ShareThis Page

Drought opens Texas ranchers' eyes to income options

| Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014, 9:36 p.m.
Antelope graze on the Muleshoe Ranch in Borden County, Texas, on Dec. 3, 2014.
Antelope graze on the Muleshoe Ranch in Borden County, Texas, on Dec. 3, 2014.

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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.