Since the late 1500s, when Juan de Oñate won a contract to settle the land that would become New Mexico cattle ranching has been a vital thread in the state’s history and economy. It’s one of New Mexico’s most important and lucrative agricultural industries. Together, dairy and beef cattle account for nearly 80 percent, or $3 billion, of the state’s agricultural revenue. Most ranchers in New Mexico are owned and operated by multigenerational families, such as the Clavel family in Roy.
“The mild climate is one of the biggest advantages to ranching in New Mexico. Except for being a little dry at times, we are usually not too cold or too hot, and just a little rain at the right times can make a good year,” says Blair Clavel, who helps his father manage the family’s Twin Creek Ranch. “We are also relatively close to cattle feeding and packing areas, and generally get competitive prices for our cattle. That, combined with good people, makes New Mexico a good place to be in the cattle business.”
The Clavels have been ranching in New Mexico since the early 1920s when Celestin Joseph Clavel II, a French immigrant nicknamed “Frenchie,” acquired land in Quay County. After his death, his sons Celestin Joseph Clavel III, or “Jodie,” and Calvin took over the family business, and the ranch has remained in the family for five generations. Today, the Clavels run a commercial cow-calf operation, which includes a registered Hereford herd, on roughly 40,000 acres in Harding and Quay counties.
Much has changed about ranching since a then 17-year-old Jodie Clavel took the reins – inflation, regulation and escalating land prices, to name a few – but his son Joe Clavel says the greatest change has been in the availability and use of technology.
“I started helping my father when I was very young, and we did everything on horseback,” he says. “We fed with a rubber-tired feed wagon pulled by two big mules. We had no phone, and the Rural Electric Association was just bringing electricity to rural families. Now we have computers, drones and mobile devices.”
The Clavels have experimented with technologies such as artificial insemination, embryo transfer, electronic ID and renewable energy technology.
“Probably the greatest technology we have adopted is the use of solar power. The solar panel technology and pumps have come a long way, and it does not take many panels anymore to pump water to storage or fill tubs,” says Blair, who divides his time between the ranch and his work as the county program director for the Harding County Extension.
Renewable energy, which also includes wind power, is a major part of the Clavels’ sustainable production practices. Jodie Clavel, Blair’s grandfather, helped erect the windmills and lay the miles of pipe that bring water to the ranch.
“Windmills, the truest and oldest form of renewable energy, have been used on our operation for decades. In the last 30 years, solar power has become a bigger part of our ability to water cattle,” Blair says. “When you think about renewable energy, you have to think about profit centers and cash flow. How can a renewable energy practice cut back on fossil fuel use, but at the same time make my operation more efficient and profitable?”
While the Clavels are often credited for their modern sustainable practices, Blair Clavel insists the family’s conservation efforts are nothing new.
“Ranching and farming have been sustainable as far back as the Old Testament. Since that time, we have learned to adapt, conserve and couple new ways with old ways to ensure that we take care of this planet,” he says. “Of course sustainability is important to our operation. We want to sustain the land, the wildlife, the livestock and, most importantly, the people.”
Family is the Secret
Another thing that hasn’t changed about the Clavels’ ranch is the importance of family. Joe Clavel was assigned ranch chores as soon as he could walk, and now his grandchildren, the fifth generation to work the ranch, do the same.
“It was important for my father [to keep the ranch in the family], because he knew I wanted to ranch. It’s important to me because my son wants to ranch,” Joe Clavel says. “If we reach a generation that does not want to ranch, then I guess it loses its importance. It is my hope that never happens.”