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New breed of rancher brings Scottish Highland cattle to Gila County

The Highland breed all have long horns, lush wavy coats and come in black,brindle,red, yellow,white,silver or dun. Photo by Patti Daley

There’s a ranch in the Pinals, southwest of Globe, named for a mythical creature half eagle, half lion.  Gryphon Ranch, 469 acres of private canyon land, is home to Jim and Carol Ptak, their champion Griffon dogs, and a herd of long-haired, big-horned cattle.  

“It represents the duality in our lives, the duality of ranching” says Jim of the Gryphon name.  “It’s not just a business operation; we’re also stewards of the land and animals.” 

Jim, 63, does the hands-on labor at the ranch. His wife Carol runs the business. Together, they blend science, faith, and physical work to raise certified-humane, certified grass-fed beef, and sell it to people of the region.

Raising Grass-Fed, Certified-Humane Scottish Highlands

The cattle that the Ptaks raise are Scottish Highlands, a hardy, low-maintenance breed that originated in Scotland. They are raised without antibiotics, corn, or GMOs. They get only forage, alfalfa, spring water, and Arizona sunshine, Carol says.

“We think it makes a difference in the flavor,“ she adds.

The grass-fed status presents one of the major cost challenges for the Ptaks’ ranch. 

“The canyon rangeland provides only about 50 percent of the grasses the herd needs,” Jim explains. “We purchase alfalfa to supplement that.“   

 

“We think beef should be naturally bred, raised and fed, and [we] think there is a clientele out there that thinks the same,” Carol adds, noting that last year they had 22 customers.  

Being a certified-humane operation was a choice for the Ptaks.

“We believe that most ranchers want to be humane,” Carol says. “It was important to us to have that visible endorsement.” 

The certification commits the Ptaks to certain standards of raising and killing their animals, as well as selling their beef directly to consumers. 

“Since we don’t go to USDA facilities, we can’t sell to stores or restaurants.”

Officially, federally-inspected facilities provide humane slaughter as defined by the 1958 Humane Slaughter Act. However, according to Jim, using a USDA facility would require that the cattle be transported by trailer, chained by their legs, and cut by the throat to bleed out.

In contrast, the Ptaks slaughter their cattle by a single shot to the brain and butcher them onsite by a state-licensed mobile slaughter service. 

The Ptaks butcher to meet consumer demand, typically up to four animals in the spring and eight in late summer.  It takes about eight animals a year to cover the cost of the operation.   

The price for Gryphon Ranch beef, $7.50 to $8.00 per pound, is competitive with grass-fed beef you find in the supermarket. However, due to a state law, they can only sell the beef as as a quarter, half, or whole animal (100 to 500 pounds). The Ptaks actually transfer ownership of the animal during the sales process.


Harry & Rosie
Harry, one of the residents at Gryphon Ranch, is a 2,200-pound bull with a six-foot horn spread.

“He’s gentle as a puppy dog,” Jim says.

Harry is an 8-year-old show bull who came with a bag full of ribbons, while Rosie is a plain brown cow, with half a horn missing. 

Their former owner insisted that the two of them could not be separated.

At Gryphon Ranch, all of the animals have a name. There’s Inverness Sophia Loren, Possum Run Gidget, and Biscotti. They all come home each evening for water and feedings, and they’re locked in for the night. 

All the breeding stock at Gryphon Ranch are registered with the American Highland Cattle Association. Being a small operation (maximum 50 head), inbreeding is a primary concern.  Carol tracks the pedigree of each animal and trades cattle with ranchers in Colorado to ensure a healthy herd. 

Newcomers to Ranching

Residents since 2014, Carol and JIm are relative newcomers to Gila County, and unlike the many multi-generational ranching families in the area, they haven’t always been ranchers.

Carol Ptak is seen here with the newly formed Gila County chapter of the Arizona farm Bureau where she serves as treasurer. Photo by LCGross
Carol Ptak is seen here with the newly formed Gila County chapter of the Arizona farm Bureau where she serves as treasurer. Photo by LCGross

Jim grew up on a dairy farm on the East Coast. He and Carol met in 1976, as students at the University of Buffalo, in New York. Jim had careers in music, engineering, and the church, while Carol worked as a microbiologist; got into manufacturing, became a teacher and an author, and co-founded a small business with a big mission (Demand Driven Institute LLC).  

Together, the two raised hay, and four teenagers, on a 100-acre farm in Centralia, Washington. 

A  glut in the 2011 market left them with a barn full of hay. 

“We had to either burn it or feed it to something, so we decided to feed it to something,” Jim says. 

Carol’s friend had two steer that needed to be fed. They were Scottish Highland. The steer ate the hay. The Ptaks ate the Highland steers, and they were hooked.   

“They’re just adorable,” Carol says, “They really have personality. They’re easy to care for… and tasty.  It was a great experience all the way around.” 

Then, in exchange for boarding a neighbors cattle, the Ptaks received two Highland cow calf pairs. Both cows were pregnant, and the herd grew quickly. 

By 2012, the Ptaks seemed to have everything they wanted ‒ her dogs, his pastorship, and the ranch in-between.

While visiting Carol’s family in the Valley, however, the couple decided to move their ranch to Arizona. 

“We looked all over,” Carol remembers. “We looked in Show Low and as far as Bagdad.  We needed enough land to run the cattle.  That was an education.  In Washington you can put 10 cattle in one acre; here you need 100 acres to run one and a half. “

In May, 2014, Jim came to Gila County with their dogs and 19 head of cattle one bull, their breeding stock, and calves, one just four days old. Carol arrived a month later.

Beautiful and private, the property boasts four wells and two year-round springs.  Through lease agreements with neighbors, the cattle have 1,200 acres to roam.

Jim Ptak says their ranch is not just a business operation. He believes they are also stewards of the land and animals. Photo by Patti Daley

The Scottish Highlands, named after their rugged land of origin,  have adapted easily to their new environs.

“The topography here is what they are bred for; the footing of the canyon walls suits them,” Carol explains.  

“It was us that had the adapting to do,” she adds. “100 percent of everything we knew about raising forage does not work here. The climate, the soil, the humidity.  It’s all different.”

Since Highlands both graze and browse, they’ve cleaned the underbrush of the Ptaks canyon home. The Ptaks notice more native grasses being revived, as well as an increase in wildlife, such as rabbits, deer, and javelina.

A Serene Place to Call Home


The Ptaks enjoy sharing the abundance of natural beauty they have found in the canyon. They offer ranch tours so people can come and see the animals.

“We hold an annual men’s retreat here,”  Jim says with a smile. “Of course, we serve beef.  And we have a good time of fellowship and learning, and we do a lot of shooting. I’ve nicknamed it God, Grub and Guns. “

He and Carol have adapted to their new home. They find it similar, in ways, to Centralia. 

“People are normal here, friendly,” Jim says.  “We love small towns.”    

As for Gryphon Ranch, it remains a tucked-away gem on the outskirts of town. 

There’s not an evening that I don’t go out and see the stars and I’m reminded of psalm 19: The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”.  

Opening his hands to imaginary stars, he adds, “You see that, and you think, come on, you can’t get a better life than this. “

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