By Ellen H. Brisendine
When Bobby Lide and his family take on a new business, they go in with goals and find the advisors who will help them reach those goals. Two of their ranching goals are to provide quality beef breeding stock for the commercial beef producer, and to offer quality hunting experiences for family and friends. Both of these goals rely on wise resource management.
The Lide properties, Triple L Ranch—headquartered at Mexia, but also operated at Forreston—and Heart's Bluff Game Ranch, Talco, are home to native wildlife populations and an increasing herd of registered Black Hereford cattle.
Bobby owns Heart's Bluff with his brother Billy. Bobby, wife Deana and son Jared own and operate Triple L. They learn about white-tailed deer management by working with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists through the Managed Lands Deer Permit program. They continue to learn about grazing management from area ranchers and advisors. They ascertain proper nutritional levels for their cattle from a beef nutritionist. All along the way, the Lides gather information from others and tailor that knowledge to what they want to achieve.
Bobby and Billy bought Heart's Bluff, 15 miles north of Mount Pleasant, in 2004. "It was supposed to have been managed under the TPWD program before then," says Bobby Lide. "When we took it over we really started managing it exactly the way they asked us to.
"We do 3 spotlight counts per year to tell us how many bucks and does we have," he says. Spotlight counts are done in August and September and the data are submitted to the TPWD office at Mount Pleasant. A biologist evaluates the data and advises the Lides on how many bucks and does to harvest in the upcoming season.
Lide says the technical help from TPWD biologists is working out well for them. He prefers working with biologists who come from a hunting background. "When you get to work with biologists who are really hunters — who don't just have the book work, but have been hunting since they were kids — that really helps."
When it comes to conducting a spotlight census, Lide chuckles, saying, "There's nothing to doing the spotlight counts. We drive around at night with a spotlight, stop every eighth of a mile and count what we see. Even I can do it."
Lide says the first year they took the spotlight census they counted less than a dozen deer in any group they saw. "Last year, the least we counted in a group was 30. That's how much the population can go up when you start managing correctly."
While cattle are Lide's primary interest — Jared and Billy are the wildlife enthusiasts of the family — Bobby enjoys bragging rights about improved white-tailed deer on Heart's Bluff. In 2011, a white-tailed buck was harvested from the North Texas property that scored in the high 160 range. "I think we have more out there like that. That's the one we like to brag about.
"We always figured we'd have 120- to 130-class deer. Due to the way we've managed, we probably have more 130s and 140s than we do 120-class bucks."
Lide credits age with improved buck scores. "If we have a big 3-year-old in the 130- or 140-score range, he does not get taken. We wait until they are 5 or 6 years old before we take them out."
Enough forage for everyone?
More and better deer need more and better nutrition. For cattle to fully express their improved genetics, they also need more and better nutrition. Lide explains how he and his family and the crew manage the resources at Heart's Bluff, Forreston and Mexia to support the diverse users of the resources.
"At Heart's Bluff we have 4,800 acres and 7 miles of Sulphur River frontage. That's our ranch boundary. Most of the wildlife can be found in the river bottom. We keep the cattle up on the high ground," he says, adding that they use a lot of electric fence to manage the cattle around the river. "We do have a couple of places where we let the cattle go down into the river."
Trial and error has been an effective teacher at Heart's Bluff, Lide says. In the early years, they tried planting food plots in the spring and fall, with the plan to bale the forage off the spring plots.
"Every time we would bale them it would flood and we'd lose the bales before we could get them out of the plots. We decided it's too hard to compete with God on that spring food plot." So, now they plant wheat and oats in fall food plots to support the deer and to provide additional grazing for the cattle, if needed. But again, electric fencing is a good tool to keep the cattle out when the Lides don't want or need them in the food plots. Also, the cattle can be moved to another part of the ranch to avoid temptation.
Lide says the pastures at the 3 properties have responded well to winter and spring rains after the exceptional drought of 2011. He explains that they use a modified rotational grazing program through pastures fenced down to 50 to 60 acres. "The drought hurt us last year, but with the way we moved our cattle, it didn't hurt us as bad as it did most people."
Dr. Dale Rollins, Texas Agrilife Extension professor and Extension wildlife specialist, San Angelo, is one of the most notable and quotable researchers on managing wildlife habitat with cattle as one of the tools. He was a guest speaker at a quail management seminar hosted by Lide in the early 2000s.
Rollins advocates flexibility when it comes to running multiple species on the land, particularly when a target wildlife species is quail. "We're trying to hit a moving target," he says, so "we've always recommended that ranchers stock their pastures at 50 to 70 percent of capacity with cows if you're a cow-calf operator. Then, take up the slack, when slack is available, by grazing stocker cattle."
In an area that receives 40-plus inches of average annual rainfall, such as the Mount Pleasant to Forreston area, Rollins agrees that cattle are an excellent tool to manage wildlife. "There are more opportunities in the wetter climates than in the drier climates toward San Angelo, and more opportunities to use cattle to manage deer habitat than quail habitat.
