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Lessons in Ranching

When most people think about ranching, they think about cowboys herding cattle out on the open range. While part of that is true, sixth graders in Jack County, Texas learned it is also much more than a cowboy on a horse. They found that ranching includes soil health, good water sources, plant identification, wildlife habitat, animal health and so much more.

Over 80 students recently visited the North Creek Ranch just outside of Jacksboro for the Jack County Ranch Field Day. The Jack Soil and Water Conservation District and the ranch owners, the Rumage family, have hosted the event as an annual tradition for the last 36 years.

Ed Rumage, owner of the North Creek Ranch, was a member of the Jack SWCD board when the idea first came up nearly four decades ago.

"We wanted something that would get the students out of the classroom and help them understand natural resources and how they all work together to benefit livestock, wildlife and people," Rumage said. "Sixth grade is a good age group because they can see first hand some of the stuff they have been studying about nature and science."

The Jack SWCD worked closely with NRCS staff in Jack and neighboring counties to set up six stations focusing on soil health, a rainfall simulation demonstration, plant identification, wildlife and their habitat, water resources, and animal health. The students spent 20 minutes at each station before moving along the mile-long trail to the next station on the route.

"We designed each station to talk about the natural resources we manage on a ranch like this - soil, water, air, plants and animals," said Matt Gregory, NRCS district conservationist in Jacksboro. "You can tell them about it, but when they can see it with their own eyes, that's when the real difference is made in their learning experience."

Bryan Theall, NRCS range management specialist in the Breckenridge office, had a popular station with the agency's new rainfall demonstration trailer. Theall showed the students three different management techniques - one that had been thoroughly plowed with soil left bare, one that had plowed soil but with wheat stubble cover on it, and one that had soil that had never been plowed and had a cover crop growing on it. With simulated rainfall, the students were able to see with their own eyes the way the water ran off the plowed ground, taking lots of sediment with it and not even penetrating an inch into the soil; whereas the untilled soil with cover crops had no runoff and the water that infiltrated through the soil came out nearly clear.

A local landscaping company (GAL Horticultural Services) had the station where he pointed out popular native plants used for landscaping on ranches, browsed by wildlife, and grazed by livestock. Mike Bira, an environmental scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, led a learning station at a pond where he visited with the kids about water quality, fish habitat, and the importance of water distribution on a ranch.

Alex Smith, NRCS conservation planner in Albany, presented information on wildlife and wildlife habitat at her station. She had skulls, pelts, and feet of various animals to show the kids how the animals defend themselves, hunt their prey, and build their homes. She explained how ranchers can help provide habitat for various animals with their grazing management systems for their cattle.

Further down the walking trail, Monty Power, NRCS Soil Conservationist in Jacksboro, gave the students a talk about soil health - presenting various types of soil and rocks found locally. The kids put their environmental science training to work and were able to identify many different rocks and soils at the station.

Down in the corrals, Ken Clayton, Jack SWCD director, local rancher Casey Conway and veterinarian Peter Armstrong all took the kids through the steps involved in working cattle on the ranch - from weighing them, to vaccinations, ear tagging, and even pregnancy testing. This was a very interactive session were the kids were able to ear tag and vaccinate the cattle under the veterinarians' supervision, and even view the unborn calf on a computer screen through ultrasound.

The busy morning wrapped up with a hot dog lunch prepared by ranch owner Blain Rumage (son of Ed); Joe Ray Burkett, Jack SWCD technician; Todd Oneth, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board Regional Manager, Dublin; Jerry Henderson, Jack SWCD chairman; Charlie Upchurch, Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board Representative and Carolann Corado, SWCD clerk.

For more information about conservation education, go to the NRCS website: or the State Soil and Water Conservation Board website:

Lessons in Ranching, Dee Ann Littlefield, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist (2018, May)