The Quiroz family recently lost seven heifers to lead poisoning. From left: (Standing) Rafael Quiroz Ralph, Angie, and Carolina. (On horses) Ralphie and Jose. Photo by Pat McNamara

Third generation Sonoita native Ralph Quiroz was met by a catastrophic scene when checking his heifers on Feb. 18 on leased land off of Highway 82 in Sonoita. He found some of his cows down and others staggering from some unknown cause. He contacted Sierra Vista veterinarian, Dr. Gary Thrasher who arrived within the hour. Dr. Thrasher took blood samples to send to Texas A & M for a toxicology screen and began emergency care for the ailing cows. In spite of the treatment, seven of Quiroz’s bred, three and four year old heifers succumbed and seventeen others were affected by this unknown initiate. One carcass and the brain of a separate heifer were submitted to the U of A for necropsy.

The results of the toxicology screen showed a very high concentration of lead poisoning to be the culprit. Lead poisoning causes neurological symptoms and the affected animals staggered, fell down, were blinded and ran in circles and into fences.  

Quiroz and his family were devastated to witness the struggling cattle that were part of their livelihood suffer so intensely. Fortunately, there is a medication specifically for lead poisoning, and with treatment and supportive care the majority of this herd survived and are now thriving. One cow recently calved a normal calf and both are doing well.  

The mystery as to the source of this poisoning is currently under investigation, but the preliminary results point to an old homestead in the area of the field where the cattle grazed. Soil samples showed some old, possibly mining, rocks that had leached lead into the soil. Lead has a sweet taste so the cattle could also have licked the rocks as well as the soil. There were also old paint buckets in the area that are being tested. Samples were sent to a lab in Utah and Quiroz is still awaiting confirmation of the previous analysis.

Quiroz, the son of Rafael Quiroz, works as a cowboy for various local ranchers. Rafael has been in the area for fifty-two years and was manager of the Crown C Ranch in Sonoita, where Ralph was raised and learned his skills as a cowboy. The Quiroz family resides in Elgin and depend on their cattle for part of their income, so the loss of these heifers and the ensuing treatment of the remaining cattle, diagnostics and veterinary bills were quite a financial strain. With the help of friends who started a GoFundMe page, they are back on good footing now and look forward to a better future.