INTERVIEWEE: Jim Bill Anderson (JBA)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: October 8, 2002
LOCATION: Canadian, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Lacy Goldsmith and Robin Johnson
REEL: 2226 and 2227
Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name’s David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s October 8th year 2002, we’re in Canadian, Texas. And we have the good fortune to be interviewing Jim Bill Anderson who is a—a—a rancher in this area. And has also been very involved in trying to reorient the—the city of Canadian and—and the surrounding community towards a more sustainable development direction. And I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your experiences.
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JBA: You’re welcome.
DT: We usually begin these interviews by talking about your early days, childhood days and where you might have first gotten exposed to the outdoors or interested in conservation. I was hoping you could share about that please.
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JBA: Well I—I can’t say—when I got ins—interested in conservation, I cannot remember not being interested in conservation. I—I didn’t know what it was, I suppose. I didn’t know it was conservation but it’s a—it’s a something you do. I mean it’s part of your life. I—I grew up, you know, out in the country about 30 miles from town and went to one room schoolhouse for first-six grades. I think one thing looking back that was fortunate for me, one of the main things was we couldn’t get television reception. And so I was, you know, unless it was, you know, six feet of snow or something or is—is dark, I
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was outside constantly, I just—there wasn’t any reason not to be. And my mother honestly, oh I remember I had one illness for—I had tonsils removed and she bought me a book with all the native local birds in it and so you had to identify them. So I’d sit out on the porch and identify birds and I mean she—she put pushed me in that direction I guess somewhat too. Knowing me, I don’t know but…
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JBA: Anyway I—I like I said I grew up on a ranch, you know, we ran cattle. I –I suppose even though conservation wasn’t a buzz word i—sustainability was important i—i—if you had a title or not I don’t know. But it was important to be able to—to make it through the dry stretches. We technically have a drought here once a year. It may be in the—in the dormant season, you don’t know it but you have one. And so it—it was important to be able to maintain a—a—a good environment for the livestock 12 months out of the year so you didn’t ever abuse anything or try to overuse it. I don’t know, it’s
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just always kind of a been an interest of mine. I remember I was in boy scouts for four or five years and I got a conservation merit badge by taking old cedar posts and stopping washes where they wouldn’t wash anymore and trapping sediment and those kinds of things. It just seemed like the thing to do to me. It’s easier for me to say why wouldn’t you do it to as to why you’d do it. I, you know, I—I’ve always felt like it was—a—it was a physically responsible thing to do, it’s a morally responsible thing to do, it’s, you know, it’s—I can’t image not being concerned about your environment.
DT: You mentioned you mother as being one influence. Do you think that your father had some effect on you (inaudible)?
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JBA: Oh yeah. He was my best friend. I was with him, you know, 14 hours a day. But my mother did things, you know, took me and I don’t know, I’ve wondered why it’s such a passion of mine. She—he taught me how to, you know, train horses, take care of sick cattle, you know, watch the grasses and that kind of thing. She had the books on the—on the animals and the—and the prairie, you know, the grasses and the flowers and that kind of—so that was always interest of mine. Then one thing that was a big a probably a—was important to me looking back is when I was a freshman in high school; I worked at USDA Range Research Station just for a summer job. My dad always wanted me to go work someplace different. You know, I worked in a feedlot one summer. I worked there—I worked, you know, rather than just be out there with him all the time. And I
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don’t know if that was to help me learn or to get me out of his way. But I—there was a—a gentlemen named Pat Mackalmay, the Colonel they called him. We met every morning. He was a retired Colonel and he—he never got over being a Colonel. We—we’d meet earlier every morning and we would review what we did yesterday and tell him what we were going to do today. And—and—and after we got off work he’d make me go around and collect the different grasses and—and make a book where you press them in a book. And then I’d have a test once a week on what they were. And it wasn’t
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fun. He was serious and he’d dress you down if you didn’t do a good job. So looking back, it was a great service. I still keep up with him today. I—I really appreciate what he did for me. But then I think that was a major impact. Not—so you learned the different species, you learn when they peak protein-wise; you learn when you should rest them, when you should use them. I mean, you know, I just learned all those things. And I was young enough I suppose i—it came kind of second nature for me. This part of my thought process without consciously doing it, you know, so I imagine he—he had a lot to do with it.
DT: You mentioned your education with the bird life and the—the vegetation in this area. Can you give us sort of an outline of what the sort of significant wildlife is in this area and some of the—the prairie ecosystems that you see here?
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JBA: Well the prairie is a—is—people are in the last three or four years beginning to understand that you hear the word mentioned a lot more. The prairie’s just full of wildlife. It’s—it’s full of a lot of interesting wildlife and—and I’ve always thought the prairie was to me more dynamic than the mountains or the coastlines. And that seems to be where everybody goes to see wildlife. But you have your tall grass, short grass prairies. We—we’re a midrange which is great. We have all the way from Buffalo Grass to—to Eastern Gamma or—or and—and Big Blue Stem, you know, we have all varieties.
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So—and you have your prairie dog towns which, you know, they—they’re quite a hub of activities. You have predators lurking around, coyotes and you have burrowing owls that live there, you have red tail hawks hoping catch a prairie dog not paying attention, you know, and, you know. Then you have—we have a—a very vibrant population of bobwhite quail, one of the few places left in the United States where it’s—it’s as healthy as it is. And the prairie chickens are—are not declining here, they’re actually stable to increasing in numbers in certain areas. And that goes back to the conservation i—i, you know, it’s just—it’s just a healthy thing to do economically, you know, morally,
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theologically, however you want to look at it—it just is. And I—diversity is real important in my business, you know, if—if you have one crop that you sell once a year, it doesn’t always sell for the right price when you have to deliver it. And, you know, I—I’ve enjoyed the flexibility of having some birders come, a few hunters come. You know, cattle wings sell over a 60, 70-day period instead of a two-week period cause we have plenty—we have a good home for them. You know, it’s just a—it just is an all
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around—I can’t think of the right word—it’s just something that I don’t think I’d be here if I hadn’t learned to do it. You know, to have a broad based, diverse income and—and—and—and ranching that we can do several different things—I lost my train of thought go ahead.
DT: Mr. Anderson, the last few minutes you talked about the diversity that you see in the natural ecosystems that you see around here, whether it’s the vegetation or the wildlife and you’ve also talked about the diversity in your business, whether it’s being in the cattle business or being in the nature tourism business or hunting business. Can you describe each of those and how they overlap?
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JBA: Well I—I don’t know how you delineate really because I’ve never seen the conflict between nature tourism and cattle production and—and, you know, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with several groups because they’ve been interested in what we’ve done around Canadian. And you walk in it always reminds me of high school dance—junior high dance, you had the boys on one side and the girls on the other and I just—I don’t get the separation myself, I just don’t. I mean, if your motivation was just purely profit, if it had nothing to do with maintaining ecosystems or, you know, vibrant wild animal population, native animal populations, it still is the thing to do. It—as our lifestyle becomes, you know, more and more unique or endangered sometimes, I’ve found that—that people are just as interested in what I do on a daily basis or how I make
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a living or what my family does as they are observing the different birds or hunting a deer. And so it all just meshes really well and it—it’s just another reward for good land stewardship practices. You know, if you’ve overgrazed your land and you’ve ruined the habitat for certain species, you know, not only you—will you lower your gains on your—on your per head, per day per—on your cattle cause of not enough forage but you’ve also lost an opportunity to charge somebody to come observe these native species and their habitat. And so it all just meshes, you know, it’s hard for me—I’ve never understood—they’re very complementary, I’ve never understood any conflict, I haven’t, between ranching, cattle production and the nature tourism.
DT: Maybe you can just expound your—your cattle business for us and how you operate that over the course of the years?
