Learning from a Professional, Workshop Offers Different Approach to Education
story by Jaime Tankersley
A true grit rancher is known for having a broad knowledge of almost any subject ranging from accounting to veterinary medicine. In some cases, they are defined by the quality of the herd they produce or simply by the manner in which they carry themselves. Possessing an entrepreneurial spirit and a legacy extending decades into history - the rancher is at once an example to be emulated, a teacher, and a student.
They never seem to stop learning. With each new day on the ranch, a new situation is bound to arise and they have one of two choices: face the problem or leave it for the next poor soul. The work ethic embodied by these individuals and their tenacity for seeking solutions rather than play the role of the shrinking flower, is precisely what makes the rancher knowledgeable in so many fields. That knowledge was showcased at the 1st Annual Rancher's Workshop held in Big Lake, Texas on March 13, 2010.
The Middle Concho, North Concho River, Tom Green, and Crockett Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), along with the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff and Angelo State University (ASU), put together an all around line-up of ranching professionals and invited local residents to learn and consider views from the opposite side of the fence.
Mike Elkins, co-owner/operator of the Elkins Ranch Company in Reagan County, was the event's opening speaker and elected to showcase his chemical application practices. On site, he demonstrated the chemical spraying and firefighting machine he built and has used to treat 1,000 acres of mesquite and over 2,000 acres of prickly pear.
"It was a learning process from the beginning," Elkins said. "We started out trying to apply chemicals by hand and this is where we have ended up. This is faster than hand spraying but it does not beat a good aerial application. It works for us."
The ranch has three years of chemical application completed and the results have been positive.
"We worked with the NRCS to obtain cost-share and a (conservation) plan," Elkins noted. "We could not have done this without their help."
Next up was Double T Ranch manager, Art Roane. For over 20 years he has managed the Crockett County ranch and made conservation a top priority.
"Our main goal was to improve the land for both livestock and wildlife," Roane said. "And we want people to understand that this land supports us. We realize the importance of being good stewards."
Brush management has been the most utilized practice and through trial and error, they have learned what works best in the area.
"We started working with the NRCS several years back, and they have been a huge factor in our success," Roane said. "We have learned that leaving ground cover when clearing aids in wildlife habitat, and with less soil disturbance, our grass returns sooner."
Roane also explained how incorporating a type of hair sheep has been beneficial to the ranch. He noted that they are a low labor input animal, easy to handle and easy on fences.
Charley Christiansen, with the Cargile and Tobosa Ranching Companies and Producers Livestock Auction, discussed inputs on lease operations and touched on all the practices they have implemented over the years. Christiansen explained a comprehensive list of ranch improvements from root plowing, bull dozing, excavating, aerial/hand chemical application, range planting, construction, and even using convicts to provide labor for hand grubbing. He expanded on the benefits that arise from all types of practices.
"If you want to know if something works or if it does not, just ask a rancher. They have tried it all," Christiansen said.
"Identifying your assets as a producer is the beginning step in improving your operation. NRCS has helped us on several places and we have been active and implement their programs whenever we can."
Christiansen noted that with the help of the NRCS programs they have made better ranches, and that there is always the opportunity to make money on a lease operation if you take care of the land.
"A lease can make money, but you have to work at it," Christiansen said in closing. "Never try to make money at the ranch's expense; it takes years to recover from bad management."
Wade Polk, AgriLife Extension economist, presented the results of a predator survey they have been working on over the past several months and also touched on the revenue generated in the Concho Valley by hunting.
The survey, indicated what dollar amounts have been lost due to predators, and went on to break it down by livestock, property loss, and the impact within a community. The survey is cosponsored by the Southern Rolling Plains Cotton Producers Association, the Sheep and Goat Predator Management Board, AgriLife Extension, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.
Predator control is a real concern for everyone, not just the goat and sheep raisers. By presenting results from the survey, Polk demonstrated that many have a stake in the issue.
Benny Cox, Producers Livestock Auction sales manager, closed out the workshop with a market update that touched on all types of livestock.
"We are here to bring buyers and sellers together. Each year we sell sheep and goats from all over the country to buyers from all over the U.S. and Mexico," Cox began.
He indicated that overall numbers have declined in sheep and cattle but that an increase in meat goats has surfaced. He explained the benefits of vaccinating and weaning calves when it comes time to take them to the sale ring.
"A producer has to be careful they do not leave money on the table when it comes time to sale," Cox said. "Going straight to slaughter with an older cow or bull may not always be the right move."
With rising concern about Trichomoniasis, a disease of cattle that causes infertility, open cows, and occasional abortions in cows and heifers, Cox explained what the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and Producers Livestock Auction are doing to aid in the eradication process.
"It is commonly referred to as "Trich," and is a disease that can be economically devastating for infected herds," Cox said. "Producers test all incoming bulls that are not certified virgin bulls and follow all TDA rules and regulations."
Angelo State University (ASU) graduate students Jess Anderson, Kellen Cave, and Landon Pyle presented and answered questions pertaining to the poster presentations of their current studies. The posters displayed results pertaining to juniper consumption in sheep, nutritional quality of different onions, parasite viability in goats, and mesquite seedling disappearance under goat browsing. All studies are currently underway at ASU with the help of Corey Owens and Dr. Cody Scott.
The forum offered a program full of speakers, but also on-site were agency and association representatives to answer questions and explain updates. Helena Chemical Company, M&M Air Service, Bruton Aerial Spraying, and NRCS were among the booths present.
The idea for such an event came from the ranchers themselves. At the conclusion of workshops in the area, the organization hosting the event often asks what efforts could be made to improve the event. Time and time again the ranchers would ask if they could hear from others in the business just like them.
The Rancher's Workshop, the first of its kind in the area, is the answer to all of these requests. The day ended and the question on everyone's lips was, "What time next year?" The answer now is this - by design and mission The Rancher's Workshop will continue to bring together innovative and successful individuals to share their experiences with an audience of their peers in the agricultural business.
After all who better to motivate and educate us all, than the individuals who have taken the practices which are founded on scientific study and sound ecological principles and then made conservation not just work, but more importantly, pay off - for the rancher and for the land.
Mike Elkins (center), co-owner/operator of Elkins Ranch Company in Reagan County, spoke about chemical application to both mesquite and prickly pear during the Ranchers Workshop held in Big Lake, Texas.
Producers from across West Texas gathered for the 1st Annual Ranchers Workshop held in Big Lake, Texas. They heard from local producers about conservation practices and assistance available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Art Roane, Double T Ranch manager, has spent over 20 years addressing conservation on a Crockett County Ranch. During this year's Rancher Workshop, local residents had the opportunity to listen and learn from his applied conservation practices.
Angelo State University graduate students were part of the 1st Annual Ranchers Workshop held in Big Lake, Texas. They had the opportunity to display their graduate project posters and answer questions about the research conducted.
Irion County Rancher, Billy Tankersley, looks over the Angelo State University posters displayed by graduate students at the 1st Annual Ranchers Workshop held in Big Lake, Texas.