Stirling Spencer: 2014 Cattleman of the Year

Writer: Carol Wilson

New Mexcio Stockman,  November 2014


Stirling Spencer, 1971 NMSU chemical engineering alum, was named 2014 New Mexico CattleGrowers Cattleman of the Year.

New Mexico has always been a land protected and loved by the strong and the fearless, where the courageous and the bold protect and care for what is theirs. One hundred years ago, this was often done by men with pistols strapped to their hips and rifles in saddle scabbards. Legends were made in those early days in the West.

But the men who are the stuff of legends still walk among us. They are men who have a vision for the West, are thoughtful in word and deed, and who take care of their business, and the cattle industry, in a way in which the whole is made better. Such a man is Stirling Spencer, the 2014 New Mexico CattleGrowers Cattleman of the Year.

Like the legends whose names became famous a century ago, Stirling is a man whose actions and influences are almost larger than life. He cuts an inspiring path across history. His interests are diverse. He is always independent and sometimes controversial. His analytical interpretations of the cattle industry are based on an engineer’s skills and knowledge. He values hard work and likes to do a job right the first time. He is forward-thinking and thought-stimulating.

And he is also somewhat of an enigma. He is a brilliant engineer who approaches problems with keen insight and sharp intelligence, but he likes the play the role of dumb cowboy. This 4th generation New Mexico rancher thinks nothing of performing his stewardship duties on the Bar W in shorts and a tattered t-shirt instead of Wranglers and a button-down. He reads history voraciously and still uses the surveying instrument owned by his great-grandfather, but he also tracked commodity trends, cattle markets and weather patterns via satellite long before computer usage was a common thing on ranches. He sets the bar high, expecting a lot from himself and others, yet a simple vanilla ice cream cone can make him the happiest man on the planet.

Perhaps Stirling inspires others because of the conundrums of his life. He is an international brackish water expert whose work is in demand overseas, yet his life dream has always resided with the cows and land of rural New Mexico. His father and grandfather were both military and Stirling was the 1968 New Mexico Military Institute’s Regimental Commander, yet he has spent his life as an activitist for all things agriculture.

Stirling grew up hating horses because the rogue horses he rode as a youth were always dumping him in the dust or bloodying his head. But along the way to adulthood, he came to love horses, putting together a band of mares with top bloodlines and training the colts himself.
Stirling is a public figure whose great-grandfather, William C McDonald, was the first governor of the state of New Mexico– but Stirling didn’t inherit the Bar W. Instead, he purchased it from two generations of his family. He is fiscally conservative and worked night and day to save Lincoln County $25,000 when he was a commissioner–but when a family with eight children moved to town, Stirling slaughtered a steer and filled the family’s freezer because he thought it was the right thing to do.

An upbeat attitude, innate curiosity, and enthusiasm for life have gained Stirling a host of friends and admirers in every segment of New Mexico society. The Stockman got this renowned cowman to slow down for a visit at the Bar W Kitchen counter. Because it is almost impossible for New Mexico ranchers to separate the name of Spencer and the Bar W Ranch, the discussion began with the historic ranch, back in the days when the United States government designated what is now known as New Mexico as a territory of the United States.

Water has always been important

The West was wild and rangeland wasn’t fenced. The man who employed the bravest cowboys and the most skilled gunmen could control most of the range. Just north of present day Carrizozo was Carrizozo Spring, the jewel which watered everything in the valley. This spring could produce over 100 gallons of water a minute and provided the liquid of life for the thousands of cattle that grazed the northern edge of the Tularosa Basin.

The spring and the land within a day’s distance of the water were controlled by a Spanish-American family from Tularosa, according to Stirling’s research. Unfortunately, however, records from that era are rare. The earliest recording Stirling has of the present day Bar W bears the date of 1869, when the United States made New Mexico a territory and Lincoln County was created. L.G. Murphy and Jimmy Dolan, who later became infamous as major participants in the Lincoln County War, owned the spring and the range and sold cattle for consumption in Fort Stanton. However, Murphy and Dolan had overextended their finances, and Thomas B. Catron called the mortgage. Catron didn’t want the land, though, so he sold it in 1886 to an English investment firm.

