By Julie Murphree with Arizona Farm Bureau: Today’s Arizona ranch families epitomize the sturdy, stalwart Arizona ranch families of the past: hardworking, innovative, determined and possessed of a dream. So what was ranching or stock raising like long ago in Arizona? Well, our historians highlight some interesting points.

 According to historians …

  • Stock raising in Arizona began as early as the 1690s with Spanish settlers and missionaries.
  • Large-scale ranching didn’t really take place until after the American Civil War in 1865, when conditions were more favorable partially because the U.S. Army and seasoned war veterans were now available to protect a growing nation flung out across the northern continent.
  • As a result, cattle numbers in Arizona quickly grew.
  • In addition, the windmill, which was used to pump groundwater into storage ponds, and two transcontinental railroads across Arizona, enabled large capital investments by businessmen seeing profit in the growing beef markets.
  • While an individual ranching family might have as few as a couple hundred head of cattle, managed livestock combined ran as high as 1.5 million head of cattle in the early 1890s, along with more than a million sheep, that roamed the Arizona landscape. Just two decades earlier cattle numbers were no more than 40,000.
  • Of course, severe droughts and other climate conditions changed the landscape. Plus, large landscape fires that kept shrub and mesquite encroachment in check were stopped. And most concerning, with the growth of larger herds, the reduced precipitation meant cattle and wildlife were overgrazing the open ranges, helping destroy shared pasturelands.
  • Arizona history marks 1891 as Arizona’s biggest calf crop during that time; in the interim less than one-half of the average rainfall soaked the ground.
  • Dry years continued after that with 1893 marking the first recorded drought to have major impacts on the cattle industry in Arizona.
  • The southern Arizona cattle population was decimated with up to 75% of all livestock dying. What was left was raced to market where prices plummeted.
  • Only the hardiest of Arizona ranchers stayed and many of these families are ranching today.

(Above photo: Members of Arizona Farm Bureau, Micaela McGibbon represents an Arizona ranch family that began ranching in this state in the late 1800's. They've carried the tradition of care for the land and cattle, hard work and innovation into the present time.)

Today, managed rangeland practices by our Arizona ranchers help preserve our lands including improving conditions for wildlife and our natural resources in general. In fact, today most who understand the environmental cycles, the dynamic ecosystems and the commitment to long-term preservation, contend that our ranchers ensure this symbiotic relationship between ranching and nature.  

Our Arizona ranchers come from a proud heritage and have great hope for the future. Join our family of Arizona ranchers by becoming a member of Arizona Farm Bureau!

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