Western Farmer-Stockman Logo

They reduce fire danger by eating plants and benefit the soil.

Heather Smith Thomas

February 29, 2024

6 Min Read
Barzona cattle
Barzona cattle.Frank Fitzpatrick

Frank Fitzpatrick hires out his herd of hardy Barzona cattle to graze various areas in Orange County, Calif., to eliminate invasive weeds and brush and reduce fire danger. By moving the cattle around (with a high number of animals in a small area for a short time), they help regenerate soil and native plant communities. They eat plants that shouldn’t be there (reducing fire danger), and the soil benefits from nutrients left by the cattle urinating and defecating. A period of rest before being grazed again enables the native plants to thrive.

Fitzpatrick grew up at Silverado Canyon, Calif. He went to college at Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo and graduated in 1971 with degrees in Animal Science and Ag Business.

“While I was there, Newt Wright and I discussed many ideas. He grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho, and I met him before I went to college. He later became my cattle partner. He and his neighbor imported the first Limousin and Simmental cattle into Idaho,” Fitzpatrick says.

“I did my senior project on those two breeds. Then I studied Jan Bonsma’s work (South African geneticist) and how to evaluate, measure and select cattle for functional traits.  I’ve had cattle since I was in high school, in FFA. I liked to rope and ride, and I love cows,” he says.

“A friend of ours went out of the Barzona business and several of us bought his Barzona cows.  I bought 7 of those cows in 1979 and hauled them to Oreana (a small community in southwestern Idaho) to start my cattle business with these partners. We ranched in Idaho for 5 years.”

5-Bar Ranch

Fitzpatrick now has about 600 Barzona on his 5-Bar Ranch in California. For many years he and his family raised Barzona bulls for commercial cattlemen in range country, but quit selling bulls about 20 years ago. He started taking his cattle to packing houses, processing them, and selling beef direct to consumers. 

His Barzona cattle fend for themselves and can be a little wild. His method of gentling them is to rope them when they are calves, tie them down and hold them down until they relax and their adrenaline level drops—like imprinting a foal--so they no longer fear people but trust and respect people.

He’s been doing planned intensive rotational grazing for many years to improve the soil and pastures on his ranch, and now people pay him to graze areas that need to regenerate the soil, get rid of invasive plants, reduce fire risk and restore native plant populations.  “This is exciting, to get paid by people to mow their weeds!”

The University of California, Davis became involved with a project that uses his cattle to restore degraded land. His cattle became part of a pilot project with the Transportation Corridor Agencies to show the good job that cattle can do.

Many people think cattle are bad for the land. “They hate cows because they’ve been fed misinformation.” Fitzpatrick points out that overgrazing and environmental degradation is due to man-made decisions. It’s not the cow; it’s the how. Properly managed, grazing is the best thing that can happen to keep the land healthy or restore degraded landscapes, mimicking nature. Native plant communities evolved with grazing. Herds of grazing animals moving over the land stimulated the plants, spread their seeds and fertilized them. His Barzona cattle are well suited for this kind of grazing project.

History of the breed

These cattle were developed in the mountains and deserts of Yavapai County, Ariz., starting with crossbred cattle owned by the Bard family They wanted to develop a breed that could adapt to their rugged, rocky region with extreme temperatures, sparse rainfall, and sparse feed. They wanted to create a breed that could produce more pounds of beef per cow on this type of range.

In 1940 the Bards and the King Ranch partnered on a project, selecting 80 bulls from South Africa, and shipped them to Brownsville, Texas. “They had to quarantine them so they built a pen on the beach and fed them hay for 30 days. Then the King Ranch took 40 of the bulls and Bard took 40 to Arizona,” says Fitzpatrick. Bard also purchased 40 Santa Gertrudis bulls from the King Ranch.

In 1942 he bought a herd of purebred, unregistered, mountain-raised Hereford cows to be bred by these bulls. He was intrigued with the results of the Afrikander cross calves. The new breed was built on the Hereford cows and their daughters from the Afrikander and Santa Gertrudis crosses.

In 1946, Elliot “Jack” Humphrey joined the Bard family breeding enterprise and took over management of breeding operations. He combined genetics of the Afrikander, Hereford, and Santa Gertrudis. Afrikander bulls were bred to Hereford cows, to start the program.  The Afrikander has heat tolerance, high level of tick resistance, quiet temperament and fairly high fertility under harsh conditions. It is a heavy beef-type animal with good meat quality.

The Hereford was chosen for early maturity, good hindquarters muscling, close sheath and range ability—doing well in large rugged pastures. Santa Gertrudis bulls (a composite of Shorthorn and Brahman) were also used; it was felt that the three-eighths Brahman blood in Santa Gertrudis was beneficial for browse utilization, small calf at birth and good milking ability.

“The Barzona breed contains no Angus. When I talked with Jack Humphrey years ago, he said he bought 20 Angus bulls and turned them out with the crossbred cows and all those bulls died, and left no black calves. There are no black animals in the breed today.  Herefords, Afrikander and Santa Gertrudis are all red. Black is dominant and red is recessive.  If those black bulls had sired any calves, they would have been black,” Fitzpatrick says. Black is a poor color in a hot climate; black cattle spend most of their time in the shade while red ones are out grazing.

Slowly developed

The Barzona was slowly developed with planned mating to blend the breeds and fix the desired characteristics. No outside blood was added after 1955. Production records were maintained with rigid selection for fertility, rate of gain and mothering ability. Animals with the most desirable traits were used in the breeding program. 

By 1968, Barzona cattle were recognized as an established breed, and accepted by feeders and packers. The bulls were popular with commercial ranchers for crossbreeding, so in 1968 the Barzona Breeders Association of America was formed in Phoenix. In 1973 the Bard-Kirkland ranch was sold and the foundation herd dispersed. The cattle went to a few serious breeders who were dedicated to continuing their development and improvement.

The Barzona is a medium-size beef animal but actual mature size varies with the environment. These cattle may be horned or polled. Barzona are red, but tmay vary from dark to light red, with occasional white on the underline or switch.

With light birth weight and streamlined calves, they tend to calve easily without assistance and breed back year after year even under stressful conditions. Barzona bulls are hardy and vigorous, with high libido. They tend to reach puberty early and are useful throughout a long productive life. The breed does well in rough country and produces excellent beef under marginal conditions.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like