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JBA: Well our operation is what you would call a stocker operation. We buy light-weight calves, you know, 3 to 325 pounds from East Texas, sometimes the—the Dakotas, depends on the opportunity of what’s happening in those different regions. And we bring them in in the fall, give them all their basic, you know, inoculations, vaccines and things. And then we’ll winter them, supplement their feed in the winter and then summer them. And we’ll—we’ll put 450, 475 pound on them in about 10, 11 months. And there again, that’s way I like the—maintaining a healthy ranch because I—alluded earlier to we have technically in a drought here about once a year. And so if you have healthy range with
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vibrant root systems and a wide variety of—of plant species, you can always make it through those—those time periods. And—and the worse thing to happen to you is if you say you were overgrazing and—and—and at the end of May it hadn’t rained like you thought it should and you had to sell your cattle and they were light and you had all your expenses in them, I mean that’s a sure case for losing money. If that’s not a problem, you go right on through the summer oftentimes, for instance this year our July which should not be was actually more productive and wetter than May. And so you have an opportunity to catch all the seasons. And then your—your gains—your annual gains just don’t fluctuate much. You know, I—I’ve been doing this for 30 years and—and, you know, our annual gains just don’t fluctuate much because we always have a little cushion.
DT: How do you figure out what your carrying capacity is? What your stocking rate would be?
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JBA: Well its—you—I go back to pounds per acre. If you’re bringing in something weighing 300 pounds, obviously you can give him less acreage than you can if you brought something weighing 500 pounds. A lot of it’s—there’s rules of thumb for this part of the world, you—you know, you can get from about anybody, a lot of it’s just experience. And we weigh—I go to a lot of trouble probably th—we weigh each pasture individually. And—and we sort of all cattle for size when they come in the fall. And they’ll vary—if the average purchase price was $325 they’ll—they’ll range from 275 to
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375 in weight. So we sort them all for size. We’ll put the—the lighter, smaller cattle in the less productive pastures. And that comes from knowing your—your grasses and your soils. You know, you have a good idea what that pasture will do. And it’ll change a lot in three or four miles. It—it will, the productivity of the—of rangeland. And so we’ll put the lightweight calves in less productive pastures, we’ll put heavy weight ones in the more productive, which, you know, is more pounds per acre and it all—it averages out over a course of a year. And—and, you know, just experience I suppose. And if you’ve
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done something that long—like in the fall I’ll do an inventory and—and or late summer and start making a decision as kind of how we’re going to stock and—and what pastures the lightweight calves are going in, which ones the heavyweight calves will go in for the winter.
DT: Do you rotate among pastures?
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JBA: Yeah we do. We don’t do intensive rotation. I personally am not a fan of that. We do, do rotation yes. The—the intensity rotation I think maybe they have a place somewhere without naming the guru of intensive rotations, I think some of that’s almost evangelical as much as—as good stewardship or, you know, range management. But anyway, yes we do. We—we over the years we’ve segregated out our uplands from lowlands. We—you know your lowlands where you have sub irrigated meadows that
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(?) we fenced all those out. And we’ll use them at their peak growing season, the peak time and—and rest the uplands and—and then when—when it’s time, we’ll take them off the—the sub-irrigated meadows or the low ones and put them back up in the upland pastures. And that—by doing that, we’ve increased our carrying capacity by about 40 percent which has made a lot of difference. Because you’re overhead didn’t really change much, your fixed cost.
DT: Are all your pastures native unimproved grasses or (inaudible)?
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JBA: Yes I—I—I took some old wheat fields—I took some old wheat fields and planted them to some exotic grasses, old world bluestems primarily to use in this complementary rotation is what the technical name is of—of the system I was describe—described to you by using the sub-irrigated meadows. You can also do that with exotic grass or introduced grass. But I just—I just use them a complement to the native range.
DT: Do you find that you need any other inputs? Do you bring fertilizer into (inaudible)?
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JBA: No we bring we—we fertilize the exotic grasses once in the spring. I—I keep—I’m not very intensive on inputs. You know, I don’t like a lot of equipment. I don’t like a lot of things that require money to keep going, you know. We just have the bare necessities with that. Mainly we try—I mean my goal is to—to cooperate with what we’re given here, you know more than trying to be too intensive in trying to—to—to force the land to produce something it’s not supposed to be doing, you know. And I just look at long term. I mean yes, if I instead of giving them 10 acres, gave them 7 acres a head next year, I could do that for a year or two and yes it would be more profitable but then—then what do you do? You depleted our resource and—and—and if it didn’t rain, you’d have to sell early. You know, I—I just look at long term sustainability.
DT: You said that—that you had drought conditions at least once a year. (inaudible)
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JBA: Well that’s what the—the—the scientists tell me, you know.
DT: Well how do you—how do you give yourself some insurance? How do you plan around drought?
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JBA: Well you—I guess you just—I don’t like the word assume but you do assume that at some point during the year, you’re going to need to have enough old forage or enough cushion there that you can make it through without a problem without, you know, over grazing without straining your resources. One way you can plan for a drought is to
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change your species composition. You can go from constant over grazing where you’ve reduced the rangeland to Buffalo Grass and Gramma Grass that has oh 8 or 9-foot root system. You can in—you can change your species composition where you have your Buffalo and the Gramma, which is a good grass. But also your Little Blue, Big Blue Switch and Indian will come in that can sometimes go down to 15 or 16-foot depth with the root systems. Well that’s a pretty good insurance right there. You know, I mean long-term relentless drought nobody can do anything about. But these two and three-month drought yeah you can manage through those. And—and the biggest help I’ve had is by
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changing with rotations and—and the complementary rest thing I mentioned while ago—complementary rotation I mentioned it just sta—cha—to change of species composition of the rangeland. You know, some of these forages go from producing 7, 800 pounds of dry matter per acre; some plants will produce up to 1200 pounds dry matter per acre. So you try and encourage those.
DT: You mentioned that—that you’ve been able to increase the carrying capacity by about 40% through some of your changes and the way you—you manage. It sounds like your emphasis has been more on changing the way you manage and use your land rather than the—the amount of or the kind of inputs that you put into it. Is that fair?
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JBA: Oh absolutely. Yes that’s very fair because that requires less cash outlay. That requires more time and—and it requires studying, you know, what you have before you—but it doesn’t require large cash outlay. And I’m in for that.
DT: Do you—do you find that the—the—the way you operate your ranch and cattle operation differs significantly from either the way it was done 50 years ago or from the way some of your neighbors operate?
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JBA: Oh absolutely. I mean my granddad who was a good rancher and really more successful than I am I suppose some of it’s due to timing, some of it was due to—to business astuteness. But well I—I relate that when people say something about ranching not having changed. I said well to me it would be like having surgery without anesthetic. I mean we’ve come just that far. It’s just you have to recognize it and you have to go to the trouble of seeing what’s out there and you have to learn, you know, what people are doing and how they’re doing it. But yes, we have a lot more tools at our disposal. I mean a lot of it’s just the—the simple education as to, you know, some of these grazing
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systems I talked about, you know. That wasn’t there. Nobody talked about that. Nobody did that, you know, when I was in college or high school too much. So we’ve had a—we’ve had a lot of help from some of these range research stations and—and people like that.
DT: If you go back 100 years I understand that—that particularly a lot of the brittle ecosystems and the drier places were I think by current standards significantly over grazed. Why do you think why they—they over estimated what the land could—could carry?
