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How do grass-fed ranchers grow their herd after a drought?

2018 was a tough year for the Broken Horn D Ranch. The extreme drought conditions forced owners Dave Pawel & Kim McElroy to have to disperse about 40% of their herd. The majority of the BHD Ranch cattle live in range pastures year-round. These pastures are normally able to support the grass fed Criollo animals that make up the backbone of the ranch’s operation. Without adequate precipitation however, the grasses and forages failed to grow, so by the end of May the couple was forced to sell off 20% of the yearling animals and 10% of the mother cows and their calves at the local auction barn. The Ranch also stepped up the harvest (slaughter) schedule of the 2 to 3-year-old animals, putting as many in the freezers as possible to reduce the number of cattle needing to be fed.  

Forward to 2019, our area has received about 11 inches of moisture so far, mostly due to welcomed winter snows and spring rains.  People ask Dave and Kim if they have recovered from the drought yet, to which the couple replies sadly, “No.” Here’s why. Some of the cattle sold were already a year old, still about 2 years from harvest weight.  A lot of resources had already been invested in these cattle and the return at the auction barn was not a good one. BHD Ranch raises purebred Corriente cattle which are a specialty niche breed prized for their fine muscle fibers and superb flavor.  These cattle are not favored in the mainstream “industrial” beef feedlots as they all have horns and their meat characteristics do not match those of the traditional beef breeds. Kind of like apple to oranges. Also, the mother cows in production hit the market when many other local ranches, experiencing the same extreme drought conditions, were selling off cattle as well. With the market fairly saturated, these cows brought only .10 a pound on the hoof. Ouch!  

To “recover” and rebuild the herd will take a long time. The Ranch will need to retain heifers (young females) and give them 2 years to grow up before their first breeding. Then their first calves will take an additional 3 years to grow on grass to market weight.  That’s a 5 year process to see the first harvested animals. And every heifer added to the breeding program is one less available for harvest as a beef animal! Additionally, some of the pastures leased by the BHD Ranch are being lost to development, growing houses instead of beef. So the rebuilding process is a long and complicated one, but Dave and Kim remain optimistic. They have increased the acreage on which they raise hay in order to be able to feed some cattle during leaner times. Sales of the Ranch’s grass fed and grass+spent brewers mash fed Criollo Beef at the Prescott Farmers Market have been brisk. The Ranch also supplies BiGA and John’s Chop House restaurants with weekly specials.


Phone: 928-713-1227

Mailing address:
PO Box 1853
Prescott, AZ 86302