At that time, White Oaks was a bustling gold town and a young man named William C. McDonald arrived in White Oaks as the United States Surveyor designate. These were the years just following the Lincoln County War, remember, and surveyors were often in danger as they marked out boundary lines. W.C. must have done his job well, because as he was surveying mines and land status, he was approached by the English group to manage their properties, still called Carrizozo Cattle Ranch. W.C. began managing the 400 section ranch in 1890.

W.C. was shipping cattle by rail to the markets in Kansas City. He had built a strong rapport with a contact in Kansas City and often asked the man to ship him back some good Hereford bulls to improve the quality of the local cattle. Besides building a ranch, W.C. was highly involved in territorial politics. He knew that New Mexico’s bid to become a state would someday become a reality, and, as a leading Democrat, he had political aspirations. In 1910, W.C. sent a letter along with his cattle, asking that his contact at the yards send out a man who could be his secretary. The only stipulation in the letter was that the man must be able to use a typewriter.

Truman A. Spencer, 19 years old, somehow obtained the information that a man in the territories needed a secretary. Though Truman had only a sixth grade education, he felt he could do the job. W.C.’s contact at the Stockyards told Truman that he didn’t have the necessary skills. Truman didn’t argue. He just bought a typewriter and boarded the train, and by the time the train whistled into Carrizozo, Truman was a fluent typist.

The same year that Truman joined him, W.C. began buying stock from the English group, who were tired of the amount of money they weren’t making from their investment. In 1912, W.C. was elected as the first governor of the newly formed state of New Mexico. W.C. and Truman continued to pay down the debt, and the English were paid off in 1916. Truman also married the McDonald’s only daughter, Francis, before the governor’s death in 1917.

The land was big and the men were also. Before his death, W.C. worked to purchase the Block Ranch, so named because it was indeed a block of about 250 sections of private land. In time, Truman ended up owning the Block, along with several other present day ranches. Truman knew there were lots of wild cattle in the mountains that were too spoiled to gather, so he put cowboys to work trapping the cows and necking them to donkeys which would eventually lead the cattle out of the mountains and down to the ranch. Truman and his cowboys gathered enough wild cattle out of the mountains make the down payment on the Block.

The Spencer family’s interests just kept growing. At one time, they included 3,000 horses at 7 Rivers which both the United States government and the Mexican government wanted for remounts. The story is told that in the old days, when the 20,000 head of cattle came out of the Block ranch headed for the railhead in Carrizozo, the last cattle were trailing past the bald hills near White Oaks when the first of the drive were pushed through the open gates of the stockyards. The land was still largely unfenced, and cows would still leave a babysitter with their calves, trail in to water at the spring, and then go back out to babysit for another cow that needed a drink.

Truman and Francis raised four children. William Spencer died at 16 from a burst appendix. Jane, Truman Jr., and A.N. grew up as their parents continued to build their ranching interests. Truman Sr. formed an alliance with three other gentlemen in the 1930s: A.D. Brownfield, Will Ed Harris, and Jess York. The four, called the Cuatros Amigos, owned over 2,000 sections of New Mexico rangeland and purchased the White Sands Missile area from the Teapot Dome Scandal Receivership.

Truman, Jr., went to school at New Mexico Military Institute and stayed for two extra years as Polo coach and Tactical officer. He courted Marion, whose father was a Colonel in charge of Military Science at NMMI. After Truman, Jr. and Marion were married, Truman Jr. served the U.S. military as a squadron commander in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Susan and Stephen were born when Truman Jr., was in the Military.