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JBA: Well to me I’ve—I’ve thought about that. I think that’s probably fairly simple because they came into an area that hadn’t been grazed either by, you know, elk or some buf—buffalo or, you know, bison. And for a few years it could carry what they were doing. It’s a lack of education, there’s a lack of technical ex—expertise, there’s a lack of knowledge. That’s simply what it was. They—they were the first ones there and they were feeling their way. And they didn’t have a extension service to run to talk to, you know. And—and then there’s some, of course, there’s old grazing today, some of it’s trying to pay the—the monthly bills. People were just, you know, they—these—some of
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these places have—have been divided up through inheritance to the point they really cannot sustain a family but that’s what they want to do and they’re trying to make it work and they think if they can run a few more cattle, maybe that will makes ends meet. That’s a—short term it might work. Long term it absolutely will not without a doubt. And it’s sad but that’s—that what you get into—economic forces is a lot of it now because we do have the—the technical expertise available to us that we didn’t have when people first arrived with livestock.
DT: You said that there were some problems with carrying out the—I guess a—aggressive use of the land over the long term. Can you describe what happens if—if you’re exceeding the—the carrying capacity of the land over 10 years or 20 years? What—what have you seen happen around here at least?
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JBA: Well the—the main thing they do is—is they change the complete species composition, your variety of grasses. Your—your tall grasses have what I call a cutoff point which is—some of these grasses six or eight inches above the ground where they leaf out. And once you take a plant below that for more than a couple growing seasons, it’ll die cause there’s not photosynthesis and the root system depletes and dies. And so they take out their—their 12 or 14 hundred pound dry matter per acre producers and they replace them with 7 or 800 pound because your low growing grasses have such low cutoff point, it’s really hard to take them out, I mean animal’s cannot graze them—or
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they can but it’d have to be abusive more than just over grazing to do that. So they’re able to survive and they take over. And then you get— you get introduced to things like threons and—and drop seeds and stuff that cattle really don’t—nature will cover the ground with something. But some of those things cattle won’t even graze unless they’re just to the point of starvation, you know. So that—you—the main thing that happens is you completely change the species con—composition and you cut the productivity of—of the range. It’s a—it’s a self fulfilling process. It’s sad but the more you try to squeeze out of it past a certain point, the less you’ll get in production and it just before you know it, you’re to the point that—that land produces half of what it did, rangeland.
DT: Well do you think it’s this sort historic land use pattern that’s contributed to a lot of ranchers having trouble economically?
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JBA: Well it’s a combination. It’s not that simple. It’s a combination of bad weather patterns, it’s a combination of ignorance, it’s a combination of—of markets. You know if everyone markets. I mean its hard to plan for a cattle market to crash cause the government decided to drop, you know, millions of pounds of dairy beef on the market or—or a west coast dock strike or, you know, those kinds of things, not much you can do about. And—and it’s just not—it’s not a very profitable business I—you know, it doesn’t—it—it’s a lifestyle and a business, you know, and—and if you try to make it much more than that, it won’t sustain itself. That’s the—that’s why I like the diversity it
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can become a profitable business and I believe—thoroughly I believe, sincerely I do—I mean for instance last year we grossed more income from hunting, birding, nature tourism, you know, excuse me, netted more income than we did off of livestock. That’s easy to do because you don’t have any inputs. It’s already there. There’s no expenses. You know, you don’t have to buy more cattle, you don’t have to buy more feed, you know don’t have to hire more labor, it’s just there and it needs to be captured.
DT: We’re going back to the cattle business since I—I—I have read and I don’t know if this is accurate but that there are very, very few full time cattle oppos—cattle operators now. Most people have got a part time job somewhere else that brings in some cash and simultaneously about 90% of cattle operations at least in our part of the country lose money. And—and yet people try and persist in the business. Can you try and go into a little bit more detail. I mean is it—is it the combination of the, you know, Cargill’s and the Archer Daniels the, you know, the control over commodity prices or is it—is it GAT, world trade counseling or that we’re getting lot of foreign beef coming in what—what do you think it is that’s making it such a tough business to survive in?
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JBA: Well I personally think one of the most—one of the hardest thing to overcome which they’ve done some work on that now has been inheritance taxes.
DT: In what way?
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JBA: Well these large ranches you can and—and they’ve made some allowances for this, they’ve—they’ve started appraising the Ag use things a lot—you know, well we had—for instance a man in Kansas he—he started out his father left him he—he got scraps from restaurants, fed pigs, took care of his family while he was in high school. I mean he worked all his life, ended up being worth two or three million dollars. And a lot of it was just land he’d bought and land appreciation and before they changed some of the tax laws, when he died they had to sell it all off, not all, I’m sorry, half of it to pay inheritance taxes because you can be land rich and if they appraise it at some development value,
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very few—a lot of these ranchers are land rich but very cash poor. You know, and their main assets are land. If the government comes in and wants 40-50% inheritance taxes when—they don’t have the money to do that. And you break up these places or you reduce them in size to where they’re not an economic unity anymore and that to me has been a major problem (?).
DT: Can you maybe give us an example of the difference between development ra—development values of some of these ranches and what their Ag value (inaudible)
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JBA: Well I could, yeah I of course—there’s—well I can use him as an example, they had some farm land next to a town in Kansas that had been farming and wanted to continue to farm but there was a apartment complex within 200 yards of it that they appraised it at three or fours times what it was worth as a farm and you had to pay taxes on that. Is—is that answer your question or you talking about specific numbers in part of the world?
DT: No that helps. Tell me about general trends and pressures on ranchers.
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JBA: I—I, you know, and—and I—we have to blame ourself a lot, we just can’t blame, you know, Archer Daniels. And, you know, a lot of these well-meaning programs for farmers. In the long run I mean it’s nice because it keeps food on the table and that’s very important but in the long run you built up—you build up these huge search—surpluses of grains and—and powdered milk and—well I mean that’s a cap on the market how can it ever go up if you’ve got five years worth of production stored somewhere, you know, you’ve got those kinds of problems and—and I don’t know what the answer is. I do think that—and it’s just a natural course of things if—if you have a—a economic unit
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of a ranch and say it’s 20 sections and two generations, each person’s probably got two or three I mean then what do you do? So it—it ebbs and flows, I don’t know.
DT: I guess one of the other ways that—that ranchers at least in Texas have—have supported themselves for the last 40, 50 years is through oil and gas leasing…
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JBA: Oh Absolutely.
DT: and in some parts of the state it seems that, you know, those royalties and bonus payments and so on are—are declining. Is that the case here and is that pretty much the squeeze on ranchers?
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JBA: Well there’s not a squeeze right here really to be honest on—on the majority of people because of the natural gas production and that in turn, is why we still have large, you know, units, you know, ranches from 20 to 60, 80 sections because they’ve been able to make it through some of the ec—economic stressful times with supplemental income from gas leases or mineral income. And, of course that’s one thing that’s motivated me on the nature tourism is it finite. I mean people don’t want to think about it but it is. It depletes every day and so I would like to see us build a—a economic base that will allow some of these people to continue to stay on the land and keep large units and—and which
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are great habitat for most of these prairie species. They don’t do well when you cut them up in small areas and—and one guy overgrazes, one doesn’t, you checkerboard the land and, you know, they just don’t. So I think with nature tourism, which is sustainable or even some, you know, who knows where that will go, some offshoots of that. It would enable us to—to keep some of these—these prairie habitats intact and—and to make a good enough living that people can continue to do what they’re doing without mineral income. And so I thought we’d start now and 20 years from now when the—the depletion has—has taken it toll on some people, you know, there’ll be something else out there.
DT: I’m—I’m still trying to understand some of the stresses that you’re seeing on towns like Canadian or—or ranch like ranchland like that surrounds Canadian. Maybe you can help me understand what’s happening with another kind of business in—in this area, which I think is the railroad industry. Has that changed much is that declined much and…
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JBA: I can’t…
DT: …and drive some people out of work?
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JBA: I don’t know. I can’t answer that. I don’t know anything about the railroad industry. I know they’re double tracking the trains through here. There will one 15 minutes so they’re still doing some business. That—a lot of these economic pressures are—I still say we’re to blame for a lot of them ourselves. We can blame ourselves partially for a lot of these things because people don’t want to change and they don’t want to adapt and they want to do it the same way they did two—two generations ago. And they just don’t want to explore new ways of doing things; they won’t try something different. You know everybody likes to complain about Wal-Mart. Well I have a friend that’s in a business that has several retail stores and he says I can compete with Wal-Mart.
