Can this couple have their quail habitat and graze it too?
by Peggy Cole
Emry Birdwell gets out of the pickup and wades through his herd of 5,200 young beeves, now swirling around the truck in eager anticipation. They know the routine. Emry carries a spool onto which he will roll up the thin, but effective electric polywire. The cattle will surge onto land that has been otherwise occupied during its lengthy vacation from cattle. It has been employed growing food and shelter for a vast variety of creatures—all in symbiosis with each other—from the tiny organisms of the soil food web to the dung beetles responsible for carrying minerals downward and the birds carrying seeds upward and the grasses and the trees and the deer and the cows and the quail.
Deborah Clark, Emry’s wife, wildlife enthusiast and director at Texas Wildlife Association, rides in the back of the pickup with me. We watch the giant herd of healthy cattle expressing their exuberance as they move onto fresh grass, and Deborah explains, “Our goal is to produce healthy rangeland so we can have these cattle and earn money from them. We believe healthy land is good for wildlife, too.”
The 14,200-acre Birdwell and Clark Ranch (http://www.birdwellandclarkranch.com/) on which we sit with this pickup and all this cattle is in Henrietta, Texas in Clay County, not far from the Red River and the Oklahoma border. The grazing land is divided into approximately 150 paddocks ranging in size from 45 to 125 acres. More than 150 miles of permanent electric fencing have been built and, existing paddocks are sub-divided with polywire as needed. The more paddocks available for the cattle to graze, the longer the recovery period each paddock receives before the cattle come back. The recovery is key to the health and resilience of grazing land.
Deborah and Emry are practitioners of an integrated approach to managing land known as Holistic Management. Holistic refers to the idea that a whole is not only made up of its parts, but more importantly the relationships among all the many parts, including people, money, animals and the entire ecosystem. Management is a set of decisions and actions designed to influence the direction change will occur. Together the term refers to a whole farm planning system for agricultural businesses that has the capacity to help people achieve a balanced, enjoyable, profitable and sustainable future.
Managing land using Holistic Management is the lifework of Guy Glosson. For the past 25 years, Guy has managed the award-winning Mesquite Grove Ranch near Snyder, Texas. And for almost that long Guy has been a Holistic Management Certified Educator, which means he was trained and tested by Holistic Management International, the nonprofit organization dedicated to “educating people to manage land for a sustainable future.” Guy is a student of the land and a student of the animals, studying intensively with low-stress stockmanship guru Bud Williams and teaching Bud’s methods all over the world.
Drought is the condition under which Texas land managers must operate of late. Dr. Richard Teague, the greatly respected scientist for Texas Agrilife Research, is no stranger to the Birdwell and Clark Ranch. He says, “Holistic planning is the most effective way to deal with drought because it maximizes ecosystem function.” Healthy land, animals and people, in addition to healthy finances, are more resilient and able to recover faster under any kind of stress than those less healthy.
Quail are fascinating and endearing little birds that somehow drive hunters wild with enthusiasm for keeping them in the landscape. Land stewards with healthy populations of quail are likely to have healthy finances if they take advantage of the funds these impassioned hunters are willing to release for the chance to hunt quail. One of the top quail conservation organizations, Quail Unlimited, reported their members spent $10,354 on quail hunting in 1999, with the bottom line being $208 per bird bagged or $512 per pound! The average quail hunting lease price was $2.82 per acre, according to Texas quail guru Dale Rollins. Compare that with a typical net of less than $40 per cow and you can see why quail and other huntable wildlife are a valuable consideration for any rangeland.
Enter Dr. Kelly Reyna, assistant professor of biology at University of North Texas and director of UNT-Quail, a quail research and landowner extension program. Kelly’s concern is the decline of quail populations in Texas since the droughty period began in 1996. His goal is to create large corridors of habitat with sustainable populations of quail and other wildlife, for future generations. The North Texas Quail Corridor is one of the largest quail conservation efforts in the state of Texas.
What if Holistic Management International brought all these dedicated professionals together to share knowledge, training and discussion with other land managers wishing to improve their rangeland as habitat for wildlife and livestock together? You guessed it. That is exactly what is happening now and you can be a part of it. The North Texas Cows & Quail workshop registration is open now at the HMI website, holisticmanagement.org. The 2-day event takes place June 7-8 on the Birdwell and Clark Ranch, Henrietta, TX and costs $250, which includes lunch both days and a special steak dinner at the ranch. This low price is thanks to the generous support of our hosts, Birdwell and Clark Ranch, of the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, and of Quail Forever, the mighty quail conservation organization that has absorbed the remains of the now defunct Quail Unlimited.
Register now at holisticmanagement.org as space is limited and registration ends May 31. The complete agenda is on the HMI website and includes reading the land and enhancing ecosystem function and wildlife habitat using HM Planned Grazing and other management tools toward your stated goal.
Peggy Cole is project manager on this workshop series. She lives in Wimberley Texas.