Andy Groseta’s ranch where teachers learned the importance of the relationship between cattle grazing and the health of the environment, a discussion with a forest ranger on the health of our forests, and a dinner with representatives from the Diablo Trust. It was a rewarding experience as we witnessed many of the teachers transform their opinions about agriculture and clear up misconceptions.
In the following weeks, we worked in the office with amazing members of the beef community. We gained knowledge in communication, including how to utilize social media and online applications to create graphics, find the correct information, and interact with consumers both online and in person. We developed an understanding of the importance of selecting proper word choice and facts to tell the beef story in an honest yet non-offensive way. It was an eye-opening education. I have been involved in the production side of the beef community, including courses at the University of Arizona taught by esteemed professors, and while I continually interact with people not familiar with agricultural production (including my family), I had not realized the importance of reading one’s audience, selecting proper words, and being transparent and objective in telling the beef story. I also was unfamiliar with the full expanse of misinformation, biased articles, anti-agriculture organizations, and other information that is readily available and promoted to lead consumers astray. My passion for the beef community and telling its story continues to grow every day.
In addition to working in the office, Shayla and I were fortunate to attend different events as interns including the Women in Agriculture Conference and the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association (ACGA) Convention. At the Women in Agriculture Conference, we learned more about future challenges that the agriculture community will face, the importance of women’s roles both in the family and in production, and how to reconnect with consumers and producers not involved in organizations. One highlight was an inspiring presentation by a couple who were refugees from Africa and now own a farm in Arizona.
At the ACGA Convention, we were privileged to join many individuals involved in the Arizona beef community. As policies were re-evaluated, current issues were tackled, and connections were made, we saw firsthand how the beef community works to ensure its success along with everyone involved while working to continuously improve how cattle are raised and how we care for rangelands. It was beneficial to hear diverse opinions and explanations for why certain practices are done the way they are done. I also enjoyed seeing current issues that the beef industry is facing and how they handle them. I am very passionate about being involved in, and educating consumers about, the beef community, and this opportunity to work for and interact with numerous individuals in different aspects of the beef community was inspiring and extremely informative. There was a lot of fun, and a lot of education and this experience truly attested to the diversity and team work incorporated into the beef community. I was honored to help contribute to making convention successful.
After long days of meetings and discussions, ACGA hosts a steak dinner and dance. Katie Bell and I pictured here getting everything ready.
I have Clay Parsons from Marana Stockyards to thank for hiring me and helping develop my cattle background.
This amazing internship also gave us the opportunity to meet influential and successful individuals and families in the beef community, which included working tours at beef facilities as well as the rewarding task of representing these families and their stories in Arizona Beef blogs. The first stop on our industry tour was the Kerr Family Dairy in Buckeye, hosted by Wes Kerr. Wes amazed us with his focus on animal welfare and a progressive mentality. He described how his grandfather never imagined the day when all dairies would have shades, and now technology has come so far to include Wes’ work with progressing genetics to have all polled (hornless) dairy cattle. Wes’ dairy was a beautiful example of superior animal care, attention to consumer demands and industry needs, and a progressive mentality. Thank you, Wes!
The next stop was a week-long vacation (err, long, grueling work week? In case Tiffany is reading this maybe I shouldn’t brag) down in Nogales with cattlemen Dan Bell and Dean Fish. We were blessed to join them in their daily ranch life, including the opportunity to gather cattle; brand, vaccinate, test, ear tag and castrate calves; ultrasound and palpate cows to check pregnancies; and perform other cattle management practices that ensure proper cattle records, health, and care. We also experienced monitoring and caring for the rangeland including proper fencing and cattle grazing rotation systems. We heard incite on the different ways of handling cattle to match individual ranches, including how to reduce stress for maximum productivity. We also attended the Southern Arizona Cattle Protective Association (SACPA) meeting and learned about current issues facing the beef community including the US-Mexico border, disease, and water regulations. It was an insightful opportunity to learn about different ranches and their management plans, and a refreshing break to be back out on a ranch. Mr. Bell and Dr. Fish were inspiring resources, sharing every detail of their work, showing us their challenges and successes, and giving us wisdom and advice for a joyful life. Thank you, Dan and Dean!