DT: He can.
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JBA: He can’t. You know, and—and one way he does is not all price, it’s service. You know, you walk into one of these small stores and you say I need this certain kind of battery for this whatever and they’ll say oh, we don’t have it, you know, next time you’re in Amarillo, get it. Do you do that or you say I’m out right now but I’ll have it in three days. You know that’s the things he’s told me. And—and he’s—he’s grown and—and done well. So some of it’s—we could look to ourselves, not all of it but some of it with the failure to adapt or fail—failure to innovate, you know.
DT: Well do you find that—that most of the kids who—who go to high school here stay here or do they leave?
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JBA: They’d love to stay here. They would. And that’s another reason I keep going back to nature tourism but that’s one of my pets. That provides not only income for people in the country but that provides a large amount of economic activity in stores hotels, motels, you know, things in town also. And I—I just—I can see that eventually, you know, somebody with the right imagination taking it to another level, you know, and some young person. And yes they love it here, they lov—it’s I mean people say well you don’t live in the real world and I say I know that and that’s just fine with me. I mean I don’t apologize for that. I see nothing wrong with that. The—the kids like Canadian. It’s a great place. They’re nurtured, you know, they get a good education, they have a lot of fun, they come back when they can, as soon as they can.
DT: And what is it that keeps them from staying here…
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JBA: Well jobs is a lot of it.
DT: There just aren’t jobs?
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JBA: Well not enough to, you know, and that’s the thing that is in EDC we look at all the time is what can we do on EDC, what can we do that would be sustainable that and we—but we’re a little bit different I think here we don’t—we always consider maybe the impact, not just economically, but environmentally and culturally, you know. That’s—we look at that too when we evaluate things.
DT: You do some of these problems that sort of brought on by our own unwillingness to try new things and—and I was wondering if you could, if you can mention some of the traditional kinds of options that EDC’s envi—was economic development councils have considered that in your view may not be sustainable over the long haul. Then there—some of these communities I think have looked at having prisons or boots camps or chemical plants, can you talk about some of those CAFO’s?
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JBA: Well we—we looked at some of those things really hard maybe with a prejudice as why we shouldn’t do it, but we found that especially with some of your—your corporate, you know, your pig farms and so the packing plants and things go along with that. By the time some of these communities had given their tax breaks to get—to get them to come and then they had to add, you know, more maybe more school buildings, at least more teachers, more police, bigger jail, you know, all the things that go along with that, it was a net loss and we really didn’t see the reason to do that. And we still have a good tax base here and we’re trying to take advantage of that and do some thing’s that maybe take—not get the—the point of desperation where you go inviting people in just to keep the school open, maybe thinking ahead 20, 30 years.
DT: Are you seeing some of the neighboring towns in this sort of Hobson’s choice where they’ve got two bad options, you know, let’s close down the school and invite in a development that they don’t really want?
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JBA: Am I seeing that?
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JBA: Oh absolutely. Yeah, there’s a town 30 minutes from here that’s been actively recruiting pig farms. You know, the loc—and then you get this big controversy, some of the local landowners don’t want them there cause of the pollution and the groundwater and—and these things and—and the something as simple as the smell I guess. But you can see why the mayor and two or three of his councilmen are doing it because if they don’t, the school is within three students of closing the next year or something like that, you know. It didn’t come to pass. They—they got them influx of—small influx of students from another industry. Some parents moved close by and they’re going to school there but they was within a year of closing. And so yeah they will do things that, you know, that aren’t long term good I don’t think.
DW: I’m just curious when small town American and it’s (inaudible) Music Man where the guys comes to town try to sell them on something new. I’m wondering if you (?) extremes to find (inaudible) hog CAFO puts on when they’re coming to your town to try and sell you on this idea, kind of a smokescreen or (inaudible) they assume that people are naive?
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JBA: Right. Well they—they go with the job thing first a…
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JBA: Okay. Actually I’ve not experienced that because we contacted them and told them not to—not to contact us. So we took kind of a direct proactive approach on that. Because it just doesn’t—it doesn’t do for the quality of life that—that we’re—that we want to try to sustain or—or, you know, to increase for some folks. It—it doesn’t work for what we want to do here. Now maybe sometime down the line, you know, we will have been wrong, those of us who took that position and some—they can change it. But—and not only does it not work physically so many times, you get this big division in your community, you know, between the pros and the ones for and the ones against these things. And—and that takes away opportunities that you might have to do something
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together on down the line, you know. I’m real proud of our community here we—we’ve got great cooperation between the city and county government. And—and, I mean, we’re getting a Main Street project where they’re going to restore Main Street with a brick like material, they can’t use bricks anymore to slick I suppose, but and bury the utilities and put up antique lighting. And that all became—and we fought it out with a lot of town around the state over that. And that all came about because you had people in the city government, county government, local individuals working together and pulling hard, you know, we took quite a contingency down and put on quite a dog and pony show as
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you say. But—and those kind of things where everybody’s pulling together and—and have pride and—and also well I think be ec—economically positive thing to do. Get our Main Street restored and have little shops and create some retail business, you know, that people want to see.
DT: Well, maybe you can give us a full view of how you—you helped build this consensus and you know the process you went through to try and bring about more interest in nature tourism, how did you do that?
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JBA: Well, you know I—I oh gee I don’t know, 15 years ago went to a couple of the banks, talked to people in the chamber, which at that time our chamber wasn’t very well funded, you know, it was mainly we were selling raffle tickets all the time to pay the director’s salary. You know, but with this idea of having nature photography workshops and doing some of these things and everybody was for it but it just wasn’t—it wouldn’t get anywhere—it wasn’t going anywhere. And then you know I’d get busy and come back six months later and it was right where it was, it just wasn’t happening. And then we—we started our EDC; we looked at two or three things on that before I was involved.
DT: What sort of things did you look at?
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JBA: Well actually the reason I got involved I hope I regret say this someday is—is the EDC was just getting started. And these are people who were looking (?) options it’s, a lot of thing the communities were doing. They were doing the best they—at the time that they could do they’re—they were thought their options presented to them and I think one they were talking about bringing a incineran—incinerator that burned used oil filters.
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And I heard about it and read about it and I went to my commissioner I said—and the—the EDC Director that they hired was really pushing this. And I said “I want the EDC. I said we got to, you know, I want this deal stopped” actually what I said was “I want this guy run out of town” but I probably shouldn’t (inaudible). But anyway so I got involved and we started pushing the nature tourism thing and the—and the director who’s a very dynamic intelligent lady, I mean I would have never been able to do any of this by myself, that was already a proven fact I tried it, it had gone nowhere. She liked the idea and started working with Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
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National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, just on and one and on, The Rocky Mountain Birding Observatory. And she really got it going and then it’s outgrown me. I mean she’s taken it to a whole other level. But as it began to happen and this I can’t explain why we got the support we got because they really went out on a limb. Nobody else was doing this but our commissioners, County Commissioners gave us money to do it with, to pursue this and—and make trips, to meet with these people and bring people in here and entertain them and a—and so—so yeah initially I wanted to see it happen but it took a lot of people for it to happen.
DT: Did you see much hesitation, reluctance on a part landowners or the city leaders…
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DT: …that you had to persuade?
