The Evolution Of Feedlots In Imperial Valley

BY CAROL HANN

Cattle in open pens. This card was mailed from El Centro March 5, 1920 to an address in Portland, Oregon. The card was published by Davis Drug Store in El Centro. The description on the back reads, “ ‘Feeders’, Ready to Ship. El Centro, Cal.” Postcard from Carol Hann Collection

Since the beginning of the last century, the cattle industry has had a significant role in Imperial Valley. Before the Valley was settled, some San Diego County ranchers drove their cattle on a seasonal basis to graze on the wild grasses that grew in the Imperial Valley.

Many early Imperial Valley pioneers had small family dairies and grew alfalfa to feed the stock. As those dairymen left the area, their fields were transformed to grow other crops.

As word spread of Imperial Valley’s ability to sustain crops and cattle throughout the year, cattle ranches in the west began shipping cattle to
the Valley to graze in grass and harvested sugar beet fields before they were shipped to slaughter houses.

It is thought that World War II played a significant role in changing the local cattle industry. During the war years beef was a much sought after food by American troops stationed in the South Pacific. Demand for beef consumption also increased in California, Arizona and Texas because of the labor force that moved to these areas to work in the defense industry located there.

It was impossible for local cattlemen to fulfill orders for beef, so members of the livestock industry advocated for a feedlot approach for fattening cattle. Conditions could be kept constant and costs could be minimized. The cowboy herding stock was phased out, as cattle were confined to one area and did not roam in pastures. Scientific studies of mixing grains and other food for livestock consumption became a new industry.

Hartman and Williams Feedlot in Calexico and the A.J. Kalin Lot near Brawley are considered to be the first two modern feedlots in Imperial Valley.

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