Monday, October 17, 2016

Sheep ranching still present in Pinal County

CASA GRANDE -- When many people picture livestock in desert regions, their minds likely jump to cattle or horses. Some may not immediately guess that thousands of sheep have migrated between southern and northern Arizona for many years. In fact, more than a million called the Grand Canyon State home around the turn of the 20th century. In the early- to mid-1940s, there were about 50 sheep ranching companies in Arizona. But the number has dwindled to just three in the entire state since then, all of which are local to Pinal County: Auza Sheep Company, Manterola Sheep Company and the Joe Auza Jr. Sheep Company. Collectively, the three separate companies tend to about 13,000 sheep. According to a 2004 article in Acres USA magazine, “the numbers have decreased through the years as the prices for wool declined and the lamb prices remain unstable.” Nevertheless, it remains a passion and a way of life for the remaining companies, which approach sheep ranching in essentially the same way they always have. Though the three companies are independent, the families are related. Carmen Auza, of Auza Sheep Company, said her father, Jose “Tony” Manterola, was from Spain and her mother grew up in France, and they moved to the United States when they were 17 years old in 1907. Frank Auza — father of Joe Auza of the Auza Sheep Company — was also young when he came to the United States, and he began sheep herding when he was 13 years old. “I would say (it’s a) dedicated business,” Carmen said. “With a cattle business, you can just turn your animals out and go check them, (but) you just don’t leave the sheep and take off.” It may be natural to wonder how sheep fare in the Arizona heat. But the sheep ranchers have had that covered and have worked on the same year-round cycle for their entire careers. Ranchers choose to winter their sheep near Casa Grande, and much like the Arizona “snowbirds,” move them north for the summer by truck and walking. By June 1, the sheep herders take about 45 days — three to four miles a day — to walk the sheep to a cooler place like Flagstaff from Cordes Junction to the south. During the summer months, they stay cool and breed in pastures up north and are taken back to Casa Grande beginning around the end of October. The sheep are due back in Casa Grande within weeks. It’s “normal,” Carmen said, for a company to move the livestock according to the environment. Around November, the sheep begin lambing, followed by shearing beginning around January. They go to feedlots in Denver and California before being trucked to markets in April — by then, already weighing about 100 to 110 pounds — and the ranchers prepare to start the process all over again.

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