Differences. We live in a world full of them, a world where people and places and things and opinions are different from one another in their own way.
Diversity. Another word for differences, you could say, but with a whole separate definition depending on its context. We live in a world where landscapes are wildly diverse from each other and within each other. We are lucky in this sense. I believe that we are lucky to live in a world with such diversity that entire ecosystems are so deeply intertwined, everything thrives harmoniously. Take, for example, the landscape that makes up some of the ranching area in southeast AZ.
We have mountains to hills to valleys to canyons or creeks. We have pinon and juniper trees and we have mesquite trees and greasewood. We have limestone and volcanic rock, prickly pear and cholla cactus, yuccas and sacawesta, and some wildflowers.
We have roadrunners and little song birds and quail and doves and hawks and owls and buzzards and crows (and even a few very special birds during migratory seasons).
We have rattlesnakes and rabbits and mice and bugs and lizards and gila monsters.
We have mountain lions and bobcats, deer and antelope, javalina, badgers, bears, foxes, and squirrels (among so many other things I haven’t listed here).
My point is, this area of the southwest is unique and beautiful and diverse. But, one thing all of these diverse details needs, is water.
Water is a hot topic, especially in the southwest. It is something that is on the minds of ranchers and agriculturalists every day, whether we are being blessed with rains and are giving thanks for having strong wells or we are praying for any moisture in a drought. Ranchers, being everyday environmentalists, constantly work to provide America with safe, wholesome, nutritious beef in the most sustainable way possible, and a big part of that sustainability deals with water.
As a sixth generation cattle rancher, I can assure you that the concept of raising safe, wholesome, nutritious beef in a sustainable way is not a new concept for us. The entire beef community works to continuously improve our methods in order to further reduce our carbon footprint so that we can keep raising delicious beef using fewer resources. We have a working relationship with Mother Nature; and a few examples of that partnership include providing livestock waters that are utilized by wildlife, maintaining open spaces for ranching and simultaneously preserving wildlife corridors, and grazing cattle which helps prevent wildfires. All of our efforts, from the smallest to the most entailed, require water in one way or another.
Thankfully, we got a light shower this week, but it didn’t do too much good (other than lay some dust and produce a pretty sunrise the next morning!).
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate every drop of water that falls on the ranch, but we are still praying for more rain. Unfortunately, it’s not in the forecast again for our area any time soon. The lack of rain last year, combined with slim chances for rain in the near future, have provided some challenges going into the spring this year. We have had to sell some great cows that just weren’t pulling through good enough down here, with gratitude that they were sold to someone who has some better pasture than we do right now. We have also been putting out bales of Sudan hay and quite a few extra protein blocks in hopes of helping our cattle pull through this (hopefully brief) tough time.
There’s a weed that grows here, we call it “bladderpod mustard,” and it is some of the best stuff around if allowed to mature long enough. My grandpa said that once it seeds out, it’s like feeding grain as far as nutrition goes. There’s a few places on the ranch where these little plants are coming up, but they could really use a few good rains and some relief from the cows eating them all the way down before the plant has matured.
Also, our vast spread of mesquite trees are attempting to leaf out, and shortly following that, they will hopefully bloom and set their tiny little beans, which will grow likewise to the equivalent of a good grain crop.
When I see the mustard and mesquite scattered amongst the volcanic terrain, there’s another ray of hope for this pluviophile (n. a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days).
So, as always, we pray for rain and give thanks for any rain that was received in the past. We pray for rain not just because rain is essential to survival, but also because rain helps the weeds grow; rain helps the plants provide more nutrition for the cattle; rain soaks into the soil and gives life to those plants that otherwise would have not made it very long without a drink; rain puts water in dirt tanks used by cattle and wildlife; and rain, above all else, provides hope for growth, more moisture, replenished soil, and easier times for the cattle.
We, as members of the beef community, believe in leaving the environment in the best shape possible for the next generation. We will always love raising cattle while preserving our nation’s resources, despite the many challenges we may face. Our challenge right now is feeding our cattle, and we will rise to meet that challenge. It’s humbling, and it’s tough, but it will always be worth it when at the end of the day, you can look back and say that you are a rancher, you care for your cattle, you care for the environment, and you care for this way of life.
Here’s to good rains, great friends, and healthy cattle,
P.S. Interested in how the beef community is becoming more and more sustainable? Here’s a great infographic all about that! Visit www.FactsAboutBeef.com for more information!