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Ranch manager completing 40 years at NMSU's Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center

In today's world, it is unusual for a person to spend 40 years in a single career, much less in a single position. New Mexico State University reports that only three employees have worked continuously for the Las Cruces campus for 40 years or more.


Calvin Bailey with part of a hay bale
Calvin Bailey, ranch foreman and senior research assistant at NMSU's Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center, throws hay to the horses recently as part of his morning routine. He and his wife, Debra, moved into the manager's house on the 60,000-acre ranch when he was hired in December 1971. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

This month, a fourth individual, Calvin Bailey, will join their ranks.

When the ranch manager position came open at NMSU's College Ranch in late 1971, Bailey, who had recently graduated from the university, knew the job was right for him. So did Bobby Rankin, an animal science faculty member and the recently appointed supervisor of the facility.

"The position was offered and I took it," Bailey said recently. "My wife and I moved out here in 1971, the day after Christmas."

"Calvin was raised on a ranch and got a degree in animal science," said Rankin, who retired in 2000 after a 39-year career that included 14 as department head of Animal and Range Sciences. "You know a lot of things that need to be done on a place, having grown up ranching, that you don't have to learn or ask somebody else about, so it worked out wonderfully in Calvin's case."

Rankin was quick to give credit to a second member of the Bailey team. "There was an extra bonus to hiring Calvin Bailey in that job, because his new wife, Debbie, came with him," he said. Part of that had to do with the delicious meals she would fix for the ranch crew.

"It was easy to recruit college students and graduate students to come out and help with the branding and the calving and some with fencing simply because of Debbie. So I give her a lot of credit for Calvin's success in managing the ranch wonderfully for this length of time. We couldn't have done better on that selection."

The facility, now called the Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center, has been owned and operated by NMSU since 1927. The university assumed ownership of the 60,000-acre property through an act of Congress mandating that it be maintained it in a way that benefits the people of New Mexico. The property is located north of Las Cruces. According to Bailey, it includes about half of the Dona Ana Mountains, and stretches east-west from the Jornada Experimental Range to the Rio Grande.

When the Baileys moved into the ranch house 40 years ago, Gerald Thomas was NMSU's president; nine other presidents have served since then. There have been five deans of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and five heads of the Department of Animal and Range Sciences, the unit under whose auspices the ranch operates.

Calvin and Debra raised two children on the ranch, Scott and Rebecca. Now in their 30s, both have advanced degrees and are engaged in successful careers. Debra, who was a stay-at-home mom while the children were young, works as a nutritionist for the New Mexico Department of Health.

Amid the changes, some things have remained constant. As with any farm or ranch, the work never ends. "My duties as foreman out here include the typical management of the ranch from day to day, anywhere from building fence to working on corrals and tending to livestock - cattle mainly," Bailey said.

As the facility's name suggests, research is a big part of what happens at the CDRRC. Significant work has been done over the years on developing cattle that are more suited to the harsh Southwest environment, as well as on understanding the Chihuahuan Desert rangeland, how to maintain it and how it is impacted by livestock. Bailey said around 130 cows are on the ranch now. Most are Brangus, a heat-tolerant breed that is five-eighths Angus and three-eighths Brahman.

"Calvin has been a part of almost every animal or range science paper that's been written at the College Ranch," said Milt Thomas, professor of animal and range sciences who specializes in cattle breeding and genetics. Thomas has worked with Bailey since arriving at NMSU in 1997. He stressed how much he benefitted, from his earliest time at the ranch, from Bailey's knowledge of the area, ranching and this ranch in particular. His comprehensive knowledge of the cattle at the ranch, their lineage as well as their individual behaviors, have been invaluable. Thomas said Bailey's observations have supplied a major portion of the data in various scientific investigations.

Thomas also applauded how Bailey has guided the many students and others who have worked at the ranch over the years. "Calvin has trained a great number of people at the college ranch," he said.

Bailey received a President's Star Performance Award from NMSU President Jay Gogue in 2002. Thomas said everyone who wrote support letters for that award emphasized how much they had learned from him.

"He just has that uncanny ability to teach," Thomas said. "Not only did he train the students, I think most of the faculty around here would agree that he mentored a lot of us, too."

Bailey has lots of stories of his time at the ranch. Key characters include a cantankerous horse one of his hired hands kept getting thrown off of that was later reassigned to a brood mare role, and an ornery Charolais bull that flipped Rankin over a corral fence during a weaning operation.

The faculty members who have worked with Bailey have stories, too.

Current CDRRC director Derek Bailey (no relation) calls Calvin "an absolute guru" on cattle and on the terrain at the ranch. He marvels at Calvin's clairvoyance in terms of knowing where to find specific cattle in some of the huge pasture areas.

Derek also appreciates how "calm and cool and resourceful" Calvin is in emergency situations. He told about an incident where his horse spooked in a trailer and all of the horses ended up in a tangle on the floor. This was a very dangerous situation for the horses, and certainly for anyone trying to get the horses back up, but Calvin jumped right in and started separating them. Between the two Baileys, the situation was resolved without injury to horses or people.

Calvin Bailey says he has been working extra hard recently. Last week's snowstorm saw single-digit temperatures and extra vigilance was necessary to ensure the livestock stayed safe and healthy. In particular, Bailey needed to make sure there was accessible water in all of the stock tanks. He repeatedly needed to knock holes through the ice so the cattle and horses could drink. Checking all of the tanks in the various pastures entails more than 50 miles of driving.

Bailey wasn't complaining, however - the scenery on the ranch was more beautiful than ever, with snow covering everything from the desert vegetation in the foreground to the mountains in the distance.

For more about the Chihuahuan Desert Rangeland Research Center go to http://chihuahuansc.nmsu.edu/