Gavin Birkemeyer, Dugas Ranch, Mayer, Yavapai County. Photo by Seth Joel.
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New book features Gila County ranch-raised kids

Ranch kids are different. They grow up with purpose. Responsibilities. Pride in tradition and a love for the land they live on.

“They look you in the eye,” says Seth Joel, a photographer from New York. “L.A. kids don’t do that.”

“Respect for the family is tremendous,” says Charlie Holland, a native of England. “They understand hard work.”

That’s what the two learned while photographing and interviewing kids and their families across rural Arizona for their newly released book Ranch-Raised Kids.

Seth Joel and Charlie Holland, a husband–wife team based in Los Angeles, got the idea for Ranch-Raised Kids while shooting rodeos in the Southwest. The ranch kids, they noticed, were different.

“The children are so mature for their age,” Seth remarks.

Impressed by the manners of the children, the skills they brought forth, and the support from the community for their interests, Seth and Charlie were inspired to learn more.

They knew they needed a strategy for reaching the families.

“One thing that everybody values is their children,” Seth says.

They reached out to Suzanne Menges, president of Arizona Cattle Industry Foundation (ACIF), with the idea of telling the story of ranching through the eyes of the kids.

The foundation was looking for ways to get their message across, and Suzanne saw the potential in the project.

“It celebrated the families and the children and our industry,” she says. “It was a win-win.”

“She saw that what we were doing was entirely neutral and apolitical,” Charlie adds, “and that if we worked together, we could publish the book in a timely fashion.”

With support from the ACIF, and one of their photos on the cover of ACIF’s catalog, Seth and Charlie went calling on Arizona ranching families.

Ranch Visit: Flying UW Ranch, Pinal County

They arrived at the Flying UW Ranch, to meet the Meyer family, with a flat tire.

“Instantly the kids got out all the tools they needed, jacked up the car, took off the tire, put a patch on it, and got it back on the car,” Seth reports. “They were like a pit crew.”

Astonished, he adds, “And, they seemed so happy to do us the favor!”

The Flying UW Ranch is owned by Walter and Francie Meyer. At age 70, Walter is still working the same ranch he was born on, one of two large ranches he and Francie own.

Two of their four daughters live on the ranch, with their children. Two of their granddaughters are featured in the Ranch-Raised Kids book.

Katie Meyer Cline said she was happy to participate because she felt aligned with the mission, and she agrees that ranch kids really are a lot farther along than other kids.

“They know more,” she asserts. “They’ve experienced more.” She liked that the children were being honored in this way.

Her daughter, Sarah Cline, is a skilled ranch hand and acute observer of horses. Her niece, Audrey Cordrey, tracks detailed data on the cattle. Both girls are fifth-generation ranchers and have been helping out at the Flying UW Ranch since an early age

The Ranch Raised Kids photo project shot on location at the Lazy B Ranch, Duncan AZ “The thing I am most proud of in my life is learning how to work on a ranch,” says Emma Westbrook, 11, of Greenbrae County. Photo by Seth Joel.

“I still have a lot to learn,” says Sarah, 13, “and I have to get better at the things I already know.”

Katie reports that the kids were a little embarrassed being photographed, because they’re not used to it, but they all appreciated the experience.

“Charlie talked to the kids a lot,” she says, “and Seth was fun to joke with.”

In some ways, Seth and Charlie observed, ranch kids are similar to teens anywhere.

“There are a lot of cell phones,” Seth declares, “and some great Instagrammers.”

Ranch kids love music and concerts. They love clothes.

“When they dress for 4H and rodeo, they really go all out,” Charlie observes.

Ranch Visit: The Rafter Cross, Gila County

Brandon Burgett, born and raised in Globe, is the manager of the Rafter Cross, 65 square miles of rugged backcountry between Roosevelt Lake and Two Bar Ridge in the Superstition Mountains.

He and his wife, Angelina, manage several ranching properties, including two of their own on the San Carlos reservation.

Their children, four sons and a daughter, work with them. They’re well-trained to make the right decisions, Seth and Charlie observed, and are allowed to voice an opinion.

“In this day and age, that is really exciting, to see kids have that kind of confidence,” Seth remarks.

At the Flying UW in Pinal County, three generations of women work together on the ranch. From left, Jenny Meyer Cordrey, Sarah Meyer Cline, their mother Francie Meyer, Sarah Cline, and Audrey Cordrey. Photo by Seth Joel.

Tristan Burgett, 22, works methodically; he focuses on safety concerns and the structural integrity of their water source.

“I want people to understand the work that we put in to provide beef to people,” says Cody Burgett. Photo by Seth Joel.

Twins Cody and Cutter, 18, love the ranching life and are acquiring skills and certifications needed by 21st-century cattlemen.

“It is actually a career, and you have to take a while lifetime to learn what we have to do,” says Cutter.

The youngest Burgetts have other ambitions. Audra, 12, wants to be a physical therapist. Luke, 17, has dreams of Hollywood and plans to earn an MBA.

“You can’t give up on what you want to do,” he says. “You have to strive for it.”

Seth and Charlie are interested to see how the kids’ aspirations will play out in the future. They expect some will stay in ranching, some will stay in ranching-related fields, and some will drift away from the ranch.

“The remarkable thing about these kids,” says Charlie, “is that whatever they choose to do, they will take with them the determination, problem-solving skills, and habit of hard work that they have learned as children.”


Ranch-Raised Kids is available for sale on the ACIF website. All profits go toward ACIF’s scholarship fund.

“It’s one of the most positive things I’ve been involved with,” says Suzanne Menges, “and I’m thrilled that it’s come to fruition after three years.”

Now she wants to get the book into the hands of schoolchildren, “so the next generation knows what ranching in Arizona looks like.”

“Working on a ranch makes me a better person,” says Audra Burgett, “because it keeps me humble.” Photo by Seth Joel.

The 100-page book has 50 color plates and was printed in Tucson.

“We started in Arizona,” Seth says. “We wanted to finish in Arizona.”

Proud of the effort, the co-authors feel the children featured in the book have presented themselves in a very professional way.

“They were able to be honest,” says Charlie. “I really admire that.”

To purchase the book, use our order form .

For more about the project, visit the Ranch-Raised Kids Facebook .


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