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.

Arizona Beef Ranchers: Everyday Environmentalists

For Arizona’s ranching families, the land is not just where they raise cattle; it’s also where they raise their families. They have a personal stake in the quality of their environment – so they are always looking for new ways to improve the air, water and land on and near their property. 


Families and ranching go hand in hand. 98% of farms and ranches in the United States are family owned and operated and many of those are passed from generation to generation. The land isn’t just where ranchers raise cattle, but where they raise their families, provide open space and create wildlife habitat.

In fact, today’s cattlemen are significantly more environmentally sustainable than they were 30 years ago. A study by Washington State University in 2007 found that today’s farmers and ranchers raise 13% more beef from 30% fewer cattle. When compared with beef production in 1977, each pound of beef produced today:

  • Produces 16% less carbon emissions
  • Takes 33% less land
  • Requires 12% less water

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to beef sustainability. Rather, farmers and ranchers balance the resources they have available to meet the goals of their operation: responsibly raise cattle, take care of the land, provide for their families, and produce food for others. Rainfall amounts, temperatures, soil conditions, and vegetation are just a few of the regional geographic variables that affect how beef farmers and ranchers sustainably manage their operations.

Arizonans rely on farming and ranching families to manage and maintain more than 26 million acres of land in Arizona. A healthy aspect of sustainable beef production involves grazing cattle on U.S. rangelands, about 85 percent of which are unsuitable for crops. Raising cattle on this land contributes to the ecosystems by converting forages humans cannot eat into a nutrient-rich food humans can eat — beef.

Cattle Byproducts: More Than Just Beef

What do footballs, lipstick, charcoal, paint, and wallpaper have in common? They are all important items we use in our lives and they all come from cattle.

These guys, they are more than just beef! Photo by Dan Bell.

Wait, what? Yup, you heard us! Those items all contain an ingredient from cattle which we call a by-product. The main reason we raise cattle is for the delicious beef they produce. What is left over is called a byproduct. While the word byproduct might sound like something that isn’t useful, don’t let the word deceive you. These items are extremely important to many of the everyday items you use at home.

You can think of it as a recipe. Just like you have a recipe to make, let’s say, meatloaf, there is a recipe to make lipstick, or footballs, or paint. The recipe provides you the ingredient list and the steps to get you to the end product. The byproducts from beef are one of those ingredients on the list.

Just like this Summertime Meat Loaf has a recipe so do other products!
Photo and recipe courtesy of BeefItsWhatsForDinner.com.

When we harvest a beef animal, about 60% of that animal becomes beef. The remaining 40% includes things like skin, fat, bones, tendons, organs, etc. Here is where byproducts become especially important. We can’t waste half an animal! But we can use those items in inventive and innovative ways to help make our lives easier.

An obvious byproduct is leather. It comes from the cow’s hide. Cowhides are an important part of most of America’s popular sports. One cowhide can make 12 basketballs OR 144 baseballs OR 20 footballs OR 18 volleyballs OR 18 soccer balls OR 12 baseball gloves.

Gelatin is another great example of a beef byproduct. It comes from connective tissue and is a staple ingredient in anything that jiggles or has that well known springy consistency. Hello Jello and gummy bears! Marshmallows and gum are two other products which contain gelatin.

Photo from BBC News.

It’s not just yummy products which contain cattle byproducts. Many important medical items also contain these useful items. Ointments for burns and first aid creams use byproducts as an ingredient along with extremely important antirejection drugs, which are used when someone has a heart, liver, or other organ transplants. The sticky part on bandages can be made from the fatty acid.

Photo by Cattle Empire‘s blog on cattle byproducts.

Other items which contain beef byproducts are insulin, dog food, rawhide bones, laundry pre-treatment, bone china, toilet paper (to make it soft), glue, dish soap, candles, film, crayons, paintbrushes, printing ink, nail polish remover, deodorants, antifreeze, hydraulic brake fluid, car wax, highways, tires, and so much more!

Add this to the list of reasons why cattle are amazing animals. They take sunlight which was used by plants we cannot eat and turn it into delicious and nutritious beef and all of these things we use to help make life easier. Thank goodness for cows!

Graphic by Cattle Tales.

Meet Your Rancher: Ashlee Mortimer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The cattle enjoying the benefits of intensive grazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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