Our next stop on touring the beef community was at Pinal Feeding Co in Maricopa. From the cow-calf ranch to the feedlot, this transition helped us learn about feeding cattle and the details involved. We learned more about cattle nutrition and how rations are made and delivered to provide the best care and results from cattle, including the importance of feeding at the right time of day. We learned about the complexity of technologies in managing and keeping records of cattle, as well as caring for sick cattle. Thank you, Bass and Caline! Afterward, we were privileged to tour the JBS Beef Processing Plant in Tolleson where we saw the care that workers take in supplying us with wholesome, safe, and healthy beef. I was impressed by the information our food safety tour guide explained to us. Every step of the process is carefully monitored with safety procedures, health and quality tests, and employees passionate about their jobs and the positive difference they make. Beef truly is a product we can feel safe, and good, about eating, knowing that it is raised with continuously improving sustainable practices, provided to us by families who care and is a delicious and nutritious source of food for ourselves and our families. Thank you, Maria!
The beef community tours were not only enjoyable but also an educational look into the Arizona beef community and what the beef story truly is. From the promotion aspect in the office, to a dairy, to a cow-calf ranch, to the feedlot, to the packing plant, and with several stops to look at policies, regulations, issues, and development, I loved experiencing every piece of the beef story and hearing insight from a variety of farmers and ranchers with different backgrounds, scenarios, and ideologies. This experience increased my ability and desire to share the beef story and how cattle are raised by families, for families, in the most sustainable way, ensuring the health of cattle, the environment, and families.
Overall, I cannot begin to express how rewarding my internship with the Arizona Beef Council was. I am incredibly blessed not only to have the amazing experience to learn from and interact with numerous individuals, families, and businesses in the beef community but also to be able to give back and assist in outreach and education to consumers. I gained endless skills and fueled my always growing passion for the beef community. And to top it all off, I was able to work with some of the nicest, most intelligent women in the beef community. One final thank you to everyone who encouraged me to apply for this amazing internship, to the committee who selected me, to my fellow intern and partner in crime Shayla, and to Tiffany and Lauren, my outstanding leaders, who I had seen present several times and never could have dreamed of the amazing opportunity to work with. And of course, thank you to the beef community. Eat beef, it’s what’s for dinner.
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.
Cruising up the I-17 North, you reach Exit 298: Sedona, Slide Rock. A breath-taking hike in Oak Creek Canyon might be your only thoughts; unless of course, you are an Animal Science student at the University of Arizona or a local Arizona rancher looking for some resources. What are your thoughts then? We’re almost to the V Bar V! (You would also be turning right at that exit, instead of left).
Located in Rimrock, tucked away between the beautiful red rocks and acres of green, rocky, northern Arizona rangeland, is the V Bar V Ranch, an experiment station for the University of Arizona (UA). The Morrill Acts of 1862, 1890, and 1994 ensured that universities such as UA would be instituted to teach agriculture, mining, and military tactics. Land grant institutions now serve as centers for research, extension, and education. Thus, the V Bar V is a priceless resource for local ranchers and students alike, addressing environmental, wildlife and domestic livestock issues applicable to Arizona and the Southwest, providing research and hands-on opportunities for students, and serving as a crucial link between the beef community and academia.
Today, the ranch superintendent at the V Bar V is Mr. Keith Cannon, or as everyone knows him by, Bopper. Bopper is a 4th generation rancher, whose family came to Arizona from Texas in the late 1890’s. He was raised ranching, and in 1990 participated in an educational program sponsored by the University of Arizona for ranchers. He brought his two sons, Keith and Jacob, and their involvement was so praiseworthy that they received an invitation to the Santa Rita Ranch for a similar, more extensive opportunity. Shortly after, Bopper was invited to be involved in research, then serve as a cowboy at the V Bar V Ranch, working his way up his current position as ranch superintendent and later joined by his son Keith in 2001.
Bopper shared, “The V Bar V is a unique opportunity to combine old school ways and traditions with new technologies. The goal today is to run this experiment station as a profitable ranch to serve as a model for Arizona ranchers while showcasing the ability to improve continuously by using new technologies and research.” The current focus is improving cattle breed genetics and creating more cross-breed cattle that perform well in Arizona conditions (high drought and heat tolerance) while still grading high in meat quality. With those goals in mind, the Waygu breed was introduced to the predominantly Angus and Hereford herd and found that the cattle were well-suited for the environment while grading 90% choice or better.
