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The west Texas rangelands can be a forbidding place for man and beast alike. It's rough. It's arid. And it's just four years removed from the hottest and driest year in state history -- a year that tested the resolve of many livestock producers.
It was in that unpleasantly historic year of 2011 that Sims Price joined his dad, Frank, as co-owner of the family ranch, called simply enough "Frank and Sims Price Ranch." That year, they were plagued by 100 days of 100 degree Fahrenheit-plus temperatures and more days than that without a drop of rain. Their land seemed to become little more than kindling for a series of devastating wildfires, from which parts of the ranch are still recovering today.
For the Prices, it isn't the hardships that tell their story, it's what they did with those hardships. After that trying year, the two turned the ranch around, receiving a series of awards for environmental stewardship, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Environmental Stewardship Award Program award in 2014. Ask Frank Price about the recognition, and he will tell you how honored he and his family are to have received it; but he'll quickly add that awards don't pay the bills.
"We're not telling anyone this is the way it's supposed to be done," Frank said during a visit to his ranch last summer. "I think as ranchers, we have an obligation to take care of the land and make a profit. The way we do that may not be for everybody, but it works for us."
FLEXIBILITY THE KEY
The main message both Frank and Sims want to get across when asked about environmental stewardship in the operation is the importance of flexibility. It starts with the way they conduct rotational grazing on the ranch's 68,000 acres of rangeland, spread across four west Texas counties -- Coke, Glasscock, Nolan and Sterling. The Prices divide their ranch into 11 units, with a single herd on each unit for a prescribed number of days. Herd sizes can range from 50 to 200 mother cows per grazing unit. Don't ask for specifics, as Franks explains the calculations change with the conditions -- that's what makes it work.
Their one-herd, one-unit grazing plan was influenced by presentations from grazing gurus Stan Parson and Alan Savory. Frank has tried cell, or mob, grazing but soon gave it up.
"My constitution isn't strong enough to move cattle three times a day," he said. "We move them pasture to pasture in a rotation. We have grazing charts to keep up with it, but again, you have to be flexible. Flexibility is the key to making it work."
A HANDLE ON BRUSH
Balancing out herd and grazing areas can be a little easier when there's more forage. For the Prices, that meant putting a priority on brush control. Aside from being good for the land, Frank said it also turns out to be good business, because it helps create an environment where cattle can feed themselves on grass for 12 months a year -- no supplemental feeding normally required.
"With the exception of 2011 and 2012, we have not fed mature cows," Frank said. "It helps the bottom line tremendously when you take feed out of the equation."