- Animals: bovine
- Animal Production: livestock breeding, range improvement, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, technical assistance
- Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures
Small-scale ranching is a long-standing and widespread tradition on the Navajo Nation. While most ranchers raise sheep or cattle primarily for their own consumption or for sharing with friends and family, there are a number of ranchers who are trying to generate income from their ranching operations, including some whose hope is to make it their primary or only source of income. Unfortunately, while Navajo sheep have a reputation for being high quality, Navajo-raised cattle currently have a reputation among buyers of being low-quality. The resulting low prices Navajo cattle get at the sale barn make it difficult for these ranchers to generate income. The proposed project would assist 6 of these ranchers, all clustered around Crownpoint, New Mexico on the eastern side of the Navajo Nation, to improve their herd and land quality. This group of producers, while not formally organized, have been exchanging information and attending workshops together for several years. They all have a strong desire to improve their businesses and the determination to make it happen. These ranchers have all implemented sustainable range management practices, including several who have completed EQIP contracts with the NRCS. The proposed project's Principal Investigator has been working both on range management and on herd improvement for a number of years, with some strong successes that his fellow producers are eager to emulate. The proposed project seeks to help these producers establish a baseline understanding of the current quality of their herds and develop both collaborative and individual systems for improving the genetics of their animals, tailored to the specific environment of the rangeland in their area (high altitude, low precipitation, cold winters, hot summers). This would be accomplished through the following three activities: 1. Randomly selecting three calves from each herd to be taken to New Mexico State University's Clayton Animal Research Center (located in the northeastern corner of the state) for "Ranch to Rail" testing. This includes measurement of yield grade, weight gain, and carcass quality. After the testing is complete, the project's Technical Advisor, Manny Encinias, NMSU Animal Science Specialist (at the Clayton Research Center), will meet with the producers in Crownpoint to explain the results of the test and to identify the baseline of herd quality against which improvements can be compared. 2. Identify the 6 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 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 their own genetics. Producers will then receive guidance in the kind of record-keeping needed to develop a breeding program that will generate these high-quality replacement heifers. (Currently, participating producers are in the habit of selling all their heifers and purchasing replacement heifers each year.) 3. Provide trich and semen testing services to 30 bulls within the herd that have genetic stock best suited to the environment so that these bulls can also be exchanged among the producers. This will assist these producers in collective marketing to help change the reputation of Navajo cattle. 4. Send a portion of each herd's cattle to NMSU's Valles Caldera sustainable summer grazing program and document resulting improvements in rangeland health. These four activities are an essential first step in enhancing the herd quality, land health, and income potential of the participating producers. These producers have demonstrated their commitment to improving their ranching operations, both for the health of their land and with the hope of generating profitable businesses that can be passed on to subsequent generations. They are seen as leaders in their community, and if they are successful, other ranchers in the region will want to follow their lead. Thus, the project is likely to have results beyond the participating producers. Even small increases in income would have a dramatic effect in an area with 44% unemployment and 56% of the population living below the poverty level. The participating producers see this project as an essential stepping stone to a larger effort around collective marketing, improving land lease agreements, and potentially creating a brand of Navajo cattle and/or beef.
Project objectives from proposal:
1. Establish a baseline for the quality of the participating producers' herds. This will be accomplished by sending 3 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 6 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 3-5 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 powerpoint 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.