The definition of prosperity differs around the globe. To some, it’s fine cars. To others, it’s a well built home with something other than a dirt floor. To many, access to education equals prosperity. To all, a wholesome, abundant food supply is fundamental to prosperity. If the methods used to produce that wholesome, abundant food supply benefit the environment, then that’s all the better.
Beef is square in the middle of that equation. I have the privilege of serving as president of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association this year, but I’ve been a rancher all my life. My peers and I are proud of our product and are humbled by the heritage of stewardship inherent in being a rancher.
TSCRA was formed in 1877, less than a decade after the end of the Civil War. A group of Texas ranchers grew tired of cattle rustlers stealing their stock. Banding together, they hired lawmen to investigate thefts and to bring thieves to justice.
Today, TSCRA’s 28 law enforcement officers, identified by the badges they wear as Special Rangers, are still at work for cattle producers in Texas and Oklahoma, our main states of operation. It is important to note we provide this service for members and non-members of TSCRA because our law enforcement officers are commissioned through the Texas Department of Public Safety/Texas Rangers and through the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
In 2007, the work of our special rangers led to:
• More than 900 case investigations.
• Offenders were given 138 years in prison, probated, deferred or suspended sentences.
• Offenders will perform 2,845 hours of community service.
• Convicted offenders were ordered to pay more than $100,000 in restitution to their victims and another $34,000-plus in fines and court costs.
In addition to law enforcement, TSCRA protects the stewards of land and livestock in the Southwest by offering educational opportunities through our monthly magazine The Cattleman, which has been in print since 1914, and through schools and seminars; through specialized insurance products; and by representing landowner interests in the state and U.S. capitols.
Texas is home to approximately 150,000 ranchers, some with farming interests. Our 15,000-plus members own or manage 2.8 million head of cattle out of the 13 million beef cattle in Texas. Our members own or manage more than 51 million acres of Texas and Oklahoma.
To put that in perspective, 51 million acres equals just more than 79,687 square miles. If those acres were contiguous, the land mass would equal New York City – 261 times over.
Texas and Oklahoma stretch from the high rolling plains in the north, areas generally considered rolling grasslands, to subtropical, humid conditions along the border with Mexico. We ranch in the deserts of the west to the pine thickets along the Louisiana border to the sticking, stinging brush country of South Texas and the Gulf Coast.
Our members produce beef in areas that receive eight inches of rain per year to more than 30 inches of rain per year. Some of our members count on annual snow for moisture. Other members have never seen snow on their land.
I am fortunate to be the fourth generation to live on our family ranch in West Texas, where our eight inches of annual rainfall may come in one day. My ancestors settled in the Davis Mountain region in 1884.
My fellow officers at TSCRA have similarly long histories. Our First Vice President Dave Scott’s family has been in the livestock marketing business three-quarters of a century. We couldn’t get our beef products off the ranch and to the consumers without our good partnerships with the livestock market owners. Our Second Vice President Joe Parker Jr.’s family has the typical diversified operation of running cattle, raising wheat and managing pecan orchards.
CATTLE AND THE LAND
For the members of TSCRA, our main activity is to produce beef, but cattle are also a tool we use to manage our most valuable resource: the land.
Beef cattle are efficient converters of tough grasses to usable protein. While the mother cow and calves prefer the tender green shoots of spring pastures (just like we all enjoy the spring vegetables in the market) they become self-propelled harvesters and brush control units when summer and fall come along.
I mentioned earlier the importance of environmental health. No modern day cattle rancher enjoys the sight of bare rocks and bare ground. TSCRA supports through educational materials, articles and schools the use of planned rotational grazing; prudent fencing of sensitive creek and riverside areas, known as riparian areas, and the use of carefully planned prescribed fires on large acreages to remove water-robbing mesquite, cedar and other unusable brush in a cost-efficient manner.
All of these land management tools revitalize the land and encourage the growth of beneficial species of native grass for the cows. It also encourages the growth of other plants cows don’t prefer, but plants that deer, quail and songbirds consider lunch.
Whitetail deer, mule deer, quail, aplomado falcons, collard peccaries, butterflies, coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, wildflowers, and some trophy-sized bass are invaluable resources to our ranchers, many of whom include nature tourism in their annual operating budgets. Cattle are the most efficient and multi-purpose tool to trample thickets, break up crusty soil and
spread nutrients and seeds, allowing feed sources for wildlife to thrive and creating open areas in which wildlife can live and move about.
Healthy open lands and pastures capture rainfall that could flood areas if it fell on paved urban streets. These open grasslands filter impurities out of water on its way to creeks, rivers, bays and aquifers. A proper grazing management plan, such as one commonly used by TSCRA members who leave 50 percent of total forage in the field, keeps the grasses healthy, keeps the roots strong and allows water to filter into the soil, rather than eroding the soil into the water supply.
Land stewardship is core to our ethic as ranchers, and we are equally mindful of cattle herd stewardship. We take seriously our responsibility to care for our herds’ health and handling. TSCRA offers our members and non-members free training in best management practices such as:
• Where to administer the medication
• How to move cattle from pen to pasture in a quiet, non-stressful manner, safe for the human and animal.
• How to properly load the cattle in the trailer when it’s time to go to market.
Stress on cattle is as bad as stress for you and me. Our association is committed to teaching cattle raisers how to reduce stress on both sides and produce a product the consumer values.
NOT YOUR GRANDPA’S BEEF
We in the beef industry have stopped using the “same old way” of thinking when it comes to presenting a product suited to the needs of today’s time-stretched consumer.
We at TSCRA encourage our members to continually challenge the assumptions of the past and look for efficiencies and methods that produce a better product and enhance the environment.
But, just as it was 131 years ago when TSCRA was formed, one thing is still true today: For ranchers, prosperity is measured by good cattle on healthy land, with abundant, diverse wildlife and clean water. That’s a tradition worth keeping. We’re proud to be the providers of a product that many consider a measure of prosperity in their own homes. Remember: “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.”
Jon Means is president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, located in Van Horn, Texas. For more information visit www.texascattleraisers.org.