Friday, June 22, 2012

Rachel and Damon

Meet Rachel and Damon - a couple of Texas ranchers who have agreed to share their story with us today.

Howdy from Texas, y'all!

We were asked by Elizabeth, of Circle the Wagons, to write our agricultural story for the Faces of Agriculture blog. We are glad to be here!

Damon, and I (Rachel) along with our 3 boys, are cattle ranchers in the Big Bend area of far west Texas. A vast, beautiful land in it's own characteristic.

We both grew up knowing this way of life. I was raised in southeast New Mexico. My folks raised sheep, cattle, and farmed cotton, and grew feed such as corn, alfalfa, wheat, and other forage for the livestock.

I come from a long line of farmers and ranchers. My dad's family moved to the area from Texas many, many years ago, and homesteaded. My brothers and I grew up always helping out, hard work and responsibility were instilled in us from the beginning. From early on I knew that when I grew up was going to have a job in a major part of agriculture, and as I got older ranching became the goal. It's the only thing I knew! I grew up doing anything and everything, from sheep to cattle to horses and everything in between, my dad taught us everything he knew. My mother worked right along beside my dad, just as I do for Damon.

Damon was raised in this area of Texas. His great-grandfather moved to this area from Gonzales County, Texas and bought what is now our home place, back in 1908. (If interested he wrote book called "The Dream of a Youthful Cowboy", a book about his life, how he became a cattle rancher, and stories along the way.) So Damon came from a ranching heritage. There isn't much farming in this area. Where it is done, there is a flat that someone decided to break out. You see very little farm land. When his great-grandfather moved here, his words were- "the man with plow could never come." I do believe he was wanting away from farming.

Shortly after graduating high school, Damon went on to Clarendon College, in Clarendon, Texas, to graduate with his Ranch and Feedlot Operations (RFO) degree. He worked for ranchers along the way and finally returned to this area later on. Damon already had a herd of cattle put together. He had been gathering them up since graduating high school. He ran cattle with his parents, and came down to help out anytime they needed him. Because of that, we had a good start to ranching when we married 5 1/2 years ago. After a few years of saving our money, training horses and working on making our small herd better, we were able to lease some land, and from there our herd grew.

We run a cow/calf operation on range grass. Mostly Corriente cattle, which we run J-Bar Braunvieh and Gelbvieh bulls with. The cattle we had from the start are large frame crossbred cows. The Corriente cows do very well at our leased land, they get out on the rocky hills and find the grass there is, that the other cattle won't look for, and they handle the harsh climate very, very well. With their smaller frame they don't need as much grass either. By breeding them to big framed bulls, we get the large frame and weight on the calves that they need when sale time comes. When weaned we hold them for about 30-60 days, depending on the feed situation. In the past three years we have sold our calves to a local man whom buys for a feeder in Oklahoma.

When we first leased land we had a good summer and got plenty of rainfall. Going into the winter though, times started getting hard. We had little winter moisture and by the time spring/summer rolled around things were looking dry. This began the year and half drought that was widespread throughout Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. It of course led to buying feed, and by then the price of feed was rising well above it's normal price.

We do feed cake, a range cube, throughout the winter, and also put molasses tubs out. The cattle didn't do as well as needed with this. With the harsh winter, record cold, and no moisture going into the spring/summer (and none coming) we decided we needed to step up the feed supplement. We chose to use Anipro, a very well proven brand of liquid feed, and other supplements. Later on we started using their mineral supplement, as well. We did have a slow breed up with cattle during that time, and sold about 11 head that were light bred. We received much more rain at the leased land later that summer that a lot of people in the area never saw, and for that we are thankful. The cattle did do much better with the little green grass and feed we had set out for them.

Winter came in again without any moisture, we sold 20 more head of cattle, because the grass was getting very scarce, and as we made it through this spring, we have received more rainfall than we had the year before. Summer begins soon, and we have had very hot days, praying that our rainy season, normally starting in July, will bring the moisture we need to see us through. 

Our home place saw fire last spring, and of course the drought. We have 20 head of cows left there, sold over half the herd because of fire and drought. We fed those few cows alfalfa hay throughout the winter, and of course mineral and liquid feed. With the small rainfall we have received lately, the grass is still just trying. Nothing has greened up, but we are waiting and hopeful.

Our day to day work consist of whatever needs to be done. Each day we never really know exactly what we will be doing. We do a lot of checking on the water tank, troughs, and of course the cattle. There is the regular upkeep of fences, and windmills or water wells, as well. The cattle need water, and the summer heat can make it hard to keep it for them, as in the winter if it's very cold, we break ice. We also clean the troughs and tanks out when necessary. You wouldn't want to drink yucky water, would you?

There is also the rotation of pastures, which requires horseback work. And, then there are the times we wean calves in the fall, and the branding or marking of the baby calves which we have coming up here in the next week or so. This type of work is what we enjoy the most, being horseback is soothing, and because we raise our own horses it's nice to ride good ones that know what they are doing and have a level head.

Our three boys, young as they are, 4 1/2, 3 and 14 months, even help out in any way possible. Especially the horseback work. The eldest is a good hand, the other two are learning the ropes but they are learning to do work and have responsibility. This way of life is work, it's determination, and you can not sit back and watch or nothing will get done. There is little time off, and hardly ever a vacation. But, it's a good life. A down to earth good way to live, and especially to raise children to know where all of their food comes from and how to work for the things they need or want. 

We are so thankful the Lord has allowed us to live this way, to be out and about to see what He has created in this world. The big blue sky, the vast land, and the animals. It's all beauty in our eyes! God is the root of it all, everything we have is His. We follow Him, and ask that He leads us in the way He wants. A true blessing to raise a family, and be cattle ranchers! Drought or no drought, it's all in His hands.

Thanks for reading our story! 

Thanks for the great feature! Rachel and Damon have a blog, however it is private. They love new readers though, so just send an e-mail for an invite. Here is a link to their profile.

If you would like to be a featured farmer or know someone who should be, leave a comment below - or check out our contact page. To learn more about the Faces of Agriculture Project click here.