Like the weather, many seasons on a cattle ranch bring different activities, challenges, and blessings. The Quarter Circle U Ranch, located in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, owned by Mike and Amy Doyle, and managed by my husband, Jordan Selchow, is in the middle of spring works, one of those very seasons. Many tasks happen year-round, with each season containing unique ones. Read on to learn more about springtime on the ranch.
Ranching in the Superstition Mountains is not for the faint of heart, as what we call pastures are actually canyons full of rocks, bluffs, and lots of cactus. This ranch uses horses for the work primarily because there aren’t roads or access for vehicles in most pastures, and, even if you can get a vehicle in, these cattle aren’t afraid to climb the canyon walls to get more grass and forage, a place most people wouldn’t want to drive an ATV. Mike and Amy, along with Amy’s dad and long-time rancher, Chuck Backus, aim to raise high-quality cattle which produce high-quality beef in rugged Arizona terrain, and this area is a great place to do just that!
Spring work starts with the gathering of the herd, made up of primarily Angus cattle, a breed known for the quality of beef it produces. During the winter months, the herd is kept in the Tule pasture. This is a long process that requires lots of help. Friends, family, and employees, all on horseback, set out a little after the sun rises to climb to the top of the Tule pass, a nice thirty-minute ride. Then the real work starts as we comb the canyon for cows and calves and push them back towards the pass. This type of riding isn’t for everyone and requires a sure-footed horse and a balanced rider to flush out the cows who moonlight as mountain goats.
Once all the cattle are gathered, they are housed in the home corrals. During this time, we breed the cows using a method called artificial insemination. Chuck, who owned the ranch for 40-plus years before Mike and Amy took over, found this was the best way to bring in superior genetics to reach his goals of high-quality beef. This herd of cattle is made up of only cows born on the ranch, outside of the bulls because most outside cattle don’t survive in this terrain and climate unless they were taught by their mothers how to eat and locate water sources.
Artificial insemination comes with lots of data, including carcass qualities and essential factors like calving ease. Because our pastures are significant, we will often not be with the cows when they calve, so we want to give them the best chance to have a successful birth alone. Calving ease lets us know how well a cow will do when it comes time for her to labor and calve, and when paired with other information like the birthing weight of the calf, which we want to be low, we can help ensure success in that area.
While the cattle are in the corrals, we also brand the calves, give them their first vaccinations, and castrate the bull calves (males). We are a little different from other southwestern ranches and use a calf table and freeze branding. A calf table is very similar to a large squeeze chute, except it is calf size and rotates toon its side when needed. This allows us to exert as little stress as possible on the calves for the shortest amount of time possible. Ranchers across Arizona and the country have this straightforward principle in mind, no matter what methods they use to accomplish these tasks: the less stress, the better.
Freeze branding is done with liquid nitrogen and a specialized brand. The freezing temperature of the liquid nitrogen damages the hair follicles where it is placed, causing white hairs to grow in the shape of the brand while not damaging the actual hide. This is helpful for when the animal goes to harvest, as carcasses with undamaged hides can sell for a higher premium and are more useful for leather products. Castration is also done at this point on the male animals. Much like neutering your male dog, this solves aggression issues towards humans and other animals and also eventually aids in producing high-quality beef.
Vaccinations are the final piece of working our calves and an essential part! At this point in our current world, we’ve heard a lot about vaccinations, and the ones given to our calves work in the same way that human vaccinations work, just against bovine diseases. Once our calves leave the ranch in the winter (look for that article coming soon), they go to a feed yard in Oklahoma, where they may be exposed to diseases they have never been exposed to before. Keeping our vaccination protocols updated and administered correctly can help ensure our calves are ready to fight off many diseases and stay healthy.
Once all of this work is done, the herd is moved to a different pasture on the Quarter Circle U. Each year the ranch looks at forage and grass availability on the range before turning cows out. This is done to ensure pastures aren’t overgrazed and can be used for generations. Also, consideration is given to the wildlife, like deer, bighorn sheep, and other desert critters. Ranching isn’t just about raising cattle. A considerable portion of it is caring for the land under our management and making sure it is healthy and viable for years to come.
As the temperatures are rising, summer lets us know she’s on her way and brings with her a new set of tasks and challenges. Check back soon to learn what ranch life on the Quarter Circle U is like in the summer. I’ll give you a hint: it’s hot!
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