By Julie Tomascik
A look at sheep and goat production, diversified farms and research and education were part of the 2019 Young Farmer & Rancher (YF&R) Fall Tour held in West Texas in early September.
The annual two-day event exposes young farmers and ranchers to agriculture in a different region of the Lone Star State.
This year’s tour included stops in and around San Angelo.
“The Fall Tour is a great way to network and learn from people who do things differently,” Melody Kneupper, Texas Farm Bureau’s (TFB) YF&R Advisory Committee chair, said. “From cotton to grains and cattle to sheep and goats, agriculture really drives the economy in West Texas. The tour offered young farmers and ranchers a look at the region’s agricultural diversity. It gave us the opportunity to learn from each other and make new friends. And that’s what we did. For two days, we had fun, and we learned.”
More than 100 farmers and ranchers attended this year’s tour.
During a stop at Denis Feedlot in Vancourt, the group learned about managing a sheep and goat feedyard. Collin Weise, who is the fourth generation on the farm and feedlot, gave the tour.
“It’s always exciting to get to see other young people like myself involved in agriculture,” Weise said. “Tours and events like this give us a chance to share ideas, discuss technology and the issues we face being younger and trying to make a living in agriculture.”
Wiese said there are about 11,000 sheep and goats currently in the feedlot, but the maximum capacity is 50,000.
Sheep are in the feedyard for about 90 days, but Wiese noted that can vary depending on the customer and the animal.
They have 19 livestock guardian dogs but still face issues from predators, including coyotes and feral hogs.
They also grow grain sorghum, cotton and hay grazer. They purchase commodities—such as alfalfa pellets, cottonseed hulls and additional grain sorghum—by the truckload for the feed mill on the property.
Sheep and goats are one of the leading commodities in West Texas.
Large volume attracts more buying power, and Producers Livestock Auction in San Angelo offers just that.
The auction boasts the greatest concentration of sheep and goat buyers from across the U.S. through sales and private treaty.
The Cargile family purchased the sale barn in 1954. They receive livestock every day of the week.
The group toured the facility and discussed checkoff programs for sheep and goats, as well as animal disease traceability, with Benny Cox, the sheep sales manager.
A visit to Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in San Angelo allowed the group to learn more about the agency’s work on brush management and prescribed burning, as well as research projects on sheep, goats and livestock guardian dogs.
“Learning about sheep and goats at the various stops was my favorite part of the tour,” said Laura Henson, a young farmer and adjunct faculty at Tarleton State University. “I liked touring the feedyard and seeing it on that scale. We cut a lot of silage for feedlots, and I’ve been to several cattle feedyards. But this was my first sheep and goat feedlot.”
A visit to Halfmann Red Angus showed the young group how ranchers are using technology.
The Halfmanns, who raise Red Angus cattle and grow row crops, shared how they’ve invested in technology when working cattle and managing records and data. They also discussed their no-till farming operation and how they’ve benefited from precision agriculture.
“The Halfmanns are analyzing a lot of data for their cattle and crops,” Taylor Polson, a farmer and rancher from Central Texas, said. “They’re really maximizing profits by recording that data, looking at historical averages and knowing more about their farm.”
It’s something Polson said he’d like to do more of.
Other tour stops included Top Tier Grain and Feed Company and Hwy 67 Gin Co., both located in Miles.
Wheat is the main commodity for Top Tier. They average 600 rail cars in a season and have a combined 516,000 bushels of storage.
Hwy 67 Gin operators discussed issues with plastic contamination in cotton during a tour of the facility.
The group also visited the MIR Center at Angelo State University.
“The MIR Center is the university’s agricultural research and instruction center,” Kneupper said. “We toured their meat laboratory, food safety laboratory and talked with their faculty and graduate students. From wildlife to livestock to classroom instruction, Angelo State has a lot to offer students who are pursuing an agricultural or food sciences degree.”
At Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, about 800 donkeys are currently on the 172-acre ranch. It is the world’s leading donkey rescue organization, with 49 locations throughout the U.S. The Texas location serves as the headquarters.
They have been in operation for 19 years and rescued more than 10,000 donkeys.
The rescue, which was initially started in California, began with a backyard donkey. Most of the donkeys that are adopted from the rescue become pets. Others are adopted to serve as guardians for livestock and sheep.
In order for a donkey to be considered “adoptable,” it must meet certain criteria, including being friendly toward people, accept a halter and stand for hoof trimming.
They also place herds of about 20 to 150 donkeys in areas where there is sufficient grazing available to support the donkeys’ needs. This effort was born out of the need to care for the rescued animals, but it also provides brush control for farmers and ranchers.
A highlight on the trip was Coats Saddlery, where the legendary Larry Coats showed the young farmers and ranchers how his saddles are made.
Coats makes an average of 450-475 saddles each year.
At the National Finals Rodeo, he often has more than 10 saddles in the arena. His biggest customers are team ropers, but he also builds custom saddles for cowboys, barrel racers and other horsemen and women.
The trip gave young farmers and ranchers a look at West Texas agriculture, a chance to network and learn techniques to adopt on their farms and ranches.
“Every year, the Fall Tour offers young farmers and ranchers an opportunity to step outside of their own operation and get new ideas and see what others are doing around the state. No matter if you’re growing cotton in the Panhandle or rice on the coast, cattle in Central Texas, timber in East Texas or row crops in the Panhandle or the Valley, there’s something for everyone,” Kneupper said.