The trouble with being a born mimic is that it is very hard to contain, however, it has its advantages and allows me to pass as a local when I need to. Darwin worked out that it was the individuals that could adapt that survived. I’m surviving in Texas.
I’ve had a terrific host here at San Angelo in John Walker from the Texas A & M University. He has organised a great tour of the area for me and lined up visits with really interesting people. I like the term “visiting” which means meeting and discussing something of interest to both parties. In Australia, we don’t really have a similar term but might say; “meet up and have a chat” which is not nearly as efficient as “visiting,” think I might hang onto that term.
John’s current project at A & M is the development of a genetically selected “Super Juniper Eating Goat.” Juniper or Cedar (Juniperus Ashei) is a problem woody weed here in Texas, it’s an evergreen plant that reminds me a little of our White Cypress that gives producers around Nyngan and Cobar such a hard time. It can dominate a landscape and sap all the water and nutrient, turning productive grasslands into thick scrublands. Goats will eat the new growth on Juniper plants and suppress its growth. The Super Juniper Eating Goat experiment has used Faecal NIRS (the analysis of faeces using near infrared reflectance spectroscopy) to identify goats that consume a large proportion of cedar and those that consume smaller amounts. These have been selectively mated and continued Faecal NIRS will determine if that trait is genetically passed onto the offspring or if diet selection is a learned behaviour. Pretty interesting stuff to those of us faced with woody scrub encroachment on our grasslands.
Faecal NIRS is becoming more commonly used in northern Australia to better time feeding of mineral supplements for cattle. It has the potential to make fodder utilisation more efficient and save producers money by avoiding feeding out supplements when it’s not necessary. It’s not available for goats yet in Australia but is starting to be talked about in the sheep industry. It’s just one more way we can increase our efficiency by moving from subjective to objective measurement and management.
Gee that was boring for all of you not interested in livestock management.
John took me to visit with Llano River goat producer David Whitworth. This was a terrific visit, David is a straight talking mountain of a man with a good sense of humour and a likely immigrant to Australia after discussing land prices. He breeds Spanish Blood Goats which are much like our rangeland goats, and were once America’s feral goat so probably have a similar genetic background. David has taken over the breeding operation from his uncle and aunt Robert and Doris Kensing. We visited with Robert and Doris and I was really impressed with the fantastic state of their pasture. When I asked Robert the secret he said that it was not having to make a living out of the pasture.
Essentially that seems to be the case everywhere I’ve gone in Texas. Around here ranchers typically derive more than half their gross income from hunting and oil and gas production. In my view this has let to inefficiencies in their livestock production systems that we wouldn’t get away with in our part of the world. On average I estimate that they gross around three times as much for their goats as what we do, our herd sizes are probably 20 times as large on average (at a guess) and our inputs are probably less/herd. In other words, their production costs almost eat up all of their gross and this is buffered by outside income. Visiting with another producer yesterday, he made the comment that ranch life as they know it is probably nearing the end of it’s life, and I’d have to agree, but the danger of change is that it well may push people out of rural areas.
A highlight of my visit has been visiting with Dr Charles (Butch) Taylor at the AgriLife Research Station at Sonora. Butch is a wealth of knowledge on range management and prescribed goat grazing in semi arid lands. I could follow him around for a month pestering him with questions and still only scratch the surface of his knowledge. He is an advocate of burning of scrublands followed by goat grazing to control brush regrowth. This is something I’ve been turning over for a while and always worried about the loss of precious organic matter from the soil surface so it was great to see the high retention of organic matter in burned areas here at the research station.
I really loved Sonora, reminded me of Bourke but with traffic lights. It was 70 degrees one day and 30 the next following a hail storm that left ice banked up on roof tops and the side of roads up on the plateau.
I head over to Bowie Texas tomorrow to visit with Bud and Eunice Williams and travel with them to a cattle auction in Oklahoma. They’ve done a lot of work with stockmanship, marketing and herding and I’m hoping they have a high tolerance for questions. www.stockmanship.com
From there it’s over to New Mexico then up to Colorado. Driving is certainly a challenge and I’ve banned myself from night time driving after 3 episodes that found me on the wrong side of the road, I guess it’s all part of the experience.