What does a doctorate in nuclear science have to do with animal science? Scratching your head? While neither have much to do with one another, they both are part of our latest Where Food Comes From story. This week we visit Chuck Backus of Quarter Circle U Ranch in Arizona. This former engineer turned rancher is taking beef quality to new heights. Let’s find out how Chuck and his family are hitting the mark.
For 36 years, Chuck Backus, a Virginia farm boy at heart, had a very high-profile academic career at Arizona State University (ASU). In the 1960’s Chuck was part of the space program’s Mars Mission. He later assisted with the world’s premier solar-testing laboratory and served as the first ASU associate dean of research in the 1990’s. Although his academic career was extremely successful, Chuck felt something drawing him to return to the outdoor life.
In 1977, Chuck and his wife, Judy, purchased a 10-acre piece of land with a 22-section grazing lease of Arizona State Trust land. Even though his commute to the college would be 45 minutes, he knew this was the place he would be calling home. Chuck attended classes at Arizona State that focused on animal science and range management, and through trial-and-error practices, he was able to gain more hands-on experience. He focused on land and water improvement and those improvements were recognized by the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).
Chuck knew there was more improvements to be made, which included adapting the Angus breed to the Arizona climate. After extensive surveying of the land, Chuck developed an unusual cattle rotation plan by moving the herd to specific sectors of his ranch during specific months. This allowed more cattle to be raised along with improving the overall quality of the land. In addition to improving the land and water, Chuck also worked tirelessly to improve the facilities for the cattle by adding new lanes for smoother cattle movement, tubs, and in-line electronic weight scales.
In 2004 Chuck retired from ASU to focus solely on ranching. By 2006 he was collecting genetic information on his herd and he had determined there were ways to raise higher quality calves. By understanding the genetic traits of his cattle, Chuck was able to provide a better tasting product for consumers. In 2014 and 2015, 84% of his beef qualified for either “Prime” or other certified grades. These calves were raised as “natural calves” carrying the “Verified Natural Beef” certification. Chuck has had lots of success raising high quality cattle and remains extremely close to the community. He currently participates in multiple lectures and conferences educating other ranchers on modern techniques to produce quality products.
Today, the Circle U Ranch participates in the Source & Age, Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC) and Verified Natural Beef (VNB) verification programs through the IMI Global division of Where Food Comes From. When asked why he utilizes verification programs, Chuck replied,
“I strive to raise gentle, high carcass quality calves in a very humane way, but in a very harsh environment in Arizona. Each year, I have my calves and ranch operations inspected and certified by IMI Global. By retaining ownership through a feedlot in Oklahoma and then selling to a specialty packer in Kansas, I am able to receive multiple premiums for my calves – thanks to the IMI Global certifications.”
Over the last 5 years Chuck has received numerous awards for his advancements in the industry. While his first goal was to raise highly efficient cattle so consumers had the best tasting product on their dinner table, his techniques have also improved other elements of farming, such as the land. Chuck plans to help close the gap between farmers and suppliers to deliver better food for generations to come.