The narrative about what it takes to be a successful rancher is changing.

It used to be that successful ranchers bred and raised cattle with good genes that could pack on the pounds.

Then, it was that successful ranchers grew a lot of grass for their cattle to graze.

Now, it’s that successful ranchers manage their ranches in such a way that their soil is healthy enough for a diversity of grasses to grow.

That’s what attendees learned last week at a sold-out, two-day conference in the Crossroads.

Deborah Clark, who bought a 14,200-acre ranch in North Texas with her husband in 2004, gave one of the presentations at Victoria College’s Emerging Technology Complex on Wednesday.

She said because the ranch had been continuously grazed since the late 1800s, a quarter of it in 2004 was bare ground and the ponds her cattle drank from were poor-quality.

She said in the past 15 years, that has changed.

She and her husband irrigated the land, used mobile water troughs and gently moved their herd of about 5,000 head four to six times a day.

She said the cattle don’t go back to where they’ve been for at least 45 days to allow the grass to recover.

“This practice is key,” Clark said, adding that their ranch produces double the pounds of beef per acre that its neighbors do.

In his presentation, also Wednesday, Richard Teague, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research ecologist, said what Clark and others are doing is called adaptive multi-paddock grazing. He said farmers can reap the benefits by doing something similar or by disturbing the soil less.

About 180 people registered for the conference, which was put on by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Texas Wildlife Association, the Texas State Soil & Water Conservation Board, the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the Victoria and Goliad Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Tuesday, attendees toured the Hahn Farm in Yorktown and the Mitchell Cattle Co. in Lolita.

José Dodier Jr., chairman of the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, said this type of event is important because many in the industry are resistent to change.

“We have farmers literally tell us, ‘My father has to die before I can start no-till,’ because, by gosh, that’s the way they’ve always done it,” Dodier said. “It’s hard to penetrate that wall.”

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at jpriest@vicad.com or 361-580-6521.

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Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest has done a little bit of everything since moving to Victoria in 2012. She was a regular fixture in the Crossroads’ historic courthouses, but now slathers on the sunscreen to report on the environment.

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