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JBA: Not really. City leaders maybe a little, county commissioners, two thirds of them wanted to try it initially. It was all timing. Several years ago with a group of commissioners we had at that time, it’d a gone nowhere but we’d—we had some turnover we had some new guys in there and people that—that were willing to look at all kinds of options. Their low—their whole life didn’t center around the next motor grader they bought—I mean that is—I shouldn’t say that. It was a—it was a paradigm shift in the commissioner’s court. It was and I—it’s all timing. I don’t know why. We were just fortunate, you know, I don’t know if it’s providential or it’s luck or what but there were very few naysayers. Some people were held back to see what happened but not
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outspoken opposition. Our local paper that it hear—the editor she was all for it, that was very good. And so it—it (inaudible) the economic Director she said I said this kind of makes you nervous when people start doing some of the things you want them to do, she said “makes you nervous if it doesn’t work. All you got to do is go back to work. I lose my job”. You know, so it was—there was, you know, it was a little nerve wracking at first, you know it was anxious moments. When somebody went out and borrowed money for a bed and breakfast cause they’d heard that tourists were coming cause you’re promoting it—you go whoa, you know, I hope it works. Cause their—their—they’re taking a leap of faith and gives you some anxious moments. But so far so good. It’s actually
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increasing and growing. It’s gained some momentum now and I can’t—I can’t imagine somebody—I don’t think—I think it’d be hard pressed to find somebody against it now.
DT: One thing that—that I was impressed by was that it seems your nature tourism venture requires the buy-in from a lot of private landowners…
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JBA: You bet.
DT: …who are we going to have to allow a lot more private access by the public to their private lands and that’s a big change culturally. And I was wondering how you manage to make that happen?
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JBA: I suppose it’s a timing thing. I—I can’t take credit for making anything happen. And—and there are enough of us around here who actually make a living agriculture that we’re always looking for something to do that’s complementary to what we’re already doing. There are a few people who won’t do it initially because they have enough income from outside sources, natural, you know, gas mainly but then they’re not resisting it either. You know, so they’re doing their part too I say. I—I don’t know why. Because I’ve gone to other communities, I’ve talked to other people and their first response is well
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what if they find endangered species and they take our ranch away from us? I mean you get that kind of thing just time after time. And we didn’t get that here. I mean one of our early meetings we were overwhelmed, we expected 15 people and I think was 70 people there or something unbelievable thing. There’s now five—over 500 people involved in our—I say have made contact with or involved in some way with our—our little non-profit Texas Prairie Rivers Organization we started. So I don’t know, timing—it’s got to be timing.
DT: You mentioned that sometimes you’ve been approached by landowners who feel like if they—they give access and people see endangered species that somehow the Fish and Wildlife Service and (inaudible) come in and shut them down, take away their land. I guess I have two questions, one is where do they get that impression and second how do you respond to that?
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JBA: Well they get the impression because U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on some public lands has taken some pretty harsh steps. They went in initially and it depends on the administration and the—the—the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the time. You know, it depends on the people. But they have done some heavy-handed things on public lands, created a lot of controversy. But to really have an impact, if they sincerely want to have an impact on a certain species or a whole ecosystem, you have to work with private landowners. You can’t go into a—well Texas is what 97 percent
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private land. Or they’ve even discovered states like New Mexico has a lot of a public lands to make an impact. You can’t go in and alter or try to change a small area that surrounded by land that’s not being managed for that same species, it just won’t work. I mean one natural disaster, one drought, one fire, it’s over with, you know, you have to have a large constus—contiguous area of land. So what I’m getting around to is the Fish and Wildlife Service of course has limits on what they can do on private land. And they’ve also had an attitude shift. I think they’ve found that by working with the private
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landowners, both sides find out the other ones not near as bad as they thought initially. And it benefits private landowners a lot of ways and it—and it helps them achieve their goals on some of these species they’re trying to protect or recover. So there’s been a—an attitude change. There’s been a change to the point there’s you—if you go into a contract now with the Fish and Wildlife Service, they have a thing they call assurances on these—some of these contracts. Yeah we’ll help you with cross fencing or water development and so you can improve your ranch, improve the habitat, but while we’re out there, if we
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stumble onto something else or something else comes up, we won’t touch it, we can’t bring it up, we can’t pursue it. So they assure you that if you cooperate with them, they’ll only work on what you initially set out to do. And so a lot of it they deserve, a lot of it they don’t, you know, both sides. But we actually and this is probably I don’t know some people thought we were insane, we actually lobbied to get an aid—an official wildlife person stationed here in Canadian. So there you go. I don’t know why. It’s been
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approached that a way and I hope we don’t regret it. I don’t think we will, he’s been a great asset on a lot of these things we’re trying to do, these programs and things we’re trying to tap into to improve the—as I said earlier, there’s no delineation or separation between improving habitat for cattle, improving pounds per beef—pounds of beef per acre you can produce and improving habitat. They all go hand in hand. And—and so it’s been a very positive thing I think.
DT: Can you give some examples some of the positive things you think that Texas Prairie Rivers Group has done or the EDC towards promoting both the economic development and the nature tourism in the area?
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JBA: Well of course we’ve been trying to promote economic development through nature tourism. So I guess we’ve had a—a—a two or three birding festivals in the spring that they brought quite a few people in. We’ve made—we’ve got the town on the map a largely by—our budget wasn’t big enough to do high dollar advertising and that kind of thing. But we’ve had writers from Houston, Dallas, out of state newspaper and—and magazine art—writers from—some free lance, invited them here entertained them, showed them around, you know, cause we happen to feel like if, once you come to Canadian and—and see what’s here, if you’re interested in the prairie ecosystems, then you’ll want to come back. So I guess our—our EDC and our Texas Prairie—Texas Prairie Riv—Rivers is non-profit and so we’ve received grants for education. We’re
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approaching nature tourism as an industry and also as a chance for education. We’ve hosted groups. We’ve—there’s been a movie or that’s not right, a documentary partially produced here for school children all over the United States about the prairie. So I guess our non-profit has received grants and—and fis—financial and staff assistance to help promote these things. Now EDC continues to put money into it. And provide staff support, you know. There’s actually somebody who—a rancher like myself who doesn’t want to sit down and—and put together some kind of presentation or write letters. They’ll—they’ll help you with that kind of thing and get it done. And web page
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development, you know, they—we’ve got a young man who believes in what we’re doing to the point that he moved here from—from Austin to start a consulting business. And so that, you know, that’s and—he’s busy he’s—he’s doing well. Not just Canadian, we’ve—we’ve really promoted this regional concept very strongly with Wheeler County to our south, Roberts County to our west, Lipscomb County to our north—we’ve tried to cooperate and coordinate, you know, five to six counties. Four of them have actually joined now. They’ve—Miami, the small town to our west has actually passed—passed a half-cent tax sales tax and hired a EDC Director and they’re working with this—this
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young man whose a consultant on nature tourism and cultural tourism. And this is a town who passed a half-cent sales tax several years ago but couldn’t decide what to do with it. I mean you can’t—unless you’re a certain size have a certain infrastructure, you can’t recruit light industry or small, you know, telemarketers whatever you want to do you just
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can’t do it. And they didn’t know where to go with it. And now they’ve taken up with the cultural and nature tourism thing and—and doing quite well, made a lot of strides in a few months.
DT: Well when people come here are they—they interested in going birding, bicycling, riding what do they typically do?
