Eastern Navajo Cattle Herd Improvement

Final Report for FW10-060

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $29,992.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: Arizona
Principal Investigator:
Anthony Howard
Eastern Navajo Cattle Growers
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Project Information

Suitable ranching

In suitable cattle marketing, Navajo ranchers introduce cattle management procedures in herd health, breeding systems and rest-rotational grazing systems. In summer 2010, Eastern Navajo ranchers grazed 98 head of cattle for 120 days at Valles Caldera National Preserve summer grazing range in Jemez Spring, New Mexico. In summer 2011, Navajo ranchers conducted rotational grazing management on their tribal ranches. This year, Navajo ranchers improved their income with genetically proven Angus bulls and used an added valued calf program. The six participating ranchers advanced their ranching management skills and applied these techniques to their own ranch operation. The participants successfully topped their calf crop market every year since.

The ranchers applied what they have learned in the past two years to conduct self-study projects at their tribal ranches. Last year ranchers synchronized their breeding season. The purpose for this breeding system was to produce a uniform calf crop for 2012. The ranchers focused most of their attention on a calf vaccination program. They vaccinated all their market calves for shipping fever complex and weaned all their calves to improve marketing reputation and guaranteeing a healthier market calf. Lastly we learned that by preserving our range land grasses, we can increase our forage quality, which in turn improved our herd conception rates.

The final results of the herd improvement project showed we had plenty of range land forage to last us all year around. We increased our conception rate. Participating ranchers improved their herd genetic quality by using registered Angus bulls. Our calf crops were uniform on age and color. Our weaning weight on our calves had a moderate to a slight increase. Our market income dramatically improved by 44 cents. Most importantly Navajo tribal ranchers are being coming more self-sustaining ranchers.


If there is a will, there is a way

The Eastern Navajo Cattle Herd Improvement project was a two-year project. The project consisted of grazing management, breed improvement and improving cattle marketability income. The project started in 2010 and ended 2012. Six Navajo ranch families came together to better their ranch business in herd genetics, forage quality and increasing the sale income. Our first goal was to rest our range from grazing for one growing season. Our second goal was to increase our genetic traits by using superior bulls. Our third goal was to increase the value of our calf crop product. Our mission was to become self-sustaining ranchers and set a trend for other ranchers to follow.

Project Objectives:

1. Establish a baseline for the quality of the participating producers' herds. This will be accomplished by sending three calves from each ranch to the Ranch to Rail program at the Clayton Animal Research Center in late fall 2010. Cows will be tested for daily gain, yield grade and carcass quality.

2. Identify the six heifers from each herd that appear to be most well-suited to breeding in the Crownpoint-area climate/geography and bearing high quality market calves. These heifers will be sent in January 2011 to the NMSU Agricultural Science Center in Tucumcari to have genetic testing and to be put on a special feed diet. They will then be artificially inseminated with semen from bulls whose genetic qualities best complement the heifers' genetics. Resulting calves will be monitored for their adaptation to the environment, weight gain and market quality.

3. Provide two trainings (summer 2010 and 2011) to participating producers (and any other area-producers) on developing a breeding program using their own replacement heifers, including training on how to keep records of their cows' pedigree.

4. In fall 2010, conduct trich testing and bull semen testing on several bulls from each herd to ensure their suitability for exchanging among the producers.

5. Provide participating producers with partial reimbursement to send part of their herd to Valles Caldera in summer 2010 for summer grazing to let their range rest. Producers will observe and document resulting changes in their land.

6. Hold three to five meetings among the producers to discuss ways to develop a more uniform and higher quality herd. These meetings will be facilitated by Anthony Howard and will occur between May 2010 and May 2011.

7. Develop an audiovisual teaching tool (either a Power Point with voice over or a video) that captures the experience of the producers in this project and educates other producers on how to make similar changes in their operations.

8. Invite all ranchers in the area as well as Navajo ranchers in other areas to a meeting at the end of the two-year project in which the results of the project will be presented.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Dean Gamble
  • Kenneth Howard
  • Marjorie Lantana
  • Harry Moore
  • Leonard Shirley
  • Dean Slim
  • Laverne Wagner


Materials and methods:

Our methods for achieving our objectives for the project was as followed.

For objective one we wanted to establish a baseline on what type of calves we were producing. A ranch to rail test study was conducted on three twenty-month old steers for carcass merit. We had retained ownership on three randomly chosen three steer calves, weighing an average of 450 pound, from last year’s calf crop and pastured them on range grass for 330 days. We had them harvested and had the meat graded at San Juan Meat Company in Kirkland, New Mexico.

For objective two, during our grazing project, New Mexico State University beef specialist Dr. Manny Encinias conducted grazing testing at the Valles Caldera National Preserve summer grazing range. We tested thirty heifers for reproductive traits and weight gain. The heifers were bred to registered Angus bulls for ninety days.

