MINER MAG Q2 2022 MOBILE - Page 14


Ken James uses his horsemanship skills to corral a calf trying to break from the herd .

The Byner lands are leased to another area rancher . Yolo is managed by James . The ranch ’ s value to the company is as a land bank , not as a cattle ranch , Middleton said . However , it generally does break “ pretty close to even ” from its cattle operations , he said .


James spent his whole life working cattle ranches in Texas ( where he was born ), New Mexico and Arizona . He came to Arizona in 1972 and eventually ended up working on a ranch near Tucson for the same family who owned Yolo in Yavapai County . The family hired James as the Yolo manager more than 20 years ago , and he stayed in the position when Freeport bought the property .

Working for Freeport has advantages rare in the ranching industry , including good pay , insurance benefits and a retirement plan . James rarely gets visits from company officials and is trusted to manage the ranch as he sees fit .

Paperwork and most of the administrative functions , such as paying taxes and government grazing fees , are handled by people in Bagdad or the corporate offices . That leaves James free to do what he does best , which is run the day-to-day cattle operations . He is the only Freeport employee at the ranch , where he lives with his wife Sheryl . He hires temporary cowhands as needed , a common practice on area ranches , especially during spring and fall roundups .

Yolo is good cattle country , with plenty of brush and grass for feed and abundant water most of the time , James said . The terrain is the biggest challenge , with almost no flat ground and long , deep canyons , where the cattle tend to migrate between roundups . Driving them out is tough on the cattle and the horses . It ’ s also tough on James , but it ’ s the kind of hard work on which he thrives .

Cattle are moved between corrals to prepare for branding .

“ When we ’ re working horseback and stuff , it gets a little tough , but it ’ s a rewarding kind of tough ,” James said . “ It ’ s harder to manage than a lot of ranches because of the terrain . It ’ s good cow country , but with the rocks and the ups and downs and the steep country , it ’ s tough to manage . That ’ s just the way it is .”

James doesn ’ t want to talk about his age , opting instead to say he ’ s not slowing down and still can keep up with the younger ranch hands . He has no plans to quit what he loves doing .

James knows he eventually will be gone , but he also knows that he and Freeport always will be a part of the land ’ s history and heritage , just like early settlers who founded Yolo Ranch .

“ One day I won ’ t be here , but my tracks are still here ,” James said . “ They might be rained out , but they will be here so to speak .”

Ken James relaxes with his wife Sheryl after a long day of working with cattle .