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JBA: Well of course I’ve been mainly involved with the birding cause we have a large population of lesser prairie chickens. And we have several prairie dog hounds that we’ve allowed to—to exist. And so that’s mainly what I’ve done. We have—we have hunting. We’ve redone the old bridge, put a wooden deck on it that crosses Canadian River and made a walking bridge out of it, which is really a—a—a pretty thing to do in the spring and the fall. The river runs under it. You can see different things. You can see deer and turkey and then the—of course the leaves go—start changing colors in the fall it’s a pretty place to be and people really enjoy that. There’s biking—people bike from
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Canadian—we’re going to make a—complete the loop where you can get across the highway at some point without encountering traffic and you can—you can bike across the bridge, get on the Lake Marvin Drive and bike out through, you know, along the river in the meadows and the wooded areas. So we’re trying to encourage all aspects. We nat—the prairie chicken was an easy thing to start with cause there’s very few places left in
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the world where you can go and see 30 or 40 different lecks or booming grounds for prairie chickens in the morning if you wanted to or over a two or three day period. So we took that because it was easiest. But then we’ve had help from the Audubon Society who’s—who’s come in and done Christmas Bird counts, identified different species. And we’re fortunate here; I mean the Eastern Western flyways overlap so you can get Eastern and Western Birds. You can see—you can come to Canadian and see or this ar—region and see several species that are thought of as being Eastern or Western. And so that’s, you know, that’s—that was dropped in our lap. But we’re trying to capitalize on it.
DT: You mentioned that watching these lesser prairie chickens on their booming grounds is—is—is one appeal and that hunting is—is something else. Can you describe what some of those experiences are like for people who come here? What’s it like to watch bird boom or what are some of your hunting—favorite hunting experiences?
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JBA: Well the—the experience of watching prairie chicken boom if you’ve never done it it’s—it’s—it’s a lot of fun; it’s quite entertaining. I’ve done it all my life and I still get excited when I—when I see them. And then when you have somebody from Houston who moved there from Milwaukee with some large insurance company come and then well that’s happened. They get so excited I just get even more excited so I, you know, I don’t know. That’s a very positive thing and—and it’s fun to interact with these people.
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You gain an appreciation of what you have that you were taking for granted. You also get ideas on how to—I ask them to critique me, you know, what we should do different, what they like to see. We get a lot of ideas on—on—on what we can do better and—and improve our—our nature tourism efforts. The hunting people—hunting’s changed a lot. I used to—I didn’t—I’m really not much of a hunter, I—I didn’t really let people go hunting much say 15, 20 years ago because I did—I—I explored it but I ran into these people that you drive around, show them the property and talking to them and trying to get a feel for them and everything that moved they wanted to shot at. And—and so I—I
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didn’t do it. Hunting now is the people—at least the people I deal with who hunt on us, when they actually do harvest an animal, they’re disappointed because it’s over with. I mean they have—they can’t be out on the prairie. They can’t be sleeping on a ranch, they can’t be seeing the stars at night, you know, they can’t be watching the deer and—and seeing them where they travel and all the things, you know, it’s—it’s a—they’ve changed a lot, the people I deal with. It’s, you know, of course society looks at it a lot different too I guess. But I actually enjoy being with them. You know, because they enjoy the whole experience.
DT: Do you act as their guide?
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JBA: No I don’t. What I do is meet and get comfortable with people that I can let go on their own. And so therefore I try to encourage a relationship where I have the same people come back year after year. You know, and I’ve—I’ve had success with that. And they like it. If they’re responsible people, hunters, they like being able to go where they want to, when they want to, you know, and it’s not a problem for me because they are responsible.
DT: Is most of the hunting for white tail deer or do you also get wild turkey hunts or…
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JBA: Well we have…
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JBA: …we have—we have Bobwhite Quail that we lease hunting for. We have white tail deer and we have turkey. And that—that’s really—and—and Dove, we have good dove hunting in here when they come through in the—in the fall.
DT: Is there a sandhill crane migration through here?
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JBA: No not here. I mean, they come by, no we don’t. I would like to get to the point where the hunting is—is supplementary to the birding and—and, you know, the experiential things. And one thing we’ve—we’ve found that I would have never thought of is the people that love to see he stars because the sky’s black. There’s not any light pollution here at night of course, you know, and they—they just excited about how clear the stars are and how—how clear the sky is and how bright the stars are. That kind of thing.
DT: And—and the people who come here for that sort of thing are they—are they nature students or, you know, they—they astronomy buffs or they the sort of people just who enjoy a black sky and—and the feel of seeing these—these stars?
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JBA: Well the bulk of them have been people who just want to come experience it. They’re not hardcore, you know, astronomers or—or—or birders. Some are. I prefer the people that want to go to the museum, who want to see the stars, who want to see the birds, who want—I enjoy them a lot more. We’ve had some hardcore birders. They come in when—we had a—a gentlemen fly in from—from Maine. He had a list, a life list, and he needed to see a (?) and he got in here at midnight. My wife took him up the next morning and—and 30 min—he had taken the pictures all he wanted, 30 minutes he’s back in the airport. I mean heading for the airport in Amarillo to leave again. I thought, you know, I didn’t get much out of that. I mean he paid just like everybody else but I—I—I enjoy the ones who come and stay two or three days. And actually enjoy walking down a brick street or sitting on a bench on Main Street, you know, and just kind of soaking up the—the slower pace and—and the—the lifestyle. That’s what—that’s who I try to pursue.
[End of Reel 2226]
DT: Mr. Anderson we—we were talking earlier about how much money some of these eco-tourists can bring to your community. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the—the scale the—the revenues that you all have been able recognize from developing a little bit of nature tourism? And—and then secondly how you price these experiences because they’re in—in a sense they’re priceless, in another sense they don’t require you to put out lot of extra infrastructure.
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JBA: We—we monitored as close as we could the first year we did it, a prairie chicken weekend, the State of Texas told us that you would get a $220, $230 a person per weekend. We were able to—to identify 180 and that didn’t include maybe some gas and things they got that we didn’t know about. So I mean that number’s real. As far as pricing there—we had, you know, we researched other areas where they’ve done some, you know, birding tourism and we consulted with people who do this for a living, you know, to get a feel for it. I—I found that at the right audience which is usually somebody that has to travel quite a ways, if you go within 50 to 150 miles, they want to do it for free
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because they think, you know, the—the birds are there and you didn’t do anything to get them and you shouldn’t be able to, you know, charge for it. But we’ve—talking to consultants, consulting I mean the people who’ve come and before they leave have them critique us and tell us what they’ve found other places. And we’ve just, I guess gone about it in that direction. And—and then one way you can capture some of the dollars for some of the things, the stars and the prairie, just the sense of openness is if you have a place for them to stay or you provide meals or that kind of thing.
DT: I’m—I’m interested in—in knowing what your attitude is towards inviting these people to come. Do you want them to be visitors to your community, guests in your home but not residents in your town or would you like them to come and stay and raise a family have a business here?
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JBA: Well to sustain what we have here, you’ll have to have—it would be nice if some would stay. It—it—I don’t see us being overwhelmed because of our—our distance from major population centers, the fact that we’re—we’re surrounded by private land, it would be hard to—to do—do a lot of development. We’ve—in Canadian we’ve put in the high speed data lines to encourage, you know, so—some people who work on the internet out of their homes to maybe be able to, you know, come here and live and—interested in this kind of lifestyle. As far as becoming a—a suburb of a—of a theme park, I—I just don’t see that happening. You know, maybe I’m wrong but I don’t. But yes, we would like to have mainly visitors but—but, you know, we’ve also enjoyed, you know, some people who’ve moved here and some people who are talking about moving here just to—because they’ve discovered us.
DT: I’m curious, it seems like one of the things that—that y’all value as part of your lifestyle is the experience of living in a small town…
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DT: …and—and looking at the experience of some what larger towns but, you know, Fredericksburg or Austin come to mind where they became very popular, people moved there and it dramatically changed the experience of those who…
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DT: …lived there. How do you avoid either the—the traffic problems that large cities like Austin sort of this—I think you mentioned theme park aspect to life in Fredericksburg now?
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JBA: Well I—I think one it’s just simply going to be our location. We’re not close to Houston or San Antonio or—or Dallas. They’re close enough that—that we’ll be overwhelmed by, you know, people having weekend homes or—and that kind of thing. I personally would not like to see that and I’m sure they didn’t either to a certain extent. But it’s going to go where it’s going to go and that’s something I thought about, you know, when we started this. But it’s going to be a little bit limiting in the fact that the nature tourism aspect of what we’re trying to do here is not a high volume, you know, business. There’s a—there’s a large number of people who enjoy it, a large number of people that come but it—its not like having an outlet mall or something like that, you know. I think it’ll be self-limiting somewhat, you know.