For objective three, we conducted numerous rancher meetings in conjunction with the tribal ranch program. We hosted four ranching workshops and four rancher meetings. The first workshop was held on March 16, 2011 in Window Rock, Arizona. The presentation topic was on New Mexico Beef Quality Assurance certification and vaccination protocols. The second workshop was held on March 31, 2011 in Crownpoint, New Mexico. The presentation topic was on livestock record keeping. The third event was a tribal ranchers meeting held on December 16, 2011 in Crownpoint. The topic was on the Eastern Navajo Cattle Herd improvement project results. Two ranch meetings were held on March 16, 2012 and September 28, 2012. We also hosted a training on livestock record keeping and showcased the herd improvement project’s results to tribal ranchers.

For objective four, Navajo ranchers were given the option to have their bulls tested. We scheduled a fall and spring clinic bull testing trichomoniasis and semen exam.

For objective five, at the Valles Caldera National Preserve summer grazing range, we grazed ninety-eight head of cattle for a hundred and twenty days. We needed to rest our tribal ranches for one growing season. We wanted to improve our forage production and quality.

For objectives six, seven and eight, we conducted numerous meetings and workshops for tribal ranchers and other cattle producers. This goes along with objective two.

Research results and discussion:

The outcome for objective one - the three steers average daily gain on grass pasture was two pounds per day. Their finishing weight was an average of 1,110 pounds. The carcass weights were an average of 589 pounds, with a dressing percentage of 53 percent. The quality yield grade on the meat of the steers graded choice. The carcass quality meat was labeled as grass fed natural beef high in omega 3 fats. This fulfills objective one ranch to rail studies. We are testing three steers again in November 2012.

The outcome for objective two - thirty replacement heifers were tested in 2010 at the Valles Caldera grazing range. We had a fifty-five percent conception rate on our heifers. This completes objective five with the summer grazing project. Our heifers gained additional 360 pounds with an average daily gain of three pound per day. The cows and heifers were also bred to registered Angus bulls during the 2010 grazing project. For 2012 Navajo ranchers are keeping ten to fifteen heifers for replacement. Some good replacement offspring were produced from using registered bulls. The cattle herd really improved by selecting progeny for this breeding program, resulting in hybrid vigor occurring. These heifer offspring are outperforming the parents with heavier weaning weights. At the age of two hundred and five days old, our average weaning weight was four hundred and ninety-eight pounds, just shy of our goal of five hundred pounds. This is just an average weight; we did have calves weighing in at five hundred plus pounds.

The outcome for objective three - at every tribal ranch meeting we had high attendance; eight plus members are a part of the tribal ranch program. Eastern Navajo Cattle Growers is also a part of the tribal ranch program. More and more tribal ranchers are starting to practice what they have learned from the herd improvement project. They are now consigning to our annual fall calve sale. They are interested and they are now vaccinating their market calves.

The outcome for objective four - some of the participant leased bull from the Navajo department of agriculture and all these bulls have been already tested. For those bulls that were not tested, we had them tested prior to breeding season. The Navajo Nation really takes care of the protocol on breeding soundness exam on their bulls going on these tribal ranches.

The outcome for objective five - we monitored and identified some grass species that were thriving on our range. We found that blue grama grass, western wheat grass, Indian rice grass, sand drop seed and galleta grass were the most abundant grass species after we rested our ranch range land. We implemented a rotational grazing system to help manage these plant species during crucial growing periods. Range monitoring is a part of our ranch practice, and we use the take half and leave half technique introduce to us by New Mexico National Resource Conservation office. The cattle are in good body condition. This fulfills objective six and five.

The outcome for objective six, seven and eight - six participating Navajo ranchers are setting the path for other Navajo ranchers in becoming self-sustaining and are now collaborating with other family ranchers.The Eastern Navajo Cattle Growers group has grown into different coop group teaching what they have learned to other ranchers. We are now working closely with the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture tribal ranch program on ways we can involve more tribal ranchers. Two audiovisual PowerPoint presentations were produced. This was used as a visual teaching tool produced for the tribal rancher. One is a presentation on beef cattle management, and the other one is an informative presentation on the resulting outcomes of the herd improvement project. This fulfills objective three, six and seven.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:

We conducted numerous meeting and workshops for tribal ranchers and other cattle producers. (See methods)

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Potential Contributions

We have met all our objectives. As a result of the Eastern Navajo Cattle Herd Improvement project, tribal ranchers introduced conservation practices on their tribal ranches. They increased their ranching profits by producing the ideal market animals. They now have a better understanding on how climate and geographical environment has an effect on their cattle herd’s performances. Our findings were:

*By resting our tribal ranch pastures, we improved our cattle offspring’s weaning weights by sixty pounds.

*We increased our forage production with more palatable grass species on our ranch pastures.

*We increased our market margin on our calves sold each year.

Future Recommendations

We want to do more work on premium source verification data collection. This is an ear tag tracking system on market calves going through the cattle industry cycle. Data is collected on feed yard and carcass performance, and then it is sent back to the producers. We also want to do some DNA testing on our replacement heifers with identity ear tags sampling.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.