Eastern Navajo Cattle Herd Improvement

2012 Annual 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

Eastern Navajo Cattle Herd Improvement


By resting our rangelands, we improved our herd production performance on weaning weights and marketability. In summer 2010, Eastern Navajo ranchers graze 98 head of cattle at Valles Caldera National Preserve summer grazing range in Jemez Spring, New Mexico. The cattle grazed the mountain summer range for 120 days. Along with the grazing project, we completed our heifer development plan. New Mexico State University Livestock Specialist Dr. Manny Encinias did testing on our cattle for average daily weight gains, breeding conception rates and pre-conditioning processing on weaning calves. We received numerous day-long trainings from Dr. Manny Encinias on herd health husbandry. We scheduled a series of hand-on workshops on reproduction diseases, vaccination and protocols, respiratory diseases vaccination programs and how to use a method called “quiet wean” for pre-weaning market calves.

In 2011 we applied what we learned to our tribal ranch operations. We introduced a rational grazing system and synchronized our breeding season. The purpose for this herd improvement project is for ranchers to generate ranch operation income that will improve their ranch business, improve land quality and improve herd genetics. We want to become sustainable ranch operators with range and herd management practices in place.

As a result of this herd improvement project, we had the opportunity to rest our tribal ranches. We had plenty of forage during the winter months. In 2011 we increased our weaning weights by sixty pounds. Our cattle produced superior offspring. We increased our market income by fifteen cents per pound. We tested three beef steers on carcass merits. Most importantly we increased our forage production on our rangeland pastures. These Navajo ranchers are now practicing what they have learned from this project to increase efficiency on their own ranch operation.

Objectives/Performance Targets

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 to 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-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.


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, not just for the ranchers participating in the project, but for all interested cattle producers wanting to improve their herds, including non-Navajos.

photo release form

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Six Navajo cattle producers are participating in the Eastern Navajo cattle herd improvement project. Upon returning the cattle herds back to the tribal ranches in 2011, we implemented more studies on our herd improvement objectives. First, we collected data on range conditions. We did some range monitoring on plant identification and range assessment. Secondly, we focused our attention on our market options and designed a value-added calf pre-weaning program to our herd management plan. Thirdly, we tested three beef steers on carcass merits. Finally, we conducted three workshops on beef cattle management and reported our results of the herd improvement project to Navajo tribal ranchers and other interested cattle producers.

Monitoring our rangeland on the tribal ranches, in 2011 we collected and identified some grass species that were thriving on our range. We took the plant samples to a range botanist specialist Mr. Clifford Arnold to help us identify these grass species. By resting our rangeland during the growing season we found blue grama grass, western wheat grass, Indian rice grass, sand drop seed and galleta grass were the most abundant grass species on our range. There were some shrubs and forbs also, like four wing saltbush and broad leaf plant that grew during the monsoon season. We implemented a rotation grazing system to help manage our forage production during crucial growing periods and grazed cattle when grass plants already sprouted it seeds. We monitored our grazing by a technique used by the Natural Resource Conservation Service called “the take half and leave half theory.”

It is winter now, and the cattle still are in good body condition. This fulfills objective six and five. 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 cattle 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.

Our next step was to develop a market for our calf crop. As a result from using registered Angus bulls, our cattle produced some high quality Angus calves. The calves were born in March and April, 2011 and were sold on October 14, 2011. The producers designed a value-added calf pre-weaning protocol. We branded and vaccinated with shipping fever complex vaccine with cattle master gold fp 5 and blackleg 8-way vaccine, along with a booster series shot two weeks before the sale date. Our average weaning weights were 540 pounds, compared to last year’s weaning weight of 480 pounds. We increased our calves weaning weights by 60 pounds. We set up the 3rd annual consignment fall sale at cattlemen livestock auction in Belen, New Mexico. All together, we sold 128 head of 500 pound market steers for $1.30 per pound, compared to last year’s prices at $1.16 per pound. We increased our market income by 15 cents higher than last year. The auction manager Mr. Charlie Myers said “we top the market again, you all brought better steers this year.” This fulfills objective two on high quality market calves and adaptation to the environment.

Testing for carcass merit on beef steers, we had retained ownership on three randomly chosen 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. Their 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 meat was labeled as grass fat natural beef high in omega 3 fats. This fulfills objective one ranch to rail studies.

We hosted two workshops and one meeting in 2011. 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. I produced two PowerPoint presentation visual teaching tools for the tribal rancher workshops. 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. We hosted three meeting trainings on New Mexico beef quality assurance certification, livestock record keeping, and showcased the herd improvement project’s results to tribal ranchers.

As a result of the Eastern Navajo Cattle Herd improvement project, the tribal ranchers introduced conservation practices on their 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. Most of the project objectives and performance targets were fulfilled. Objective four was not conducted because some tribal ranchers purchased bulls that were already semen and trich tested. Furthermore the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture tribal ranch program conducted a bull leasing project, and all bulls had been tested at that time. Some of these bulls were leased to the remaining tribal ranchers. 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 by fifteen cents per pound. Our cattle had a three pound average daily gain at Valles Calder summer grazing, and a two pound average daily gain on the tribal ranches. The outcomes were heavier weaning weights on our calves at sale time.

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, then is sent back to the producers. We also want to do some DNA testing on our replacement heifers with igenity ear tags sampling. These are just some of our future expectation on ways we can measure our impact in producing genetically proven cattle.

Attached are two audiovisual PowerPoint presentation used as teaching tools on beef cattle management and updated results on the herd improvement project. Also attached is a write up in the Southwest Marketing Networking newsletter by the New Mexico Farm to Table office.


Leonard Shirley

PO Box 4153
Yahtahey, NM 87375
Kenneth Howard

PO Box 4153
Yahtahey, NM 87375
Office Phone: 5057352843
Dean Slim

PO Box 4153
Yahtahey, NM 87375
Marjorie Lantana

PO Box 1264
Crownpoint, NM 87313
Office Phone: 5057867285
Laverne Wagner

PO Box 4153
Yahtahey, NM 87375
Harry Moore

PO Box 68
Tohatchi, NM 87325
Dean Gamble

PO Box 721
Window Rock, AZ 86515
Office Phone: 9288104303