DT: Do you find that you’re—as you’re starting to show that there’s some revenue that you can get from this that people are starting to build businesses or become consultants or become guides or whatever to sort of take advantage of this?
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JBA: Yes. I—I we’ve had a young man move here I think I mentioned earlier from Austin to do consulting, whether it’s from—on the Internet or—or assessment of what you have on your land or—and he’s quite good. Moved his family here. They live in Miami. We’ve had things come in anticipation of the birding trail that’s going to be coming through Canadian. The State of Texas does I think the greater coast of birding trail they have on the coast, I turn some thousand maps handed out in a year, you know. Well the extension of that’s going to be coming through Canadian, the high plains going to call it nature trail not just birding trail but High Plains Nature Trail. So yeah there’s
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been little bakery and been—we went from having a dairy queen for our finest dining to having two or three nice restaurants. And—and that’s been anticipation and promotion of Canadian and just people who come visit. We’re—even before the—the birding trail has not come, the map’s being done, it should be out this spring, it’s about eight months behind. But it—it’s—it’s in the works. But just the promotion of the—that we’ve received the—off the birding trail map, people knowing it’s being put together and articles been written about us, we get a fairly decent amount of people who come from towns within 200 miles to go to the movie and eat and just drive around, just look at the town.
DT: You’ve made a lot of—of personal commitment, investment in trying to shepherd this town towards a more sustainable direction. But I understand that in the last four or five years, there’s also been sort of another—another direction where people are trying to develop and sell—export the groundwater resources that are here, part of the Ogallala aquifer. Can you explain what—what’s happened there, how that came about and what—what your opinions are?
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JBA: Well, of course in my mind it would be a disaster if the Ogallala were depr—depleted. I—what I’ve read about it and what I know about it is if it ever gets—actually comes about, the restrictions are such that, you know, they won’t do that. And I hope that’s correct. Maybe I was just reading the wrong person’s propaganda I don’t know but that’s the information I got and I just fell softly. I guess I can’t say that somebody doesn’t have the right to—to do that except to a point where impacts everyone around them, you know. You can’t—I don’t think you have the right to negatively impact your neighbors or your fellow citizens with some of these activities, I just don’t but we’ll see.
DT: Do you think there’s a consensus in Canadian about what is the right way to handle this or…
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JBA: Most people in Canadian are not really for it that I’ve talked to because this—this area before the groundwater was—was discovered was a jumping off place. I mean you—you did your best to get from Arkansas or Missouri across the plains of the panhandle to Colorado and hope that you found water and avoided the Indians on the way, you know. And so that’s—that has certainly changed this whole area and made it inhabitable, you know. When they start using groundwater I, you know, I have a problem with that I—I have a bigger problem with—with these programs that encourage over production of grain with—through irrigation and then, you know, I’m—I’m not sure I understand that but—but that’s just a personal view.
DT: Do you think there’s more water mining that gets done because of the subsidized agriculture then there is…
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JBA: Oh I think absolutely.
DT: …(inaudible) municipal demand in Amarillo or (?)?
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JBA: Irrigating corn is an enormous user (?). Enormous.
DT: Can you give me an example of the scale?
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JBA: You know, I should be able to but I don’t want to say no. You know, I—I’ve—I mean, I’ve read about it, I’ve looked into it’s—it’s—it’s astonishing. You know, Amarillo’s—is—is nothing relatively speaking their consumption of water compared to—to irrigated corn in the plains of Texas, high plains of Texas. It’s a crop that requires a lot of water.
DT: What’s the trend now, status of the Ogallala in this area (inaudible)?
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JBA: Well it’s—it’s stable to declining. It’s not we’re on the—the right end of the slope. I mean it—it migrates us away. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the—the situation. Some of this is going to be taken care of through economics. The lifting costs for some of these irrigated farms are going to be—become such that it won’t be feasible. And thank goodness, I think technology will take care of a lot it. There’s—there’s some of it—there’s Milos being grown right now that are—will produce close to as much grain per acre, not as much but close to as corn. And Milo requires a fraction of the water.
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There’s food grade Milo’s being developed that could replace corn to be grown in these areas. I mean they’re—they’re doing a lot of work constantly. I mean they’re taking—I know a research station that’s taking—there’s a grass called Eastern Gamma, tripsicum, that’s a—it’s a distant cousin of Maize. They’re—they’re doing a lot of genetic work on that to—to hybridize some of these maizes or gra—corns, will use a fraction of water they use and be able to sustain temperature extremes we have and still produce. So technology saved us before. Hopefully it’ll do it in this case, you know, in a lot of areas. But that, you know, the water thing is a—it’s a complex issue.
DT: Another water question I—I understand that the Canadian River has changed pretty dramatically over the years especially since Lake Meredith is—was put in. Can you attest to that?
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JBA: Oh yeah.
DT: Or what do you think?
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JBA: I mean, well in the mid 50’s or when I was—began grade school, you know, in ‘56 or 7, I remember in the summer playing in the Canadian Rivers is a big wide ribbon of sand, you know, half mile wide just (?) sand and it—and the—you could hear it at night before the days of central heat and air that we had. You could hear it roaring in the spring at night, you know, from half a mile, three quarters of a mile away—away just huge amounts of water going down the river. I thought Meredith up until a year or two ago had altered it and completely changed it. I’ve been told since then what Meredith did is actually take back to its original state because before there was over grazing, before there were fields that were—plowed fields without terraces and you had a lon—and you had a dense stand of—of native range grasses. Grass is one of the best dams there is as far as holding rainfall. The river was a little narrow ribbon of water with—with grasses
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and willows and things growing right up to the edge of the bank. When you over graze some of the prairies, when you plowed up some of the flat areas and didn’t terrace them, you had this big scouring affect of—of huge runoff. And—and it changed the river to what it was in the 50’s and 60’s. Now it’s gone back to what it was originally. And that was what I was told by someone who studied diaries and such of some, you know, the early Spanish explorers. And—and—and if you con—if you consider it, it makes sense. And we’ve gone—not just Meredith, but we’ve gone back now to the range practices largely are much better than they were, the fields are terraced, the erodible lands we have planted back to grass. So we’ve stopped a lot of—of runoff.
DW: What has the Canadian River meant culturally to the area? Is it—is it first (?) generation swimming hole of (inaudible)? Does it have a role beyond just water and irrigation? (inaudible)
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JBA: Okay. The Canadian River I—I it’s just part of—of your being if you live here, I mean, that where you’ve had picnics, that’s where you swam in the summer, you know. We have people now—we have some kayaks who float down the river and just love it because well a nature consultant, a tourism consultant, does try this and I—I would think that people would want to be on some scenic river in Colorado or such. But he said no I mean kayakers like to go all kinds of rivers and all kinds of areas and a winding prairie river is just something you can’t do just anywhere. So we’ve had some pretty
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enthusiastic people doing that. But the Canadian River’s just, I don’t know, that’s just where you headed in the afternoons in the summer or on the weekends to go do whatever you want to do. At least that’s where I went. I hunted a lot of imaginary Indians on the Canadian River. Thank goodness I never ran into any of them but I had a lot of fun riding the horse around, you know, all day long up and down the river.
DW: Is it still possible? Is that still done or is that just nostalgia?