In 1946, the rancher turned military man took his bride and two children to a one-room shanty on the Block ranch. Marion had been raised as an officer’s daughter who had her horse brought to her. She had to learn how to boil water and how to kill chickens on the Block, and learn she did.

Growing up cowboy

Two notable things happened in 1948. The first was that Truman Sr. sold the Block ranch for a million dollars. The same year, Truman Jr. and Marion welcomed their second son, Stirling, in Roswell, New Mexico. The young family moved to the Bar W in 1949, and the three Spencer kids grew up playing with horses and cattle. “My morals and my spiritual beliefs came from my mother,” Stirling reflected. “My ethics, belief in responsibility of self, and drive to work and succeed came from my father.”

Another adult who made a lasting impression was a neighbor and 4-H leader Nancy Knight. “She taught us about the benefits of crossbreeding and cattle efficiencies in the late 1950s and early 1960s,” Stirling remembered. ”Nancy was very smart and always taught the latest information. She was important to me, and to this day I support 4-H because I believe in it. Nancy gave her time and made a lasting impression.”

Sometimes it was hard being the youngest of three children. “I always got the horses that no one else could ride,” Stirling remarket ruefully. “They threw me and bloodied my head. I was 12 years old before I could stay on a horse.”

Susan remembers things differently. “I wished Stirling hadn’t learned to ride, because he would get a yucca stick and poke my horse in the flanks trying to get him to buck,” she remembered.

Risking everything

Truman Jr. had inherited one third undivided interest in the ranch from Truman Sr. and Francis. Truman Jr. told Stirling and his siblings that they couldn’t make a living on a ranch that size and they needed to acquire the necessary tools elsewhere. Susan became an airline attendant, Stephen became a Colonel in the army, and Stirling, the youngest, excelled at New Mexico Military Institute before pursuing Chemical Engineering at New Mexico State University.

Stirling chose Chemical Engineering because it was a tough, challenging curriculum that led to a career where he believed he could always find a job. Even though the bottom fell out of the engineering job market the semester he graduated, he found an engineering job in Houston for a year, came back to the ranch for six months, and went back to Chemical Engineering in El Paso, Texas. By the time he was 28 years old, Stirling was chief engineer for an international company and headed towards being a director. He traveled internationally and was known as an expert in water issues. Things looked good for the young chief engineer, but he took a deep breath and a big risk and asked Truman Jr. if he could buy the ranch from him. Truman made Stirling ask both his brother and sister if they wanted the ranch. When both replied in the negative, Truman and Stirling made a deal and signed a contract for Truman’s third of the Bar W. After this part of the debt was paid, Stirling negotiated with his cousins in the early 1980s to buy the remaining 2/3 of the Bar W which had been owned by his aunt Jane Turner and uncle A.N. Spencer.

Stirling was on the Carrizozo School Board by this time and active in New Mexico CattleGrowers. He credits another legend, Alvin Stockton, with getting him active in CattleGrowers. “Alvin pinched my ear and threw me into the tax committee and said, ‘Go do it, boy,’” as Stirling remembers. And he was on his way to owning the Bar W in its entirety.

Obtaining contracts was, in hindsight, the easy part. The high interest rates and low cattle markets of the 1980s made it a rough time to be buying a ranch, so Stirling returned to the work he had trained for and again became chief engineer. Other directors lived in homes on the golf course. Stirling lived in a shoebox apartment in San Antonio and made the 11 hour drive home to the ranch in New Mexico every three weeks to do his books, work cattle, and confer with ranch foreman Allen Langley.

“Thank God for Allen and Barbara,” Stirling noted. “Through their help and management, things got done while I was gone.” When Allen was hired, there was only one set of corrals on the ranch, and that was at headquarters. Stirling had the vision of improving the working convenience on the ranch by adding corrals in all the main pastures, building cross fencing, and replacing and expanding the pipeline system so the ranch would be better watered. All were accomplished in the 19 years the Langley’s lived at the Bar W.

