For discerning shoppers who love beef, we are fortunate to have access to local Criollo beef right here in the Prescott area.
Criollo is a family of cattle brought from Spain in the 15th century. Those who have tried it say it's among the most flavorful and tender beef on the planet, rivaling Kobe beef.
The producers are Kim McElroy and her husband Dave Pawel of Broken Horn D Ranch, which they founded in 2002. Unlike many ranchers, they did not inherit it, nor was the property in great shape when they acquired it. With years of hard work and good planning, they have grown their operation to over 4,000 acres and command great respect as producers of some of the finest and most humanely raised beef in the country.
Having been very active training horses, Kim and Dave began team roping with Corriente cattle (a Criollo subgroup) because they had horns and were good to work with. They started building a herd and gradually moved into full-time cattle-raising. Corriente cattle are uniquely suited to life in this part of Arizona. They were originally the family cattle in Spain. The larger ones would serve as draft animals, but they could also be milkers or used as meat. Their temperament is good.
Cattle breeds are often designed for single traits, like being good milkers, or having a longer body and thus more rib meat, but when you breed for certain good traits, bad traits come with them. For instance, Angus cattle will marble on grain and they’re long-bodied, so you get more rib steaks. However, this breed also tends to get dystocia, or difficulty giving birth without assistance. Dairy cows tend to be terrible mothers. Corriente cattle don’t have these problems, because they’re not overbred. Grazing in Arizona is tough. The carrying capacity in this township is 64 acres per cow, and that’s only if it rains. Corriente are well adapted to grazing on high-desert terrain.
Broken Horn D cattle are “handled gently” from birth to death. They never leave the ranch for fattening on grain at a feedlot, as nearly all beef cattle do. Vaccinations are spread out and low-stress. Calves are brought in with their mothers, and not put into chutes or on tables. It’s all slow and quiet, and the cattle learn to trust their handlers and expect food when they see them. When Kim or Dave enter a pasture, they usually have food, so the cattle are comfortable coming to them. They don’t associate humans with stress.
Kim and Dave try to be good stewards of all their animals, treating them with care and respect. Their animals are NE3 certified, which means they are never given hormones, antibiotics or animal byproducts. All they eat for their entire lives is grown on the ranch. After weaning the cattle spend a couple of months in the irrigated pastures (think long, green grass), then put out on other pastures, sometimes supplemented with hay. As two-year-olds they're brought back into the irrigated pastures, till they reach slaughter weight, then gathered two at a time to go to the slaughterhouse. Going with a buddy makes the trip less stressful.
Kim keeps extensive and copious records of all things pertaining to her herd. The ranch pays a company called TechniTrack to audit the operation and all the books. (Kim says the owner of TechniTrack has often asked whether she’d consider teaching a course on record-keeping — she’s that precise.) Every calf is tracked from birth to slaughter. If an animal requires medication at any point in its life, it gets a red eartag, it's immediately taken out of the program and sold.
While the Broken Horn D Ranch is an ultra-clean operation and the cattle are fed only what grows on the property, without pesticides or herbicides, Kim and Dave have chosen not to get an official USDA organic certification, simply because the record-keeping requirements would necessitate their hiring two additional workers. They know exactly what goes into their herd, and are even more picky than the USDA. Many substances can be used on a farm or ranch that, because they are organic compounds like hydrogen peroxide or pyrethrins, are allowed under the “organic” certification. Kim and Dave don’t use any of those. They rotate pastures and don’t have too many animals on any given pasture, so they don’t have overgrazing or the common problem with flies.
Kim and Dave consider themselves grass and land managers, using cattle as their instrument. Kim still marvels at how cows can take plant cellulose that humans cannot digest and turn it into a protein that can sustain us.
Broken Horn D Ranch beef can be ordered directly from the ranch (928) 708-9385; BHDRanch.com), or in the parking lot at Tractor Supply in Prescott on Saturday mornings, 8-noon.
Abby Brill is Associate Editor of 5enses.