Born and raised in Burkburnett, Texas, Keith Easter said he is a rancher/farmer or vice versa. While attending Texas Tech University, he worked for a friend who farmed and ran stocker cattle.
“I had always wanted to run cattle on my own wheat,” Easter said. “That’s all I have ever really wanted to do.”
Once ready, Easter was given the chance of a lifetime.
“I was very blessed to get the opportunity to buy the ranch I grew up on,” Easter said. “My wife says it was God’s hands that did it, and I believe it.”
The ranch came with quite a bit of farming, Easter said. However, he was excited to be in control of his own operation and his source of feed and wheat.
My wife says it was God’s hands that did it, and I believe it.
Hard Work and A Lot of Faith
Wheat is a cash crop in the region. From mid-fall until late spring, Easter said, wheat provides a good source of protein for stocker calves.
Easter said the great thing about wheat is that it enables ranchers to have an opportunity to have cattle on high protein forage, and do well, through the winter months when warm season grasses are dormant.
“Wheat is a dry land crop, but it is also a cool weather crop,” Easter said. “It is well-suited for our area. If we can get the wheat planted and established early along with some timely rain, it’s hard to beat.”
For farmers and ranchers to depend on wheat for a forage supply, wheat must be planted early. Early planting allows the plants to get a good start before cold weather and short days set in.
“TAM 401” and “Razor” are the beardless wheat being used by farmers in the region. This type of wheat matures earlier, and it has proven to be a good fall and spring grazer.
Easter said once cattle ship in the spring, he starts running the chisel on his ground, to break it up.
Easter uses two four-wheel drive tractors, a chisel plow with a disc, and an air seeder.
“Once you get it broken up enough,” he said, “you are then able to fertilize and sweep the ground through the summer to keep summer annuals from growing up and robbing your moisture.”
The objective is to get the ground in better shape to have a good seed bed in the fall.
Any time after the first of September when there is an adequate amount of rain, he will begin to plant his wheat. If no rain is in the forecast by the first of October, Easter will dry sow his wheat.
“It is all dictated by weather,” Easter said.
While there are many variables, time and rain are key for a successful wheat crop.
Firm, wet ground is desirable for sowing wheat. “You want your moisture, but you don’t want to get it so shallow it’ll dry out,” Easter said.
Wheat: A Rancher’s Gold Mine
Owner and operator of the Wichita Livestock Sales Company, Billy Joe Easter, said he uses wheat as a source for economical weight gain through late fall, winter, and early spring.
Keith and Billy Joe are cousins who both grew up with agriculture. Their dads are brothers who were raised on a farm.
“Our dads’ good reputations have helped both of us in starting and growing our businesses,” Billy Joe said.
Through the years, they have stayed in close contact because of their interest in the stocker wheat grazing.
“Wheat pasture is a very suitable cool-season grazer that one should take advantage of for fall weaning calves,” Billy Joe said.
Along with his cattle auction, Billy Joe runs his own cattle/wheat operation.
“I use wheat to grow stocker calves into yearlings ready to go to the feed yard,” Billy Joe said. “Along with that, wheat allows me to grow breeding bulls for resale.”
If the market allows, Billy Joe said, he will put first calf heifers on wheat to give the young females a better opportunity to breed back and raise their first calf with ease.
Since Billy Joe does not harvest, he plants a wheat and oat mix to improve grazing.
“I want a variety of wheat that puts out lots of leaf,” Billy Joe said, “and is late maturing so it will last longer.”
Depending on moisture, Billy Joe said his cattle will graze on wheat from December until May.
Right now, the expense to harvest wheat for grain is far too high for farmers to take that kind of loss.
By grazing your wheat you’re taking away your harvest expense and in its place selling it in pounds of beef.
Billy Joe said thousands of wheat acres are strictly used to grow grain outside of Texas.
Local wheat prices may see a slight impact (slightly higher prices due to less wheat being harvested), but globally it does not affect the price of wheat.
“By grazing your wheat you’re taking away your harvest expense and in its place selling it in pounds of beef,” he said.
Billy Joe is thankful to be able to grow his cattle on wheat pasture, which allows stocker calves to spend less time in the feed yard.
“Wheat is giving us an opportunity to make money,” Billy Joe said.