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Conservation of Land & Heritage

Dan and Tom Griffin stand strong on their family ranch in front of angus cattle.

 

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.

Firm foundations

“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.”

 

 

The Canyons Called Them Home

The sun begins to peek over the caprock of the Tule Ranch in Briscoe County, Texas. Cooper Cogdell walks out his front door, coffee mug in hand, ready to face the full day ahead of him. A warm golden glow begins to fill the deep canyons where Cooper heads to gather cattle, living out his dream.

A PASSION FOR RANCHING & HORSES
Since Cooper was a little boy, he knew he wanted to be a cowboy like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him. But, he also dreamed of being a Red Raider. While at Texas Tech, Cooper studied agricultural economics and was a member of the Texas Tech Ranch Horse Team. During his undergraduate education, he spent three years on the winning collegiate ranch horse team and coached the team for two years while getting his master’s degree.

“It was probably the most rewarding experience that I’ve ever had,” Cooper said, “The opportunities it presented were something I’ll never give up. The people I met through coaching, and the things I learned while coaching my peers, were beyond beneficial. It was challenging, no doubt. I learned some very good life lessons.”

Holly Cogdell, Cooper’s wife and fellow Tech alum, says her husband definitely used his gifts while coaching the ranch horse team.

“He’s good at teaching people,” Holly said. “He’s good at explaining things, and he’s patient. I feel that being the coach he got to share some of those gifts. He did a good job.”

Cooper worked with many leaders in the stock horse industry including Kim Lindsey and the late Kris Wilson. He credits his experiences with the team to helping him become a better horseman and rancher, which would come to play a larger role down the road.

THE REAL WORLD
In January 2013 while Cooper was coaching and finishing out his last year as a graduate student, he and Holly got married. After graduation, the couple stayed in Lubbock and Cooper accepted a job with Plains Capital Bank as a credit analyst.

“I never thought I’d be in an office, wearing a suit every day,” Cooper said. “But, I worked with a lot of great people and learned a lot from that side of the desk.”

Although they cherished their friends and jobs in Lubbock, Cooper and Holly ached to be on the Cogdell family’s historic Tule Ranch where Cooper grew up.

“I really wanted to be a part of that,” Holly said, “a part of raising my future children on the ranch, in the home, but also on the ranch with Cooper. I wanted us all to be together,” said Holly with a grin. “After we got married, all I wanted to do was be a ranch wife. I was just so excited about that. I think I had a very picturesque idea of what being a ranch wife meant.”

Doors opened and closed, not allowing an opportunity for the young couple to move back to the ranch until the spring of 2015.

“We just didn’t have a peace about coming back here yet until April of 2015,” Holly said. “I remember the specific weekend we came home and were helping brand calves. Cooper and I both had the same feeling of ‘It’s time to come home. We’re ready.’ That next week I found out I was pregnant. It was meant to be.”

RETURNING TO THE CANYONS
Cooper is the fourth generation of the Cogdell family to return and continue the family’s ranching legacy.

“I feel like in the population as a whole, we’re definitely seen as a minority,” Cooper said. “There are not many young people wanting to come back and do this anymore, just because it is so hard – the financial burden of it and the resources available.”

Cooper understands why young adults have a hard time returning to the family operation.

I feel like in the population as a whole, we’re definitely seen as a minority.
Cooper Cogdell

“With the estate taxes and other expenses, it’s just so hard to keep ranching anymore,” he said. “A lot of people work all their lives to get to this point. They want to retire and buy a ranch and raise cattle. For me to have the opportunity to come back home after college and ranch as a living, I feel very blessed.”

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Cooper saddles as the sun peeks over the horizon.

Cooper and Holly run their own commercial cattle and also have a partnership with Cooper’s brother, Blaze and his wife Lottie, while assisting their father, Dick.

“We’ve been talking a lot about simplifying things,” Cooper said. “Buying more land is expensive. It’s not always easy to make it work. This is why we’ve thought and prayed about it so much, about partnering and trying to be more effective in the way we run a business and the way we ranch.”

