Join Login Search
For Electric Cooperative Members
For Electric Cooperative Members
Texas USA

Ranchland Revival

Texas ranchers work with the Audubon Society to restore grasslands and natural habitats

Jon Taggart’s ranching operation near Grandview would look familiar to a Texas rancher of 150 years ago. The native prairie grasses that Taggart’s black and red Angus cattle eat are the same types that grew in the 19th century.

Most days, Taggart works on his ranch, Burgundy Pasture Beef, not from a vehicle but from the back of his trusty American quarter horse. While he could use herbicides and fertilizers that the rancher of yesteryear didn’t have access to, he doesn’t. The land doesn’t need those modern aids, and the cattle don’t need hormones or antibiotics. Taggart and his son, Ben, practice sustainable ranching.

“I base my management style on history—on what grew well here in the past,” Taggart explains.

What grew well were native prairie grasses, annuals and perennials. His land now nurtures Johnson grass, big and little bluestem, Indiangrass, switchgrass, and clover and other legumes. The deep-rooted perennial grasses keep moisture in the soil, providing food for the cattle even in droughts.

Burgundy Pasture Beef was the first Texas ranch to qualify for the Audubon Society’s Conservation Ranching certification, in 2018. Audubon began the program a year earlier in response to an alarming decline in meadowlarks, scissor-tailed flycatchers, and other native prairie birds and wildlife due to the loss of their natural habitats.

Fourteen other Texas ranches are now in the program, including Roam Ranch in Fredericksburg, Sneary Cattle in Bay City, Pajarito Ranch in Pandora and DWD Longhorns in Tarpley. About 68,000 acres of prairie grasslands in Texas have been certified as fully restored prairie land under the program.

Thomas Schroeder manages Audubon’s Conservation Ranching initiative in Texas and Oklahoma. He helps ranchers achieve the society’s certification.

Qualifying requires completing a detailed management plan that’s unique to each ranch. Schroeder says the plan is created with input from the rancher, Audubon staff and sometimes other stakeholders.

“We meet at the ranch and start with an understanding of the program and Audubon’s target species of birds for different parts of the state,” Shroeder says. “We ask what the rancher’s goals are and how we can improve the habitat. We want to create as diverse a habitat as possible.” And the plans are pragmatic.

“We allow for contingencies such as droughts,” Shroeder says.

He says ranchers get involved with the program for two reasons. “Primarily they want to be recognized for doing good things on their land,” he says. “Audubon helps them tell that story. It connects ranchers to consumers.”

The second reason is the economic advantage conservation techniques offer. “You can raise one-third more animals, with rotational grazing, on the same amount of land,” Shroeder says. “Over time, both the quality and quantity of the grasses and forages improve.”

Schroeder says that the Audubon program has helped participants “see their ranches in a different perspective, opened their eyes. They tell me they’re recognizing different species of birds and wildlife, spotting new grasses they haven’t seen before.

“It’s a lot of work to tell the story of how cattle are an important part of the system. So often, cattle are considered a problem or bad for the environment. But managed properly, cattle can be a tool for our grasslands.”

The Audubon Society works with ranchers from the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast and in Central, East and West Texas. More than 100 ranches in 16 states are Audubon-certified.

At Taggart’s ranch, south of the Metroplex, he has found sustainable ranching to be less work and more profitable than regular ranching. Without fertilizer, herbicides, labor to clear brush, hormones or antibiotics, input costs are much lower. And he finds a ready market for leaner, healthier grass-fed beef.

Reestablishing a native prairie, especially if the land has been tilled and damaged by modern farming methods, takes time. Taggart says it’s usually three to four years, depending on rainfall.

But it’s worth the wait.

“If you take care of the soil, it will take care of everything.”