Profile: Milford Denetclaw, Shiprock, NM
PROFILE: Milford Denetclaw, Shiprock, N.M.
|Milford Denetclaw: Beef producer. Shiprock, N.M.|
CATTLE RANCHER IMPROVES WATER DELIVERY ON NAVAJO NATION LAND
For generations, members of the Navajo Nation in northwest New Mexico have shared 23,000 acres of rangeland on which they live and raise crops. Milford Denetclaw’s family was one of a fortunate few to inherit a permit to raise livestock. While it’s a privilege, it’s also been a challenge for Denetclaw, who raises certified Beefmaster cattle that need to be segregated to maintain their bloodlines.
“Most of the Navajo Nation is open range with no real way of managing it,” Denetclaw said. “Watering holes are a common gathering area for livestock, and your livestock co-mingle with others.”
Preserving the breed was a main motivator for Denetclaw to apply for a SARE grant. To segregate his herd, he needed to create nutritious forage on his recently acquired 28-acre slice of the Navajo rangeland, and to do that, he needed to improve both his irrigation system and his grass species. Two years later, he is happy to report the project was a success.
Previously, Denetclaw accessed water from a 1920s-era canal that siphoned water from the San Juan River. However, he had to send water across his neighbor’s field, and the sandy soil absorbed much of it before it reached his pasture.
“I was so close to the main canal, I thought, ‘Why can’t I get my own head gate and bring water directly onto my farm?’ ” Denetclaw said.
With help from his local Extension agent, Denetclaw built a head gate, then regulated its flow with gated pipe. Gated pipe contains holes covered by slide gates that limit water flow.
His new irrigation system enabled Denetclaw to plant four varieties of cool- and warm-season grasses. In the first year, he was pleased to harvest two cuttings of hay. By the second, he ran his cattle on the pasture through the winter.
“I wanted a place where I could have my cattle for 60 days on pasture – that is not something too many people do,” he said. “I want to let the cattle harvest the grass, convert that weight and market my cattle and get my return rather than the traditional way of cutting hay and baling it, with all of those other expenses and time. What I grow will eventually go back into my cattle.”
Denetclaw demonstrated his renovations to other Navajo ranchers and presented a slide show during the annual conference of the Navajo Nation Soil and Water Conservation District. “As far as water delivery goes, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Denetclaw said.