Bopper sees the importance of the V Bar V in outreach to Arizona ranches, commenting, “It’s easier for ranchers to accept strategies from a fellow cowman than from academia. We aren’t just saying this is what you need to be doing. We are showing them that we are also doing it ourselves and it’s working.”
Ever been to the Phoenix Zoo? If so, you’ve most likely been directly touched by the V Bar V. Do you remember seeing the Hereford cow in the farm section? Yes, the one with the cute calf that visitors get to help name each year. She came from the V Bar V! And every year, Keith and Bopper, along with their interns, prepare and breed her so zoo attendees can continue to learn about the beef community.
The positive impacts in helping local ranchers and the community are only part of the mission of the V Bar V. Bopper smiles as he comments, “The most enjoyable thing about my job is working with students and interns. There is a lot of heritage on my side, and it’s great to be able to pass that on.” Bopper has welcomed interns from Japan, South Africa, Brazil, France, Germany, and around the United States. He views them all as part of his family (rumor has it, his wonderful cooking proves helps build this sense of community!). Interns, high school and university students alike participate in calving classes, branding, and cattle handling, along with basic veterinary practices. Bopper aims to spark their interest in both the cattle community and the University of Arizona.
This year’s intern, Andrew Miles, says, “The V Bar V is a crucial part of the University’s Animal Science program, providing opportunities for students to learn about cattle and ranching. Furthermore, its unique location includes rangeland transitioning from low to the high desert, spruce and brush, and all the way up to high mountain country. It serves as an incredible resource for students from a variety of academic backgrounds to be involved in research benefiting many different fields of study and the state of Arizona as a whole.”
Want some wisdom from the ranch that every intern learns?
“Don’t ever tell me you can’t do something… Tell me you won’t, but can’t isn’t in my vocabulary.”
“Every morning when I wake up and go outside, it’s a new day, so every day you must be open to learning something new.”
“I’m always looking for the missing link, and that’s Newton’s Law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you manage and make decisions based on the reaction, you are always two steps ahead. What you do today will affect tomorrow; what you do tomorrow will affect the future.”
“The most important thing I have learned is how well you can integrate new technologies and ideas into tradition. Keep challenging yourself and never stop trying to improve methodology,” says Keith Cannon who has been involved in the University of Arizona’s School of Animal Science since 1997 as a student, working at the feedlot for ten years, and now helping run the ranch.
While at the ranch, Hyatt, Keith’s son, gave us a wonderful tour of his market goat project and we were enlightened on the importance of knowing your animals and knowing their needs (and we got to see a newborn kid! I guess ranches aren’t always just about the cattle.)
Bopper and Keith show a beautiful picture of a generational love of ranching traditions as well as improvement, and display the importance of extension resources including the V Bar V. There is plenty that the ranching community, the public, and students can learn from the V Bar V, and we agree with Keith and Bopper’s final desire: “We hope that the UA keeps the V Bar V as an operational ranch and that it can become more useful to the University as well as Arizona ranches, serving as a true extension resource for the state.”
Blog post by Nicole Van Eerd, Arizona Beef Council 2017 Summer Intern.
Arizona beef truly is raised by families, for families; and, Father’s Day provides the perfect opportunity to showcase a family of strong men who not only make major contributions to the beef community and the sport of rodeo but also portray the traits of an outstanding father. If you’ve heard of Marana Stockyards, you’ve probably heard of the Parsons.
Clay Parsons was born in 1961 in Carlsbad, New Mexico to Charlie Parsons and Cookie Paddock, and this is where their strong father-son relationship began. At three years of age, Clay began riding horses and helping on their small ranch (well, at least he thought he was helping, you know how helpful most three-year-olds are, much less when on horseback). He fell in love with the lifestyle and for the remainder of his childhood he continued working on family ranches in New Mexico, and later in Arizona.
At the age of five, Clay’s rodeo career began. His father, who rode broncs, introduced him to the rodeo world, and Clay tried everything! He learned how to rope in New Mexico, where he grew up around cowboys who quickly became his role models. Clay shared, “They had the greatest influence on me. They were real cowboys. I did not want to just be a rodeo cowboy, I wanted to ranch AND rodeo.”