Stirling also knew that in order to pay off the ranch, he needed to maximize efficiency. He set four main goals: 1) To raise a 700 pound calf in 7 months on the ranch environment. 2) To genetically engineer production so he could market calves at weaning, back grounding, feedlot or on the rail and get maximum profit in efficiencies/grade/yield while maintaining a cowherd with maximum fertility and moderate size. 3) Increase the value of the ranch’s environment while maximizing beef production. 4) Create a trophy antelope herd while increasing the deer and elk population and habitat.

As Stirling’s San Antonio secretary, Amy remembers the long days Stirling spent at the office prior to his return to the ranch. “His devotion to his family and the ranch and his enthusiasm for that lifestyle was contagious,” she noted. “Stirling was just a born leader, never asking anyone to do something that he was not willing to do or go somewhere that he did not go first. I’ve always admired that about him.”

Stirling again chose ranching over a more lucrative career as an engineer and returned to the Bar W for good during antelope season of 1989. He had a vision to expand and wanted about 5,000 mother cows. He didn’t have the funds, so he leased other ranches, backgrounded cattle and took them to the yearling stage. He developed a computer program in which he input the cost of gain, conversion factors, breeds of cattle, supplements, market trends and other variables along with expected prices he would get for selling as a calf, yearling, feedlot, or on the rail. He learned a lot about feeds and feeding, cattle management, anatomy and nutrition.

“Stirling has always been ahead of his time in the use of technology,” noted Dr. Jim Miller. “He hired me in 1979 for the school system and I noticed that he followed feed prices, the weather and cattle trends on satellite way back before anyone had computers. He looks at problems like an engineer. He is very comfortable with numbers.”
Allen, ranch foreman, concurs, “He was always looking for ways to improve the management and researching the breeding,” he noted. “He is to be respected and admired in overcoming obstacles, researching and striving to find answers when faced with issues that would deter and defeat many normal individuals.”

Stirling tried four or five different breeds before he decided that the Red Angus-Gelbvieh cross was an adaptable animal that would create protein in the Bar W environment, stay healthy, and pay for the ranch. Once he decided what kind of bulls he needed, he searched the country until he found superior genetics, and went and got them. “I’ve been paying $6,000 for the bulls I buy, but I’d bring them home and realize that I had their match in the corrals at home,” he noted. “I know that because I’ve measured my calves through ultrasound, DNA, feed conversion, and for quality grading and efficiency. So I started selling bulls to other ranchers. I’ve sent bulls to ranchers in quite a few other states and all over New Mexico.”

Though Stirling was a keen businessman who, of necessity, focused on the bottom line, he also enjoys the simple basics of life. There was nothing he wouldn’t tackle. One night, Stirling was in charge of supper at the Bar W. “That was the only time I ran away from home as a kid,” remembers his son, Stirling Jr. “If Dad should invite you to his home for a meal, I would highly encourage you to ask that all important question ‘who is cooking?’ ”Stirling Jr. added, “You will thank me later.”
There were also funny times in the corral. Barbara Langley recalls, “One time Stirling literally got ants in his pants while we were branding and he was dancing at the chute and yelling ‘Barbara, turn your head’ as he started peeling those pants off.”

Go the way

During the years Stirling was paying off the ranch and trying to expand the ranch’s capacity, he also put his strong opinions and beliefs to work in service the cattle industry and his community and state on a number of different levels. He became involved in local government in the 1990s because he believed that western counties had vested rights and the responsibilities of representing and protecting their people and their way of life and industry. Stirling served two terms as Lincoln County Commissioner and has served as a board member for the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties. He is a former member of the board of the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. He has also served on the Production Credit Association board and was a director of the Tom & Evelyn Lineberry Policy Center at New Mexico State University, and the NMSU Corona Ranch Advisory board. Stirling’s family has been members of Cattle Growers longer than any other family, and he has served on the Board of Directors of the NMCGA as well as serving as president of the CattleGrowers Foundation, for which he was a founding member. Stirling was a candidate for the New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands and is currently a Lincoln County Probate Judge.

