Unsung Navajo Heroes – Navajo Ranchers

Unsung Navajo Heroes
WINDOW ROCK, AZ. – Unsung Navajo Heroes.
That’s one way to describe the handful of Navajo ranchers who work quietly yet ardently behind the scenes to make a living.
And adding to their repertoire….satisfying five-star palates who enjoy premium beef.
A whole new level of deliciousness with rustic elegance and unbridled luxury.
That’s how Navajo beef captivates even the most sophisticated palate.
And just think, it all originated from the hard-working hands of Navajo ranchers on the Navajo Nation.
Although many Navajo ranchers have raised cattle all their lives, it wasn’t until recently that Navajo ranchers have taken it to a whole new level.
Due to their steadfast efforts to raise premium quality cattle, Navajo Angus beef is now being sold outside of the Navajo Nation.
From sun up to sun down…more than 60 Navajo ranchers from throughout the Navajo Nation saddle up their horses and are working tirelessly to produce one of the top cattle in the country.
It is not easy, but it is a way of life.
For others, it is a tradition that must continue.
And for this kind of business, there is no room for error.
Navajo ranchers who are part of the Navajo Angus Beef Program have to abide by stringent standards to assure they produce superior quality beef.
Some of the trademarks of a stellar Navajo rancher are Prayer….Dedication…Down-to-Earth Values….Good pasture management…Rotating the herd to prevent overgrazing…Installing water facilities…Vaccinating their herd…Mending fences…Weathering a dry spell…and the list goes on…So it is a constant work in progress.
But at the end of the day, it all pays off.
Just ask any Navajo rancher.
In fact, you might even get selected as Outstanding Conservation Steward of the Year and Rancher of the Year by the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture. Such was the case for three Navajo ranchers: Ruth Holgate Watson and Herbert Holgate who were presented a certificate for Outstanding Conservation Steward of the Year and Edward Tom who was selected as the Outstanding Rancher of the Year.
Watson said, “Ranching has always been a part of our life. We see ranching as our only source of survival. Ranching provides opportunities for our family, kids and grandchildren to learn about how to make a living with animals and our land.”
Her brother was not able to attend the quarterly rancher’s meeting so his sister Ruth Watson received the certificate on behalf of her brother, noting, “I give all the credit to my brother Herbert.”
Ruth and her brother Herbert lease a Navajo ranch south of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. At peak season, they raise 65 heads of cattle, but sometimes they have to reduce their herd depending on the amount of forage on the ranch.
Ruth, Herbert and many Navajo ranchers stated they constantly make ranch improvements on the ranch to maintain a healthy head of cattle, increase animal growth and take care of the land.
Yes it takes a lot of sweat and hard work to get the job done, but Navajo ranchers say the hardest part of being a rancher is not having enough moisture to keep the grass growing.
And there are some ranchers who have never made a profit.
Take for example Navajo Rancher Dean Gamble of Tuba City, Arizona. Gamble said he was given a lease about 10 years ago and finally broke even in the year 2014. He has 70 heads of cattle south of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
“I’ve had to use a lot of my own resources to make improvements to the area,” Gamble explained. “We didn’t make a profit for the past 10 years. It depends upon the market.”
Not every Navajo rancher is part of the Navajo Angus Beef Program, which is why Labatt Food Service Branch Manager Ken Monacelli is working to get more Navajo ranchers to participate. He was one of several speakers at the first Quarterly Rancher’s Meeting in January 2015.
Labatt Food Service has a business partnership with the Navajo Nation, which was discussed as a concept in 2011 and became a formal partnership in 2012. More specifically with the Navajo Nation Tribal Ranch Program’s purchase of calves from 14R Ranch of NahataDziil and Padres Mesa Ranch of Chambers, Arizona.
Today, Labatt Food Service continues to purchase calves from Navajo ranchers. The end product is sold to Navajo-owned casinos who include it on their menus.
In fact, Monacelli explained that Navajo beef is now being purchased by the Santa Ana Pueblo for their Tamaya Hyatt Regency Resort and Restaurant. The demand for quality Navajo beef continues to rise, Monancelli continued.
He stated Navajo ranchers who are part of the Navajo Angus Beef Program are paid top dollar for their cattle compared to other buyers in the region, noting, “We give dividend checks for high performance cattle.”
He has traveled the world and tasted beef from other countries.
“Cattle from the Navajo Nation has out-performed in taste, tenderness and quality against any other cattle in the world,” Monacelli said. “The demand of Navajo beef continues to rise.”
According to Monacelli, the number one user of Navajo beef is the Navajo Nation Gaming Association and the Navajo casinos. Just within the past year, Monacelli said there was a 75 percent growth in pounds used, adding, “They can easily use 100,000 pounds. We’re looking for more Navajo ranchers.”
In the year 2013, Labatt Food Service purchased 481 calves and paid back $439,768 and in 2014 they bought 552 calves and paid back $745,940 to Navajo ranchers.
Monacelli stated that the Navajo people use about 24 percent of their own beef.
The Navajo Nation owns 25 ranches, which are leased to individual Navajos, livestock and grazing associations and livestock companies. About 22 ranches are located in New Mexico and three are located in Arizona.
So when you’re enjoying one of life’s simplest pleasures…remember the Unsung Navajo Heroes who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to produce one of the finest beef in the world….It’s Navajo Beef with Pride.
Navajo ranchers…a hallmark of the Navajo people who speak volumes about the aesthetic tastes and values of a beautiful culture.