Not only have the Cogdell’s been a successful cattle ranching family  for over 100 years, but they also raise their own ranch horses and have produced many great cutting horses for the show pen.

Cooper said one challenge that comes with a family ranching operation is the lack of separation between work and home, making it easy to drag work problems into family problems.

“But we’ve been blessed,” he said. “Our family gets along really well. When we’re working cattle, it is usually just family. Nowadays, we’ve got so many cousins and aunts and uncles. Everybody just jumps in and helps out.”

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
The original Tule Ranch, founded in 1954, is currently supporting seven Cogdell families. Many evenings you can find a handful of grandkids gathered at their Nana Bette’s home, discussing cutting horses and old family stories, or at one of the aunts’ and uncles’ houses for supper and a highly competitive pick-up basketball game on the caliche drive way. The care and mutual respect that runs through the family is beyond evident, as well as their love for the ranch and the land they call home.

“Being amongst the Lord’s creation, the land becomes a part of you,” Cooper said.

“Especially these canyons. They’ve always been special to our family. They’re so tough on cattle, vehicles, people, and horses, but there’s something majestic about them – just the ruggedness of them. It’s an art form that God created and we get to live in them.”

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The canyons that run through the Tule Ranch are considered part of the eminent Palo Duro Canyon.

“The stuff that you experience out here are things you can’t experience anywhere else. Dealing with animals, the joy and pain of life, learning responsibility, and work ethic, you just don’t see that much anymore,” Cooper said.

Stirring a pot of soup on the stove, Holly paused looking down at her 10-month-old daughter, McCrae, playing on the floor.

“I think agriculture, in general, really requires you to trust in a higher power and trust in something bigger than yourself, because you don’t have control of the animals, or the rain, or the grass growing, or any of that,” she said. “All you can do is your very best to be a good steward. It makes you realize that there’s something bigger going on and to trust that God is in control of it.”

I think agriculture, in general, really requires you to trust in a higher power.
Holly Cogdell

The young couple agrees ranching is not where their hope is found, but where their joy is found. No matter how challenging it may get, ranching is what they love to do, and it’s a desire the Lord put in their hearts.

Spurs scraping against the porch steps, Cooper swipes off his hat and shuffles his way inside his simple ranch home. Kissing Holly on the forehead, he scoops up his baby girl and says a silent prayer of thankfulness for the life he feels blessed to live and the dream he gets to live daily.

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Life On The Rodeo Road

A s he backed into the roping box looking under the brim of his Resistol hat, Hunter Cure saw the dust of his competitor, and knew it was his moment to shine at the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2013. He nodded his head and his steer sprinted out of the chute. Before he knew it, the run was over, and he had claimed his first world championship. For the Texas Tech alum, it was a dream come true.

Growing up with a family that owned and managed a grain elevator in the small north Texas town of Electra, hard work was something very familiar to Cure, a 2006 agricultural and applied economics graduate. However, he made his name in the rodeo arena.

Cure began rodeoing at age 13 and has not looked back since. Following in his older brother’s footsteps, he began steer wrestling using the steers and horses his family already had. Steer wrestling proved to be a pretty prosperous hobby that transformed into a career for Cure.

After a successful high school rodeo career, Cure found himself on a rodeo scholarship at Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas. His freshman year proved to be a learning curve, but he had a smooth transition into college. After gaining valuable opportunities, Cure realized there were still areas he was lacking knowledge and experience and decided it was a good time to transfer to Texas Tech to continue his college rodeo career.

Upon transferring to Tech, Hunter bought two acres of land, built a barn and practice pen, bought cattle, and set to work on another successful year of college rodeo. During his first year on the Texas Tech rodeo team, Cure did not miss more than a couple of short rounds throughout the year. He went on to win the southwest regional championship and the national inter-collegiate rodeo championship later in the summer. During his junior year, he was a member of the Texas Tech men’s rodeo team, that placed third in the nation at the 2006 college finals.

