Those animals are criollo cattle.
Susie Eickoff says while trying to decide on a cattle breed, they watched as ranching friends struggled during New Mexico’s recent drought.
“Friends of ours had a large cattle ranch and they were selling off their cattle because there was no grass for the cattle, there was no water for the cattle, it was very, very severe on them,” she said.
The Eickoffs say they came across research being done on criollo cattle at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Jornada Experimental Range that showed the breed could adapt to the arid desert environment in southwest New Mexico.
Susie Eickoff says they read up on a lot of the studies being done on the criollo before selecting a breed that has been in the region for hundreds of years.
“This is a sustainable animal. It requires less food, less supplementation, less water, all of those things that the British breeds require more of,” she said.
She says that once a rancher goes through the struggles of drought, it’s very difficult to go through it again.
“They can survive these droughts and you know, it will get us through the tough times,” she said.
Jon Eickoff says that they are lucky to have 141 acres of land with irrigable water.
“Water is a premium in this part of the country,” he said.
How much of a premium? Research published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters found one in 30 wells in the West is probably dry. The study by Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, looked at data in 17 Western states covering more than 2 million groundwater wells.
In eastern New Mexico, there is concern in Curry and Roosevelt Counties about increased use of the Ogallala Aquifer.
Alex Rinehart, a hydrogeologist with the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, says he worries about the lack of recharge to the aquifer.
“Even if the drought reverses and we end up in wet period for a while, it’s not really going to change anything,” said Rinehart.
Rinehart says officials are looking into piping in water to the area as a solution.
As for a possible solution for ranchers facing drought, researchers at the USDA’s Jornada Experimental Range north of Las Cruces continue their work on the criollo.
Alfredo Gonzalez, an animal scientist at the range, drives out to check on a group of criollo cattle on the range in a pasture that he says is around 6,000 acres.
Gonzalez is comparing how this group of criollo compares to a group of Angus and Hereford crossbred to see how the cattle respond to the desert temperatures.
“They seem better adapted to the hot temperatures,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez says not only does the criollo thrive in the desert temperatures, but by monitoring the cattle with GPS tracking collars, they found the breed can travel further from water.
“We’ve found that they go days more without water, again, they are responding by going out further and so they distribute a lot better than the Angus. So those are things that the researchers are continuing to collect data on the breed,” said Gonzalez.