Throughout his life, Clay had a strong love for cattle. Whenever he was driving around with his father or anyone else, he was always looking over the fence line at cows, studying them and calling out the breeds. “My room was full of pictures of cows. Not rodeo champions, but cows. I just loved cows,” recalled Clay. He was overjoyed when, at seven years old, his father bought a small ranch in Oracle, AZ. Money was sparse at the time so they would buy roping heifers then later turn them out on the ranch, building a small herd. Clay remembers when their random assortment of roping heifers finally reached maturity and was ready for a bull: “Dad and I went to Wentz Livestock Auction in Tucson, and we bought a bull.”
Clay would walk home from school, either on foot or by horseback, as often his horse was tied up outside the school waiting, and then go check all the cows. “I checked those cows every day except on the weekends when I was rodeoing,” explained Clay. This is where the story hits his favorite memory with his father: “I was nine-years-old and two-thirds of those cows had calved. We had family and friends at our place to help gather the herd and brand. As we were bringing in the herd, I said ‘Dad, we’re missing three.’ Dad said not to worry about them. We would take care of them later. As soon as he went over the ridge, I went back for them.” Clay remembers everyone wondering where he had disappeared to with the answer to the question arising as he came up over the ridge with the three missing pairs. He was scolded at first but then brought to the side where he heard the words he’ll never forget, “Son, good job. You’re gonna be a cowman.”
Although there were years when Clay and Charlie did not have a ranch of their own, the Parsons continued to be a strong father/son name in the cattle world. Clay married the beautiful love of his life, Karen, at eighteen, who quickly jumped right into the lifestyle. Later, there was no ranch for Clay to run and he worked for his father’s business, Parsons Steel Builders. He hated it, and went out on the road to rodeo, with a dream of making it to the National Finals Rodeo. He recalls being in Livermore, California at a rodeo where he sat in the top fifteen for calf roping and was almost there for team roping. His dad called Clay asking him if he wanted to lease and run a ranch and Clay’s response was a simple, “I’ll be there in 14 hours.”
Today, the love for cattle and ranching stays strong in the Parsons family. They built Marana Stockyards after many years of learning and hard work, and still, raise cattle on a ranch near Picacho Peak. If you’re ever around Marana, or at a big rodeo, you’ll most likely see Clay or maybe his father Charlie. If you’re out on their ranch during branding season, you’ll see his brothers Joe and Cutter along with other members of the Parsons family. Maybe at the stockyard you’ll find one of Clay and Karen’s lovely daughters (who all showed cattle as youth). Carly, who helps during the cattle sale, or his son, Clay Buck, who keeps the place running. If you’re lucky, you’ll even catch a glance of Clay’s grandson Cooper, who sometimes helps call out pen numbers to the riders out back putting the sold cattle back in the correct pens (don’t worry buyers, Carly makes sure the pen backers know where to put your cattle).
We start with a father like Charlie, who had a strong influence on his son’s self-sufficiency and taught him to not only do what he loved but also to do it successfully. Next, we move to a father like Clay, who never runs out of words to express his pride and love for his hard-working son, a genuine man who everyone loves and respects, or his beautiful daughters. Finally, we end with a little grandson, Cooper, who never ceases to bring a smile to Clay’s face and attributes to why the Parsons men are so dedicated. Clay says, “I see Cooper liking the same things we like and I want the next generation to get to grow up the way we did.” These men exemplify what it means to be a father. Clay kindly advised, “There are some things you won’t understand until you have a grandson.” Well, Clay, there are some things the world only understands when they look at generations of amazing ranchin’ and rodeoin’ fathers like the Parsons.
Blog post by Nicole Van Eerd, Arizona Beef Council 2017 Summer Intern.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Days of celebration with loved ones are upon us. While we enjoy the closeness of family and friends, entertaining and keeping those close people happy can pose challenging at times. So while your roast is in the oven cooking away, whip up a few appetizers to keep the hangry people happy and cheerful. We’ve listed five of our favorite appetizers for your easy access.
These bad boys tell your guests you slaved over the oven to make them, but you didn’t! Let them be fooled while they enjoy these little delights before dinner. Recipe from Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.
Though they may be little, they are mighty! Guests should be encouraged to have more than one and you can always offer up the secret of their nutrition content at the same time. These little guys are only 50 calories a piece and chocked full of zinc, iron, and protein! Recipe from Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.
From everyone here at the Arizona Beef office, we want to wish everyone a great holiday season. And we sincerely hope, we’ve helped to take some stress off your plate with this list of goodies!