"Cattle can be used as a very effective tool for manipulating plant succession. When you have too much grass, cattle can graze it down and we can grow the weeds the wildlife like."
Rollins points out that cattle in a well-managed rotational grazing program can, by natural preferences, leave behind a "heterogeneous landscape." He calls this patch disturbance.
"As a range manager we've been taught that we want uniform grazing across a pasture. As a wildlife manager, and from the way rangelands typically develop, that's not really so," Rollins says. "Some areas are always going to be different due to soil type and topography. Some portions of the pasture will be used more heavily than others depending on the prevailing winds. Typically the southern part of pastures — particularly in West Texas — are going to be grazed more heavily than the north portions, because cattle tend to graze into the prevailing winds.
"From a wildlife standpoint, you want to manage for that in your landscape." Rollins says the success of overlapping cattle and wildlife populations rests on the landowner's ability to read the landscape and ability to understand the process of plant succession. As Lide has learned, spring food plots don't work for them, but fall plantings are successful. Rollins says, "Whether you manage for steers or deer, cows or quail, know your plants and how to manipulate them. Know which plants are important to black baldies or bobwhites. It all starts with a plan, knowledge and the ability to read the landscape."
Non-traditional use of Hereford genetics
For Lide, the appeal of a new beef breed drew him to the American Black Hereford Association (ABHA) — a somewhat non-traditional approach to Hereford cattle.
"Yes it is," he says with some amusement. "We have to have really good Hereford genetics to make our blacks. The better red genetics we have, the better blacks we have."
Lide runs about 100 registered Herefords and the same number of registered Black Herefords. He also has about 100 first-generation crosses, or F1s in ABHA terminology, which may produce offspring that will be eligible for registration with ABHA.
A registered Black Hereford, Lide explains, is an Angus-Hereford cross. The cattle must have at least 62.5 percent Hereford genetics to be eligible for registration in the ABHA registry.
In the Triple L program, Lide prefers to artificially inseminate (AI) Hereford females with sexed semen from Angus bulls. Most recently he has purchased sexed semen from Express Ranches, Yukon, Okla. Lide prefers to produce breeding heifers, which is why he goes to the added expense of using sexed semen. "We have probably 40 to 45 Herefords bred with sexed semen." Those calves will start coming in the fall of 2012.
The first-generation Angus Hereford crosses, F1s, were AI'd to a Hereford bull from the Keynote line, Lide explains. "When we use a Hereford sire the bull has to have been accepted by the ABHA."
Bobby and Jared pay close attention to the factors that will positively affect the AI conception rate. First, they work with a local AI technician who "has been doing this for a long time, and is really good," Lide explains. Second, they keep those females on an exceptional nutritional plane. As a result of an experienced technician and careful nutrition, they achieved approximately an 80 percent conception rate in their AI program this year.
Again, Lide sought professional help to get the females in good shape for breeding. He works with an Acco Feeds distributor from Teague. "He's in the know about cattle. When I told him I wanted to wean bulls that would weigh 1,000 pounds at a year and heifers that would weigh 800 pounds, he said the first thing we need to do is get a nutritionist out here. He told me what I needed to do and so that's what I've been doing."
Heifers and bulls get 8 pounds of feed per day. Interestingly, the feed is color-coded. When I asked why, Lide explained simply, "When the grass is green, you feed Acco's green feed. When the grass turns brown, you feed their brown feed. In the winter, feed the gold."
A supplemental feed program adds an expense to the operation. To get the most for his breeding stock, Lide sells the heifers and bulls by private treaty and culls carefully to maintain quality.
"We cull pretty hard when we wean. If they don't look good at 6 or 7 months of age, when we wean, they are not sold as breeding stock." Lide works with livestock auction markets at Paris and West to market the cattle destined for stocker operations and the feedyard.
Lide keeps a close eye on costs that are assigned to the cattle and wildlife operations. "What I do for the brush control for the cattle part of Heart's Bluff helps the wildlife. If I plant a hay crop for the cattle, that helps the wildlife. I don't want to do something that costs my brother and on the other side, I don't want to do something that costs my son. I don't want to cost either generation any additional expenses, so we keep up with the enterprise costs closely."
Lide looks forward to the next calf crop with great anticipation. He and Jared seem to enjoy the challenge of developing quality genetics for beef producers. Jared and his uncle seem to look forward to the next deer census, which they'll start this month in August and conclude in September. The family seems to enjoy the challenges of cattle, wildlife and land management and appreciates the experts who provide good information to get them to their goals.
American Black Hereford Association
The American Black Hereford Association (ABHA) was founded in 1994. The primary purpose of the ABHA is to register and transfer Black Hereford seedstock as well as maintain records of pedigrees in the Black Hereford herdbook. The ABHA promotes the Black Hereford breed and produces promotional materials for the association as well as member breeders as a service to the ABHA membership.
For more information on ABHA, contact Craig Ludwig, chief executive officer, at email@example.com, or visit the association website, blackhereford.com.
"Make A Difference" is from the August issue of The Cattleman magazine.