Ranch Management weathers the course

The TCU Ranch Management Program brings real-life experience into the classroom to teach students how to manage during droughts. 

Sept. 14 marked 70 days of 100-degree weather in North Texas, setting a new record for the most 100-degree days within a year, according to Fox News.

Despite the extreme temperatures, classroom lectures have not changed from previous years. Because rainfall varies each year, drought is a topic that is always covered, Chris Farley, assistant director of the Ranch Management Program, said. If ranchers do not receive adequate rainfall during the growing months of May, June and July, there is no way to make it up later, Farley said.

The program teaches students how to create drought plans during the years when rainfall is below average, he said.

A drought plan is a staging process of getting rid of cattle, starting with the older cattle and ending with a complete sellout of livestock if rain does not come, Farley said.

“I, myself, had cattle, and due to the drought, I did what we taught, that you have a drought plan and if you don’t reach the rainfall you need, then you sell out,” he said.

Farley said he has already sold half of his cattle and could be completely out of the livestock business in about a month.

TCU Ranch Management alumna Mandy Dauses said she also had to sell much of her herd because it had become uneconomical to maintain the cattle.

The Ranch Management Program taught her to hit the market before the panic; by July, it’s too late because costs become low, Dauses said.

In March, Dauses said she sold 122 cattle and will probably have to sell another 20 this month in order to lower her water bill.

Usually ranchers sell thin, older cattle, but recently, the younger, fatter cattle that would normally be held onto are being sold, something Dauses said she has never seen before.
Feed prices have increased because there is not enough to go around, and ranchers are having to pay for things they would not have to in normal conditions, such as water and cotton trash, Dauses said. 

As a younger rancher, it is exciting to jump in and try to find new opportunities; however, there are a lot of older ranchers who have completely sold out of livestock and have said they were done, she said.

In addition, Dauses, a resident of Kemp, said she also lost about 100 acres of land because of the wildfires that swept through East Texas as a result of the extreme heat.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear the grass crunch under my feet,” Dauses said.

The recovery process will be long, and it will probably take about three years for things to even back out, Dauses said. 

Ranchers have to be both economically and ecologically sound; a rancher cannot have one without the other, Director of the Ranch Management Program Kerry Cornelius said.

In most cases, if ranchers did not have enough water or grass, it was not economical to keep cattle, and most did not have enough water, Cornelius said.

A rancher without grass will not be a rancher very long, Cornelius said.

Ranchers are in the grass business first, and in the cattle business second, Farley said. 

Bigger ranches are temporarily moving their cattle north and east to states getting rain, with the intent to bring the animals back to Texas when the drought is over, Farley said.

Two years ago the opposite was happening when the North was going through a drought, Northern ranchers sent their cattle to southern ranches, Farley said.

While one area in the United States is prospering, another area is struggling to the extreme, Cornelius said.

“In agricultural production, especially in ranching, there’s no formula. There’s no Betty Crocker cookbook recipe to run a ranch perfectly,“ Cornelius said. “You have to be able to adjust as necessary, and you have to look at all the variables, mainly the weather and the markets that are constantly changing.”

This is not the first drought. Life moves in cycles, It always has and it always will, Cornelius said.