”Stirling can make the hard decisions that a member of the school board or the county commission or another body has to make,” stated Dr. Jim Miller. “He brings a lot of perspective from a lot of different places, and he isn’t afraid to speak up. It doesn’t hurt, either, that he knows about 9,000 people across the state, so he brings a lot to each decision he makes.”

Retired Brigadier General Jack Fox has known Stirling since they were both cadets at NMMI. Jack remembers that as a young man, Stirling served as Regimental Commander, which meant that he was in charge of other cadets. ”He would make hard decisions, even as a young man,” Jack remembers. “He would always make the right decisions. He was unflinching in his honor code. And he has lived his life that way. He is a guy who doesn’t lie, cheat, or steal. He is right down the line on stuff. I’m telling you, if I’ve ever known anyone in my life who was John Wayne, it would have to be Stirling. In every instance, he lives what he believes. His adherence to his honor code is unwavering.”

Jack Fox and Jim Miller both claim to be part of Stirling’s unskilled labor force. Another member of the force called the crew “cheap labor.” The force includes big city businessmen, secretaries, military men, friends from overseas, fellow pilots, school superintendents, doctors and airline attendants, teachers and locals. They gather when Stirling plans a branding or a gathering and are often paid in aches and pains, memories of cattle wrecks, the smell of good horses and the camaraderie that comes from working a herd.

After 30 years of being part of the labor gang, Dr. Miller is still convinced that Stirling is good at taking calculated risks. “Look at his solar business,” Miller noted. “Stirling is on the leading edge of new technology. He has always been interested in engineering. His specialty is water. And he has combined both interests to benefit agriculture.”

Stirling’s secondary business, Bartz-Spencer Solar Services, designs, installs and services solar pumping systems for ranches and domestic use as well as light commercial use. He has installed solar systems in several states and expanded too Central America for a time before refocusing on the southwestern United States.

Miller added, “Not only does he know what he is doing, but he does business on a handshake. If he says something is the way it is, then that is the way it is. Even in the solar business world, you can do business with him on a handshake because he is just that kind of a guy.”

Show the way

Stirling does take risks, but he doesn’t expect anyone to go into territory he isn’t willing to explore first. One time he was sitting in a meeting of the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico counties when a potential lawsuit was discussed. Stirling though the coalition should fight the lawsuit, but the coalition didn’t have the money. He was still paying for the ranch and didn’t have the money either, but he pledged the funding for the defense of ranching just because he believed in the cause.

At another meeting, there was a lot of talk about the lack of funds needed for CattleGrowers. Stirling didn’t do much talking, but he made himself part of the solution. When he met Phillip Bidegain in the hall, he discussed the funding problems and summarized, “If you will put up $10,000, I will do the same and we will start a foundation to benefit CattleGrowers.” Phillip wrote out a check. Stirling didn’t have the money, but he told his banker he needed feed, and he matched the money and started the foundation with $20,000. He served as the first president of the foundation and always reminded members that the only reason they were on the foundation was to raise money for CattleGrowers.

Ranching, by its very nature, is a multi-faceted business. A man has to understand and apply the principles of banking, law, medicine, nutrition, marketing, sales, genetics, management, cattle handling, and people management. After spending half of his life buying a ranch, Stirling has come to two conclusions. One is that no one should be a rancher if he doesn’t really want to know the animal. “We can control our knowledge of the laws that pertain to the industry and the finances that pertain to the industry and the health issues that certainly affect our business. We can also be knowledgeable about the animal that we are using to create protein from vegetation and know everything we can about the health/medical/nutrition/digestion and value of inputs for those animals,” he noted.

