Farming on the Mother Road - 8
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor
Mon Sep 15, 2014 08:48 AM CDT
(Page 1 of 3)

WINSLOW, Ariz. (DTN) -- Yes, Winslow has a corner where every Eagles fan and Route 66 enthusiast has to stand and have his or her picture taken with a mural of a girl in a flatbed Ford painted on the side of a building. "Take it Easy" is usually blaring from the gift shop across the street. In the middle of the road, a giant Route 66 highway sign is painted.

Mike Macauley has one of Arizona's largest sheep ranches north of Williams. Like most ranchers in Arizona, Williams spends most of his time managing water and dealing with invasive trees that compete with grass for sunlight and water. His ranch also has 63 wind turbines that were built three years ago. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

While Winslow has its corner, Williams offers its western style mixed with highway cruising nostalgia. Seligman has Delgadillo's Snow Cap -- a worthy burger stop -- while Kingman is home to the International Route 66 Festival. Getting to the old mining town of Oatman, Arizona, requires following narrow, hairpin turns leading Oatman's unique group of feral donkeys that hang out downtown and take up all the parking spaces.

Arizona along Route 66/Interstate 40 also has wide swings in temperatures because of 3,000-foot changes in elevation that tops 7,300 feet around Flagstaff.

The lack of reliable water and high temperatures in the desert limit agriculture in northern Arizona largely to livestock ranches. Yet, much of the state and parts of Nevada have been hit hard by rains in recent days, sparked by Hurricane Norbert making landfall in Mexico. Southern Arizona saw three inches of rain in eight hours, causing significant flooding as Arizona's soil aren't capable of absorbing such heavy rainfalls. It has been a summer of heavy rainfall with Winslow recording 2.7 inches in August. Farther west, Flagstaff recorded more than five inches of rain in August and Williams, Ariz., came in just under that.

Rancher Jim O'Haco lives in Winslow and also owns a tire store in town less than a 10-minute drive away from the town's famous corner. O'Haco serves as first-vice president of the Arizona Cattlemen's Association, and ranches in both the high desert and mountain ranges.

O'Haco's family has ranched in the area since 1910 when his grandfather first came out to Arizona and ran sheep. At one time, the ranch was the largest sheep ranch in Arizona before O'Haco's dad converted the ranch over to cattle in the 1940s.

On at least some ranches, producers are shifting to smaller grazing animals. Arizona lost about 1,700 cattle operations from 2007 to 2012, according to the 2012 Ag Census. The cattle herd also fell by about 89,000 head. Yet, the number of sheep and lambs statewide grew by about 26,700 animals during that five-year span counted by the Ag Census.

O'Haco has about 700 mother cows on about 100,000 acres, or an average of one cow about every 140 acres. "It takes a lot of acres to raise a cow," he said.

About 90 miles farther west, Mike Macauley owns Perrin Ranch, one of the state's largest sheep ranches north of Williams, Ariz. He owns 32,000 acres and leases 32,000 from the state. This summer he has about 4,000 sheep and 200 cow-calf pairs. In a "normal" precipitation year, the ranch could run as many as 6,000 sheep and 400 cow-calf pairs. The cattle are on the ranch year-round while the sheep graze about five months out of the year.

Macauley's ranch saw some reprieve from the drought this summer as some heavy rainfalls hit the area. "This place looks good. You wouldn't have thought it was the same place 30 days ago. It's greened up a lot," Macauley said in early August.

Though Macauley has sheep and cattle, he is able stock at a higher rate than O'Haco and generally operates at about 80 acres per animal.

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