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News Release

Birdwell & Clark Ranch Honored for Conservation and Stewardship

Laura Broyles, Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations

Henrietta, Texas, May 14, 2018 -  The Birdwell and Clark Ranch in Henrietta, Texas, received the “Outstanding Rangeland Stewardship Award” (ORS) co-sponsored annually by the Texas Section Society for Range Management (TSSRM) and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA).  The ranch was recognized at the TSSRM annual meeting in San Angelo in October 2017, and again at the TSCRA annual convention in Ft. Worth in March 2018.

The Birdwell & Clark Ranch nomination has been forwarded by TSSRM and TSCRA as a Region IV contender for the prestigious Environmental Stewardship Award Program, co-sponsored at the national level by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and NRCS. A winner from each of the seven regions will be announced at the NCBA Summer Meeting in Denver in August.

The purpose of the ORS award is to recognize those cattle producers who have demonstrated outstanding skill and knowledge in practicing sound management and care of rangeland resources. It is presented annually to only one ranch in Texas and once a ranch has received the award, it is not eligible to receive it again.          

The husband and wife team of Emry Birdwell and Deborah Clark have contributed to the exceptional management of the 14,200 acre ranch they purchased in 2004 in Clay County, Texas.  Birdwell and Clark were recognized for their commitment to the conservation, stewardship and sustainability of the ranch, and for their local, regional, and national leadership activities that encourage positive conservation perceptions of the cattle industry.         

By the time they established the Birdwell & Clark Ranch, Emry, a third-generation rancher, had years of ranching experience using the basic holistic principles to involve all the resources in the ecosystem using grazing and livestock management to enhance diversity. Although their North Texas ranch, formerly part of the historic Bryant Edwards Ranch, had been known for years as a well-managed cow-calf ranch, Birdwell and Clark chose to take it in a new direction running it entirely as a stocker operation.

“We knew it was the best way for us to improve our rangeland health,”  Birdwell said. “By using stockers, we could achieve the stock density and animal impact that the land needed, but have the flexibility to keep it all balanced.”

Birdwell and Clark began consulting with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 2005 and enrolled in the agency’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) for help upgrading their livestock and wildlife watering system to support their high-density grazing plans. Water ponds, troughs and pipelines were constructed but the drought of 2011 threatened those supplies.  As an answer to this crisis, a mobile watering trough that could be connected to existing pipelines was constructed so that the water source could follow the livestock where permanent water was not available.

“Emry and Deborah’s commitment to land stewardship has been evident from the start,” said NRCS Range Management Specialist Kevin Derzapf, who has worked with the couple for several years offering technical advice. “But what is even more impressive is their persistent pursuit to improve the health of their land. If they find something that is working well, then they want to know how they can make that system even better.”

“Every success or failure they have just sparks a new idea to try something else,” Derzapf said. “As a result they have improved sustainable range conditions and optimized animal performance.”

Birdwell and Clark’s commitment to conservation qualified them to enroll in the NRCS’ Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in 2010. Their conservation practices through CSP including utilizing the Nutritional Balance Analyzer (NUTBAL) program is helping them evaluate feed value in relationship with animal nutrient deficiency or desired gain. The tool identifies the most cost efficient option, amount to be fed, and cost per day.

Also through CSP, implemented an improved grazing management system. What started as a three herd system was changed to a one herd system in the drought of 2011. Birdwell and Clark used one-wire electric fence to create 140 pastures across the ranch to create a rotational grazing system for the 4000 to 6000 head of steers they graze in a single herd nine months of the year. The cattle only stay a short time at each location, sometimes just a few hours, so the grazing pressure on the plants is light to moderate, with several months of rest in between grazing events.  The management system has resulted in a greater diversity of high producing grass, with cattle gaining between 100-120 pounds per acre.

“The most important aspects of time managed grazing are animal impact and rest from grazing,” Birdwell said. “Keeping these steers in one herd greatly magnifies both principles.”

With their one herd grazing system, they have maximum flexibility to protect recovery times and maximize rest during growing seasons. As a result of their conservation efforts over the last 13 years, with technical and financial assistance from NRCS, Birdwell and Clark have doubled their stocking rates and significantly improved wildlife habitat, primarily for deer, quail and dove.

“It’s important to us that we take care of our grazing land, even if some people don’t understand what we do,” Clark said. “I want our ranch to be an example of regenerative agriculture, of retaining more moisture, of increasing plant and wildlife diversity, of improving soil health and thinking long term of what we do every day.”