The other conclusion is that one has to like the cattle business because a rancher only gets to control two percent of the things he needs in order for his business to survive. As Stirling explains, “Ninety percent of what we need is given to us by God in the form of rain showers, good soil and good forage. The worst rancher who gets the rain is the best rancher, and the best ones who don’t get rain just don’t seem any good at all.”

This lesson was learned in painfully dry years. Stirling had the ranch bought by 1998, but by that time the ranch was two years into 15 year drought. “Grass grew all around me in those years, but not on my side of the fence,” he recalls. “In that time, I learned about gin trash and molasses and secondary supplements. I leased more country. I was killing yuccas for the cows to eat and I cleaned up my genetics faster than I would have I normal years.” He also spent thousands of dollars building fence and refurbishing the ranch. Even though the cattle were off on leased pastures, he knew they were coming back and planned to be ready.

Then came 2011. In the last 15 years, the historic Bar W had only had two years of halfway decent rain showers. In February, there were two weeks of minus 20 degree weather. The wind that had started blowing in December averaged 50 mph and didn’t quit blowing until June. Windmills were blown down. There was no frost line to protect grass roots so 35 percent of the grass was killed by the cold.

Stirling again made a hard decision and reorganized. He sold a large portion of his cowherd, loading the genetics he had built for years onto a long line of trucks. “It was hard watching him ship those cattle away, because he spent so many years working so hard to build that herd,” noted Susan.

But the last 18 months brought much-needed moisture to the Bar W and Stirling, as a good manager does, has re-evaluated. “I’m rebuilding,” he stated. “Thanks in part to a young man named Kendal, my foreman.”

No man is an island

Stirling’s conversation is peppered with references to others who have made or continue to make a difference on the Bar W. First on the list was Pete Johnson, hired by W.C. McDonald and still remembered as “the finest foreman who ever managed ranching,” because he knew how to manage both men and cattle. Pete was considered so important to the Bar W that W.C. built a house for his large family to attract him to the ranch.

Jose Vega of Nogal sold Truman Spencer Sr. 300 head of cattle years ago and the Vegas and Spencers have supported each other in managing cattle ever since. Jose’s grandson, Henry, at 81 years of age, still rides for the Bar W, along with his son, John, and daughter Audrey. Stated Henry. “It doesn’t matter what is going on, we know we will help each other. “
Allen and Barbara Langley worked for Stirling for 20 years and are as close as family. “We treasure the years on the ranch,” stated Barbara. “There was never a dull moment. Stirling could cowboy on horseback in jeans and boots, or on a four-wheeler shooting over ditches or flying across rocky terrain, or in shorts and sandals astride a motorcycle.

Brian Bartz, stepson, stayed on the ranch during the drought years as a hard worker and friend.

Current foreman Kendal Wilson has worked for Stirling since he was 12 years of age. “We started training horses and went to working cows. He went off to college and got his degree and then his Masters. Now I am his understudy,” Stirling stated. (Everyone who knows Stirling agrees that that is a good sound bite and then laughs at the very idea.)

Then there are the memories of the ranch that others carry in their hearts. For some, it is the sight of a herd being brought in at sunrise, followed by breakfast over the campfire with Stirling’s cowboys (and a few of the cheap laborers!) For others, the memories revolve around a trail ride that Stirling hosted for fellow NMMI graduates. Still others recall Stirling’s laughter, or his thoughtfulness at a time it was least expected.

Susan reports that her brother is a fabulous prankster. One day while working cattle, she noticed Stirling dismount and thought he was trying to push a small calf on foot. There was no calf on Stirling’s radar, though. He was busy stomping the life out of a rattlesnake. He finished killing the snake and they worked the cattle. When the work was done, Stirling tossed Susan the keys, saying, “You drive, I’m worn out.” Susan turned to open the door of the pickup and encountered a rattlesnake stretched across the windowsill. “I screamed and took off. I think they picked me up down the road, after my heart started beating normally,” she laughed.

