Drought opens Texas ranchers' eyes to income options
GAIL, Texas — The Muleshoe Ranch's profits were chopped in half when the drought withered pastures, dried up stock tanks and forced the owner to move most of his cattle out of state.
Three years later, the sprawling 33,000-acre West Texas ranch is again populated with cattle, thanks to improved rainfall. But John R. Anderson is no longer taking chances with his bottom line. The fourth-generation rancher is exploring alternative incomes to ensure his business can survive another hit from Mother Nature, including leasing part of his land for quail, deer and antelope hunting.
“The drought opened our eyes to the need to be more diverse,” said Anderson, who ranches near Gail, about 70 miles south of Lubbock. “Our mind isn't closed. If there's something we can do, we're going to go for it, if it makes economic sense.”
His counterparts in the nation's top beef-producing state are doing everything they can to make up for smaller profits since the drought, which began in early 2011, forced a widespread culling of herds. Though limited supplies have prompted a record rise in beef prices, more ranchers are leasing part of their property for hunting or selling water to oil companies or desert plants and mistletoe to nurseries. Some are even taking side jobs to make ends meet.
The changes may be permanent, and the ongoing drought is among the main factors that have indelibly altered the state's centuries-old cattle ranching tradition, says Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association Vice President Richard Thorpe.
Hunting leases are perhaps the most popular way ranchers have diversified their incomes. Anderson will lease his land for as much as $5 an acre; other places charge thousands of dollars per gun.