On the Griffin Ranch, family traditions are a blueprint for decisions about college, livelihoods and ranch management, but are difficult to amend. Tom, Dan, and Ben Griffin graduated from Texas Tech University like their father and are the fifth generation to manage a portion of the family ranch in Borden County, Texas.
Tom and Dan perpetuate stewardship attitudes they learned from previous generations, but have fostered a stronger relationship with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve their conservation practices.
Dropping off the cap
The Griffin Ranch is about 30,000 acres in total and lies right off the caprock, a stunning 250-mile-long geographic border marking the end of the Southern Plains. They also have another portion of the ranch around Channing, Texas.
“You drop off the cap, and it has a lot more character as far as up and down, breaks and creeks,” Tom said. “Every pasture is a little different.”
Tom, Dan and Ben take care of separate portions of the cow-calf ranch. However, the Griffins act as a team during times like branding and weaning and will help each other take care of the ranch regardless of whose “portion” they are working. They treat the ranch as one cohesive family business and “plan to keep it that way,” according to Dan.
The family has been managing the land since 1926 when Thomas Louis Griffin first established the ranch.
Taking back the land
Based on stories from his grandpa, Tom said the landscape was completely different back then. It would’ve looked more like the Rolling Plains with a few short mesquite trees, if any.
“It has changed quite a bit I’d say,” Tom said and chuckled, “but I think it’s always been dry.”
Thomas Lane Griffin, the brothers’ dad, began battling mesquite on the ranch, a struggle that has continued into the next generation. The trees, a problematic invasive species, suppress grasslands and dominate water resources. They are hard to eradicate, but spread easily.
“Whether you get governmental assistance or not, you have to fight it,” Tom said, “or else it takes over. It crawls through and spreads like wildfire.”
Dan and Tom said they administer brush control through aerial spraying, grubbing with a tractor or excavator, and have recently experimented with prescribed burns collaborating with the NRCS.
“Since I can remember, Dad pretty much took care of the ranch himself with a couple of hands from time to time,” Tom said. “He’s done more on this ranch than we’ve done together.”
Tom explained Griffin Sr. is not resistant to new ideas and management practices, but he is a careful and cautious, especially not wanting to detriment the ranch’s grazing capability.
“He’s seen a lot more drought in his lifetime than Dan and I have,” Tom said. “He has more experience and is still the final say on a lot of things.”
The brothers consider drought a family hardship along with the passing of their grandfather.
“Paw Paw died in 2010,” Dan said, “and then it didn’t rain.”
“Paw Paw died in 2010, and then it didn’t rain.”
Since 1996, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service reports droughts have taken more than $38.5 billion from the Texas agriculture economy with farm and ranch losses totaling $21.62 billion.
Tom said 2014 and 2015 were positive years for the ranch. Since the “worst” drought Tom has ever experienced in 2011 and 2012, the ranch’s populations of quail, deer, and bobcats have skyrocketed, largely due to the conservation work the Griffins do with the NRCS.
NRCS conservation partnership
With their increasing roles as ranch managers, Tom and Dan have brought new ideas to the table by working closely with the local NRCS’s field office to improve the ranch using conservation enhancements through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
The Griffin brothers are able to enroll in NRCS programs as Young Farmer and Ranchers. This incentive gives young families like the Griffins, who are beginning to establish or expand their agricultural operations, a slightly higher cost-share rate on conservation practices and improvement projects.
Dan said the NRCS has helped cost-share projects on the ranch including building fences to help prevent overgrazing, spreading out water sources for cattle, and building a water storage system to save water for drought years.
“Because these improvements are cost prohibitive, we would’ve had to get loans,” Tom said. “The financial assistance from the NRCS makes it easier to do these conservation enhancements.”
The NRCS provides technical and financial assistance but also supports ranchers as an educational resource with a team of district conservationists, water quality and grazing land specialists, and agricultural engineers.
Dan has worked with Matthew Coffman, the NRCS Southern Rolling Plains grazing lands coordinator, to formulate a prescribed burn plan for the Griffin ranch.
“Matt made the entire fire plan, and it didn’t cost us anything,” Dan said. “The prescribed burns have helped with productivity of the grasses and brush control and has made our pastures healthier.”
Dan said working with Coffman and other NRCS staff has sparked his interest to learn more about grasses and how to keep the land productive.
Coffman said he began working with Dan in 2014. He said he is inspired by the large-scale impact on the health of the land from work his NRCS predecessors did nearly 20 years ago.
Coffman said goals for the ranch include building the burn program to the point where the Griffins have applying prescribed burns “down to a science” with a regular rotation of acres and are able to take more control of the process.
“They are just great guys,” Coffman said. “I enjoy working with them, and I can tell they want to benefit their land. They’re working really hard.”
Strong family bonds
Responsible stewardship is one of the many Griffin family traditions that the brothers said is “in their blood.”
Tom said his wife and kids enjoy Texas Tech football games and are able to sit in the same seats that Tom and his brothers did growing up. Tom and Ben were able to get the season tickets their grandparents used to have.
Gloria Griffin, the brothers’ grandmother, still lives at the homeplace and celebrated her 87th birthday in October. Tom said she has plenty of great-grandkids who visit her daily. The brothers indicated their strong ties to their family motivated them to return to the ranch after graduating.
Overall, Tom describes the Griffins as blessed to be able to continue living on the ranch and passing down family traditions and values down to the next generation.
“We grew up riding horses, working cows, hunting, fishing, and going to church,” Dan said. “Visiting grandma next door seem to be about as good a lifestyle to raise kids in as we can think of.”