Barbara remembers putting out liquid feed in an old truck which would often leave her stranded in the pasture, far from headquarters. She walked home many times. “Stirling’s response was always his huge hearty laugh,” according to Barbara, along with, “we want you to sign up to walk a marathon because you have been conditioned and trained for it.”

Son Stirling Jr. knows very well how important rain is to his father, and how potentially dangerous it can be for those around Stirling. “Like a moth drawn to a flame, my Dad will always find a way to get himself stuck when it rains on the Bar W,” Stirling Jr. reported. “He is a pro at getting stuck, even after only a tenth of an inch of rain. His family and friends have become so accustomed to this proclivity that at the first sign of a rain cloud, we scatter like flies. Because it is not that he just gets stuck, he gets stuck in the most remote, challenging terrain on the ranch, which usually requires a half-day walk home.”

Some friends have ridden in Stirling’s plane, confident in the fact that their pilot can (and has) put the plane down anywhere. Some, like Judge Martha Proctor, has observed Stirling’s unique ability to make friends with people from all walks of life and communicate complicated ag issues in clear, understandable language. “He can talk to the president of Yale University or to another cowman and express our views and the solutions that we might have,” she stated. “He made an excellent county commissioner and a very good judge, and he follows the law to a T. I enjoy working with that kind of person.”

“No one is smarter than Stirling or better at ranching,” noted Carl Lane Johnson. “He is one of our best.”

Stirling, from his perspective, credits his parents, his brother Steven and sister Susan, and his sons, Chris, Stirling Jr. and Brian, for their unflagging support and encouragement.

He has our back

Retired Brigadier General Jack Fox has been a soldier most of his life. Stirling, he says, is the kind of guy he would want on his right. “You can count on him,” noted Jack. “His word is his bond, his loyalty is unquestioned. It takes a lot of guts to be a rancher these days, and Stirling is one who is always looking to improve ranching. He will always be involved in taking his ranch to the next level.”

“He is an excellent spokesperson for the cattle industry and conservative values and Christian ethics, all of which are important to this country,” added Judge Proctor. “He is honorable. What you see is what you get.”

Remember the goals Stirling set for himself in the early 1980s? He presently achieves a constant 650 plus pound weaning weight from 1,100 pound cows that are very fertile and require minimum maintenance. The cattle convert on 5.5 DMB and grade Choice therefore optimizing market price points. The ranch has a well- developed water system and can balance grazing through better pasture management. Trophy antelope are harvested every year.

He knows he hasn’t done all this alone. “Without the moral support of my mother and father and sister and brother and my sons, Spence and Chris and Bryan, and those who put up with me from time to time, and the grace of God, all of this probably couldn’t have happened,” he noted. I also want to thank the NM CattleGrowers for bestowing on me the honor of Cattleman of the Year, and the support and opportunities that the association and the industry have offered.

Stirling is a man who values hard work. He is a phenomenal rancher, a renowned chemical engineer, an accomplished pilot, and a renewable power wizard. He has a big heart and communicates his considerable knowledge with depth and coherence. Many say that he embodies the best of both the ranching industry and America.

He also laughs hard and plays hard. He taught himself to snow and water ski, and is at home both under the water scuba diving and up in the air piloting his plane. One of his fond memories involves being the only male on an otherwise all-female golf team in a CattleGrowers tournament. The team wore pink. They may have scared others on the course, but they had fun.

Stirling Jr. summarized, “Dad is the most impressive person I know. He once ran a marathon without even training for it. He can wrangle the toughest horses, corral herds of cattle all by himself, create grasslands where there were previously only yuccas and mesquite, and kill rattlesnakes with his bare hands.”

Do modern-day legends walk among us? Stirling Jr. thinks so. So do the friends and peers who recognize Stirling Spencer as the New Mexico Cattle Growers Cattleman of the Year. Smart, articulate, independent and generous, Stirling Spencer of the Bar W Ranch is indeed a legend in his own time.

November 2014

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