By Patti Wilson, Contributing Editor
Elizabeth “Izzy” McGibbon is heading home to the family ranch in Green Valley, Ariz. She will be well-armed with a thorough education upon hitting the gateposts of the Santa Rita spread. Her parents, Drew and Micaela McGibbon, are wise in advising their oldest child,“You do what you want to do, the ranch will always be here.”
Izzy translated that to mean: Leave and learn different cultures. If you’re not learning, you’re stagnant and take opportunities while they last. Then, you can make your own opportunities.
The senior animal science student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) has taken her folks’ advice well. After getting her bachelor’s degree, she plans on graduate school, attending a different institution yet to be determined, to study reproductive physiology.
Izzy’s fearless attitude may be attributed to the guidance of her father, who accompanied her on a search for the most suitable college. After looking at several state universities, she attended a Cattle Industry Convention in Phoenix. The University of Nebraska manned a booth at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Trade Show and it struck Izzy as the place she wanted to be. Later, a solid scholarship offer came through from Nebraska. Izzy reflected that their program had the most to offer, citing the Engler Entrepreneurship Program as a huge factor in her decision. Her entrepreneurial plan is to create a whole new breed of cattle, adaptable to the hot Southwest climate but tolerant of northern winters. They must be resistant to nuisances like ringworm fungus and insects. Izzy is thinking practical.
Along with taking an advanced repro degree home, she realizes that someday more diversification will be needed for the family operation to survive. A branded beef program and custom harvest facility is in the back of her mind, along with a reproductive service. More than anything, she looks forward to helping run the Santa Rita’s registered Red Angus cow herd.
Why the Cattle?
Izzy, being curious and open minded, initially looked into human reproductive medicine as a career. She says the in-vitro fertilization technology was amazing. However, after an opportunity to shadow doctors in a major medical center prior to COVID, she says her “moral compass came off.” The ability to manipulate human life before birth was a red flag to her, and she’s not ready to cross that line.
“What is meant to be is meant to be,” she says, refusing to deal with the ethical and moral dilemmas tied to human embryonic technology.
In addition, Izzy maintains that agriculture is at the forefront of almost all technology, making everything else happen. The world needs ag, why not progress it for the next generation?
Rounding Out a Great Education
Last summer, Izzy was employed as an intern at the American Gelbvieh Association office in Lincoln, Neb. It entailed a lot of computer work and member assistance. Her favorite undertaking was working with young Gelbvieh members during their Junior National show. Other tasks included an across-breed bull sale analysis and providing data on EPDs, prices and genomic data changes on sale stock over a period of years.
She interned at Trans Ova Genetics in California in 2021, saying the exposure to the dairy industry and their use of technology were irreplaceable.
A tenure at the University of Arizona’s harvest facility in the summer of 2020 adds to the experience she’s working to accumulate. Her goal is to sample all aspects of the beef industry, enabling her to communicate about every facet accurately to producers and consumers. This includes non-agricultural folks, anti-ag groups or even cattle producers removed from other segments of the beef business.
Izzy has had some experience dealing with PETA, who regularly makes a trip to her local county fair. She has been instructed by her experienced mom to “stick to the facts” when accosted by negative advocacy groups.
For example, three generations of her family have recorded daily temperatures for the National Weather Service. A portion of the land leased by the Santa Rita is the University of Arizona Santa Rita Experimental Range that was founded in 1902. The family works with the university to create a pasture rotation system while allowing students across the country to conduct experiments of all types. Izzy says ranchers are being sued over endangered species claims and, consequently, have solidified groups like Arizona Cattle Grower’s Association to combat litigation and conduct lobbying. Land rights and water usage are constantly on the battleground. These people need clear communication from a level and knowledgeable head like Elizabeth McGibbon’s.
Additionally, some of her favorite learning venues are at various conferences, workshops and conventions.“You can learn more outside the classroom than in. I try to keep in the know,” she says.
The Santa Rita
What will Izzy go home to someday? Her generation is the fourth on the Santa Rita Ranch. An hour and one watershed away, her Uncle Joe King is managing the King’s Anvil Ranch, the family’s fifth-generation ranch in southern Arizona that was started by her great, great Grandfather, Manuel King, in the 1880s.
The stocking rate at Green Valley is upwards of 70 acres per pair. Forages for their Red Angus herd include many different species of grasses, shrubs, prickly pear, cholla (yes, these are grazeable) and mesquite beans. Their cattle utilize many plants other than grasses year round.
An interesting aside is a story about Izzy’s parents, who raised Barzona cattle previous to having a family.
The heat-resistant cattle were good producers, but hard to handle and could be downright dangerous. When Izzy was only a“bun in the oven,” parents Drew and Micaela began using Red Angus bulls, selected to produce a more docile herd for the safety of their children.
One major annoyance is caused by urban infringement. Izzy related they are pressed upon by housing developers regularly. COVID sparked an increase in off-road or all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use across the ranch. Urbanites, not familiar with range etiquette, tear up roads, water lines and leave gates open, creating another layer of constant patrolling just to keep cattle watered and in the correct pastures. In nearby ranches, wind and solar farms are creeping over agricultural land, as well.
Major problems arise from the fact that the Santa Rita’s headquarters is located only 40 miles from the Mexican border. It is considered “ground zero” for illegal immigration activity by U.S. immigration staff. Why? A gap in President Trump’s unfinished wall, abandoned by President Biden, funnels illegals directly onto most of the area’s ranches. Izzy relates that there is a constant stream of traffic moving across their ranch, by foot. Most of this movement is closely tied to the Mexican drug cartels. Details are sad and shameful. Danger lurks so closely that virtually no family members have been able to go out on the ranch to work alone, since 1999. The open border affects not only the people living in the area, but this past summer, her mother found a cow dead near a water tank. She had died because of scattered trash left in the desert by illegals; pieces of backpacks, blankets and clothing created a blockage in her stomach.
The family refuses to sell out and move their ranch elsewhere, however bad the circumstances. Izzy says there is too much family history, including a private family cemetery, at the King’s Anvil Ranch, to up and move. The family will stay put. Her request to our readers is,“Just remember, every time you see or hear of drug trouble, those drugs likely moved across one of our family ranches. If not ours, our neighbor’s.”
It takes guts to face these challenges, and Elizabeth McGibbon is up to the test. Well-armed with a great education, ambitious and backed by a good family, she will make a significant addition to the beef industry.