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Arizona Ranching - Then and Now

Written by Sarah King, King's Anvil Ranch

Cattle came to Arizona as early as the 1690s with Spanish settlers and Jesuit missionary Father Kino, but large-scale ranching in Arizona didn’t boom until the 1880s. By the early 1890s, there were 1.5 million head of cattle in the state – just two decades earlier, that number was no more than 40,000. In that mix of cattle and cowboys was Manuel King, who founded our ranch, the King’s Anvil Ranch, in 1895.

Those early years of ranching in Arizona were difficult ones. 1891 saw the largest number of calves born during that period, and 1893 was the first recorded drought to have major impacts on the cattle industry in Arizona. The cycle of drought presented challenges to the early cattle ranchers, who had limited knowledge of the desert landscape, and often overstocked the range. As was true in much of the western United States, Arizona saw the halt of wildfires that had been a regular occurrence on the landscape; in the case of Arizona, the wildfires helped to keep shrub and mesquite encroachment in check. 

As the years went by, and Arizona ranches passed on to their next generations, the families began applying lessons learned on the ranches, as well as knowledge shared by range scientists. Stocking numbers were reduced, and ranches became more resilient to periods of drought.

Today, our ranch, like many ranches in Arizona, is active in a variety of organizations that help with conservation on the ranch, and range management. Some of those organizations include the Altar Valley Conservation Alliance (a collaborative conservation group formed by the ranchers in our valley), the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Pima Natural Resource Conservation District, and the University of Arizona. We care deeply about the landscape that comprises our ranch, and our ranch management ethos includes conservation activities that benefit all of the creatures that live on the ranch.

We pride ourselves on low-stress stock handling to create gentle cattle, which looks out for the welfare of our animals, gives us a safe work environment, and ensures that we are marketing quality cattle, which in turn results in nutritious meals on your plate. The recent Guide to Arizona Agriculture put out by the State of Arizona, shared that 1.4 billion beef meals are raised by Arizona ranchers in a year. The beef community contributes $431 million to Arizona’s gross domestic product, as determined by The Contribution of the Beef Industry to the Arizona Economy by the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. We are proud to be a part of agriculture in Arizona.

Arizona Beef Council reported: 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

$1.7 billion - is the total contribution to state output

$521 million - is the total export value

43% - exports outside of Arizona

8 million - people could have been fed by Arizona ranchers in 2015

1.4 billion - beef meals were raised by Arizona ranchers in 2015

Year-round - production

6029 - farms and ranches with cattle in Arizona

310,000 - calves (babies) born in 2017

1 million - cattle and calves in the state as of 2018

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