During his senior year, Cure bought his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association card. The rather large investment and transition from living in a dorm room to buying land and building facilities in Lubbock proved to be worth it when Cure won the national inter-collegiate rodeo steer wrestling title. He says that his time at Tech was a learning experience and gave him the option to succeed or not to.

“I felt like while it was a learning experience,” Cure said. “It put the ball in your court to do what you want you could either sink or swim for the most part.”

Transitioning from his college rodeo career to the professional world wasn’t easy. It came with many learning curves and took time for him to asses and work through his weaknesses. In 2007 and 2008, he was in the top 25 in the standings, but couldn’t quite break through the top 10 to qualify a the trip to Las Vegas for the Wrangler NFR. However, four years after buying his PRCA card, Cure made his first WNFR appearance, the ride every cowboy works towards.

Cure’s first trip to the finals was another learning experience. Not performing quite as well as he had hoped, Cure vowed that if he ever qualified again, he would be better prepared and have a winning game plan. It took four years of struggling and growing, but through the cowboy’s dedication and determination, Vegas was in sight. Cure returned to the finals in 2013 with a different horse and a different plan.

Going into the finals ranked no.7 in the world, Cure won two rounds and placed in five. He walked off the dirt in Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center after the tenth round of the WNFR with a gold buckle that read “World Champion.”

Soon after the glory of winning the world title, came tough luck. What Cure thought was just a sore back after a day of practice turned out to be a career-halting injury. A pinched nerve led to back surgery, which disabled Cure for the majority of the 2014 summer. Unsure of where his career would go, Cure considered if he was be out of the rodeo world for good.

“That was a huge letdown after feeling like I was on top of a mountain after winning the world in 2013,” Cure said.

However, 2015 proved to be a very successful year. Cure faced trials after recovering from surgery and getting back into the rodeo circuit, but the challenges paid off. He qualified for the NFR again, and brought home another gold buckle to Electra.

“That year was very justifying knowing that I was able to come back after surgery and win the world again,’ he said.

Though rodeo is a full-time job for Cure most of the year, he manages to find time to put his agricultural and applied economics degree from Texas Tech to use in multiple entrepreneurial facets. He started college pursuing a degree in engineering, but went back to his agricultural roots and changed his major to agricultural and applied economics. In May 2006, he graduated with his bachelor’s degree.

Cure and his mother work cooperatively together with cow-calf operations. His mother’s operation is strictly cow-calf with 175 head of Angus cows she breeds back to registered Angus bulls. Cure’s part in her operation is managing the cattle. He has a mix of Hereford cows and white Brahmer bulls he is currently trying to breed to break into the tiger stripe heifer market. Along with his cow-calf operation, Cure has a herd of Mexican steers he contracts out for steer wrestling at most of the major stock show rodeos in Texas.

The last of his entrepreneurial pursuits is a sideline business of appraising land and farm equipment for banks. Through this business, he has the opportunity to meet other producers around the state and see what works in their operations.

Whether Hunter has been on the road rodeoing or on the ranch all day managing cattle, one thing is the same everyday: coming home to a wife and kids. His wife Bristi is also a Texas Tech graduate and now works in the wind energy business. Together, they have two children, Halli, 4, and Hayes, 2. They keep Hunter and Bristi busy and on their toes.

“Kids have definitely changed our way of life, and it’s an ongoing circus act for the most part,” Bristi said.

The couple’s hectic rodeo and work travel often create challenges when coordinating family time. A support system of Hunter’s mom nearby and Bristi’s parents only two hours away they are able to make it work.

“We usually just do a handover in the middle of the night or early in the morning when he gets home, and I leave,” she said.

Cure says it is difficult to balance all of his irons in the fire, but that is just his way of life.

“It’s a juggling act, and I drop the ball every once in a while, but I try to keep them in the air as best I can. There’s no set pattern to it, just work.”

There’s no set pattern to it, just work. Hunter Cure

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Grazing a Gold Mine

 

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.
Keith Easter

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 Easter

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.

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