Verde Valley Leadership visits historic Dugas Ranch

Family descendants are still running the historic Dugas Ranch, working to make sure the land continues to nourish their cattle by rotating the herd to different areas throughout the year. This practice encourages growth of various plants and minimizes grasses that the cattle ignore and as a result, become overgrown and turn into a fire hazards. VVL courtesy photo

Family descendants are still running the historic Dugas Ranch, working to make sure the land continues to nourish their cattle by rotating the herd to different areas throughout the year. This practice encourages growth of various plants and minimizes grasses that the cattle ignore and as a result, become overgrown and turn into a fire hazards. VVL courtesy photo

Verde Valley Leadership class members recently witnessed a traditional cattle round-up at one of the oldest operating cattle ranches in Arizona: Dugas Ranch.

The ranch, located northeast of’ Cordes Junction in almost a ghost-town like setting, has been in operation since the late 1800s. Traditional methods of herding cattle are used in conjunction with modern equipment to make the branding, immunization, ear docking and castration of the cattle more efficient.

Although these methods of keeping track of the young calves may seem unkind, they have been in nationwide practice for centuries, and allow better identification of lost members of the herd, and control aggression and damage to the herd from fighting amongst young male calves.

Dugas family descendants are still running the ranch and managing the cattle. To reach the ranch, class members journeyed down the long road which winds through thousands of acres of US Forest Service and private lands.

The property’s boundary is marked by an old fence which is adorned with a hanging metal sign made distinctive with a backward “F”--the ranch’s cattle brand.

The brand harkens back to Fred Dugas, one of the original founders who arrived in the fertile valley in 1877 with his father.

Class members got a glimpse of Chuck and Trudy Birkemeyer (now in their 80s) astride their horses guiding cows and calves toward the ranch. After another hour, the couple emerged down the hill, now with hundreds of cattle … it was reminiscent of old Western movie.

The class guide for the day was Greg Feltmann, a Verde Valley Leadership alumni and former worker on the ranch. He regaled the group with stories about the family and his time working the land, pointing out centuries-old buildings and rusting tractors nestled in a beautiful landscape with flowing creeks and green pastures, rich with varieties of plants that provide nourishment for the herd.

The group also had the opportunity to visit the family cemetery where the crosses over the graves were welded together by old horseshoes!

The class was fascinated to learn that, back in 1909, Fred Dugas was approached by Arizona Power Co. (now APS) to bring electrical power to the ranch house. He refused, and as a result, the ranch house is powered a solar panel generator.

The Childs Power station on another part of the property did supply the ranch workers with power, but bringing it out to the “Indian Cabin” part of the land would be cost prohibitive now.

Class member learned that living on the range requires hard work and tremendous responsibility, especially where land management comes into play.

The family maintains original water rights to the land, which requires regular reapplication. They also have to abide by restrictions on certain areas of their land due to US Forest Service enforced endangered species breeding areas, so the cattle have to be moved around during the year when the calendar changes.

With sustainability in mind, the family works to make sure the land continues to nourish their cattle by rotating the herd to different areas throughout the year. This practice encourages growth of various plants and minimizes grasses that the cattle ignore and as a result, become overgrown and turn into a fire hazards.

The class was able to experience the fruit of this labor while witnessing the mass of cattle and calves herded together in the pens, a crescendo of notes orchestrated by the cows crying out to seek their calves culminating into a “bovine opera”, an event rarely experienced by a city dweller.

This was in such stark contrast to the silence experienced by the group an hour later that it seemed like it was intermission. Trudy, Chuck and their extended families seemed not to notice as these are everyday sounds to them that have been echoing down the centuries in this valley.

This field trip to Dugas Ranch was organized by students as part of their curriculum.

Verde Valley is a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization with a vision of “Inspiring individuals to Action”. VVL has enhanced and developed professional skills in community minded individuals since 2006. For further information, please visit www.vvleadership.org or e-mail info@vvleadership.org.

Information provided by Verde Valley Leadership

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