Cattle ranching may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Arizona, but in many ways the state's beef industry is as rich and established as any of its Western neighbors. Indeed, the history of cattle ranching in Arizona spans more than 300 years, and while it has experienced periods of boom and bust, today it remains an important part of the state's economy.

Arizona's Ranching History

Cattle ranching in Arizona dates back as far as 1690, when the first cows were introduced to the region by Spanish settlers. Technological innovations following the Civil War brought the infrastructure necessary for wide-scale growth, and the first permanent ranch in the territory was established in 1872. The industry took off and, by 1890, more than 1.5 million heads of cattle called the region home.

However, a combination of drought and unsustainable land management practices soon led to a near-collapse of the industry. By the time Arizona was admitted into the union in 1912, cattle stocks had declined by as much as 75%.

Arizona's Cattle Industry Today

Though ranching in Arizona never fully regained the prominence of those early years, cattle continued to outnumber people in the state until the 1950s. Today, an estimated 880,000 head of cattle and calves are present in Arizona, spread out over more than 6,000 ranches and farms in each of the state's 15 counties.

While not as prominent an industry as in nearby California and Texas, cattle ranching in Arizona nevertheless generates a big impact:

  • Annual sales of calf and cattle in the state total more than $1.17 billion, accounting for approximately 18% of agricultural commodity sales.
  • The Arizona beef industry contributes $431 million to the state's gross domestic product.
  • In 2014, 5,411 people were directly employed by the beef cattle industry in Arizona. In addition, 3,347 jobs were created in related industries as a direct result of the economic importance of cattle ranching.
  • Grazing fields account for 73% of total land use in the state and 98% of its agricultural landholdings.More than 721 million pounds (live weight) of cattle are processed each year. Of this, 57% is consumed internally, and 43% is exported outside the state.

Future Challenges

If Arizona's cattle industry is to continue to grow and thrive, it must learn from the lessons of the past. Adopting more sustainable practices can prevent overgrazing and better position ranchers in the state to survive as periods of drought become more common. As a large percentage of Arizona cattle is grazed on public lands, greater collaborations with state and federal agencies will be necessary. As well, rising consumer demand for organic, humanely raised beef will require further changes to the way cattle are raised.

Whatever the future brings for Arizona's cattle ranching industry, Arrowquip will be there to support beef producers throughout the state. Our squeeze chutes and other cattle handling equipment are an essential part of ranching operations in Arizona and beyond. To learn more about what we can do for your operation, visit our locations page to find an Arrowquip dealer near you.