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JBA: It would still be possible to do this—to do it. People lifestyles have changed to the point that a lot of kids don’t know about it, they don’t think about it. You know, they run to town to play baseball, they jump on a four-wheeler they, you know, watch videos, I don’t know. I—I don’t see it much with children that I used to. It’s been interesting to me that I’ve appreciated our Hispanic population when you drive across the river bridge, they’re the ones down there having a picnic and the kids playing in the water and the grandmother and the grandfather and the—and the—and parents, you know. They seem to appreciate it more than those of use who’ve lived here all our life.
DT: I had another thought and question, it has to do with water resources and it may look back a few years, a number of years. Do you have any memories yourself; you’re probably too young but maybe from your parents, grandparents of what he dust bowl was like in this area? If it even touched this community?
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JBA: Oh it touched it. But it was usually somebody else’s dust cause we were—we were largely a native range here. I mean, there were wheat fields around but not—I mean I—I’ve seen the pictures that are just, you know, give you a chill. And we—it was in the 70’s, we had a year or two there that had severe drought in Colorado and they had a lot of farm practices I guess that encouraged this. We would have the—the street lights come on at noon a time or two but it was Colorado dirt. It wasn’t our dirt, you know. And so that gave you some inkling it wasn’t near as bad as—as it was when you actually were in the heart of the dust bowl.
DT: What did you hear or see (inaudible)…
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JBA: Oh just…
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JBA: I mean people were talking about putting wet towels around their windows and—and—and—and children, you know, putting (?) at night when they put them in bed, covering the whole bed with a sheet, you know, where they could breathe better. It was nasty.
DT: What was the cause of it?
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JBA: The cause of it was a long-term drought coupled with the farming practices of the time. You know, I—people would say it would be really hard for us to have a dust bowl now even though you could have a drought for some point and—and have some problems with production but it would be hard to have a dust bowl cause you wouldn’t have the—the vast areas of ground that was plowed bare. I mean for instance driving to my home its 27 or 8 mile drive, you see a few wheat fields, they never blow. I mean you can be having—our March winds are awful. That’s another reason we won’t have people move here for any large amount of time. But anyway, you know, 30, 40 miles an hour just day after day and you just don’t see wheat fields blowing and things like they used to cause of the stubbles on the ground or they—they fallowed it and has trash on top of it, you know, old residue that’s very encouraging. It’s—it’s technological advances, that’s all it is.
DT: Hearing you talk about 30, 40 mile an hour winds and—and some technical advances, I—I noticed that not too far west of here, there’s a whole string of wind mills, can you tell how those came about?
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JBA: Yeah, I don’t really know a story about that exactly other than if you look of a map of average daily wind speeds, we rank right up with the Foothills of California or the Northeast Coast. So obviously it was a place to get that done. I—I some of that comes about because of—of—of, you know, laws, you know, where you’re required to produce a certain amount—your utility companies are required to use a certain amount of it—of electricity or energy gen—generated through sustainable sources. That’s something else we’re pursuing. It’s not exactly what you asked me but I think we’re going to get a grant to I believe we are, we don’t have it, yet to grow biomass fuels. Some of these farms that
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are worn out, tired, you know, you could possibly but them back to a native switch grass or some of these high volume native grasses and with only I think it’s—it’s a very small, eight or ten percent of the mix if it’s a biomass fuel like a pelleted grass mixed with high sulfur coal, it—it cleans it up to the point you don’t even have to have scrubbers. It’s—it’s quite—it’s pretty interesting. That—that research has been done.
DT: It’s a kind of perennial agriculture (inaudible)?
00:23:01 – 2227
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JBA: There’s no farming involved. Once you get the stand there, you just harvest it. And—which I like that. It’s very low input.
DT: Well maybe this would be a good time to talk about the future. Wh—what sort of challenges and opportunities do you see from a conservation perspective coming in the next 10, 20 longer years?
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JBA: Well it think—I’m again seeing more and more which delights me, people realizing with good conservation practices, it pays off physically. And I—I could see us going more and more to maybe some biomass fuels to supplement—if you could—in—in fact if could take a biomass fuel and use high sulfur coal cleanly, this country has a lot of high sulfur coal, which is—it’s just too expensive to burn now because to clean up the air after it i—is quite expensive. So I mean I—I see things like that happening. Technology I mean the—I just believe in it maybe the my—my time I spent around the range research station and I see all the things they’re doing. But I see them taking some of the genetic
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aspects out of native plants and introducing them into—to farm forages and the requiring less fertilizer, less water, less weed control. You know, I just think those things grow on the horizon. And I’m very optimistic about that. And the fact too that we’re getting away or at least some of us are, getting away more and more from just producing a commodity in agriculture, you know, just wheat or beef or we’re getting in more into value added products where you assure someone and insure that—that—that there’s no hormones, no antibiotics. You know, people have proven over and over by the growth of
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Whole Foods that they’re willing to pay for that. And that’s a lot more profitable than just trying to produce the maximum amount you can produce off an acre of land, that you do something more sustainable and get more for it. And I see that trend coming fast.
DT: You as a—as a rancher consider going to a grass fed business or…
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JBA: The what Business?
DT: Grass fed beef business?
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JBA: We’re already tinkering with that. Not—not just grass fed but large grass fed and finished on grain. People still want the grain finish if they ever—if they’d be willing to buy it, that’s not I’d be happy to do it. But strictly grass fed even finished on legumes still has a little bit of a—a like elk taste, you know, it has a different taste that we’ve acquired from eating grain fed meat. But we are actively pursuing a—a—a all natural, you know, no hormones, no antibiotics or any animals who’s ever been given a shot will be tagged and put through your conventional system and…
DT: Does that change your operation a lot (inaudible)?
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JBA: Yeah it makes it profitable. It does.
DW: Explain that because I think that many people…
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DW: …have the idea that organic is nothing but trouble…
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JBA: Well organic quite frankly is a lot of trouble, but people are willing to pay for it. And I’m not saying organic. I’m saying natural, all natural to do—to truly do organic, you would have to be able to document that the grain they were fed or any supplements they were given had never been sprayed for pests or, you know, or herbicides or—and that’s quite hard to do. There are people though that are producing organic grain now for that market to be fed to animals to produce organic animals. The—the thing that—that we’re attempting to do and—and I believe it’s going to work, we just got started a few months ago, is bypassing your conventional production systems. Where you raise a calf, get him as big as you can get him then just (?) the auction part. We’re really not rewarded for good husbandry. I mean he brings the same per pound really as something that—that’s maybe not had a—not been cared for properly, you know. And so also believe the—that there’s an economic reward in—in caring for the animal human—
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humanely. I mean, so that’s why we’re try—my wife and I are and working with some people we’re—we’re—we’re establishing a source of red meat that’s been handled humanely, been produced primarily on native range but—but no antibiotics, no hormones that kind of thing. And charging and—and you charge a lot more for it but you bypass your—your large packers, you bypass your large wholesalers and you—to really capture that, most benefit from that, you really need to sell directly to the consumer.
DT: Do you have your own brand?
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JBA: Yes. And you can even develop your own brand you can—I’m working with a group that they’re going to handle animals humanely, they’re going to avoid any antibiotics or steroids. But then they will go through a packing plant—a small packing plant that won’t have our names on it individually, but it will have a brand name on it.
DT: Is this a regional (?) or is this statewide?
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JBA: I’m doing both. The—one of the things I’m working with is—is going to be a regional thing. Then—then I’ll also going to try attempt to do it just me individually. Just our ranch or I am going to do it—I don’t intend to do.
DW: What are the criteria you have to decide on for what you would consider to be humane treatment as compared to what might happen otherwise?
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JBA: Well the—the way I—the most—how can I say it? If you avoid the large-scale corporate production systems, for instance when we worked cattle and I’ve done it for years, I don’t allow hot shots. Because I timed it one time and this just isn’t all just warm and fuzzy, it’s because it works. If you don’t upset them and you don’t scare them and you have your facility designed right you can actually process them better, you know, deworm them, give them their vaccines, whatever you’re going to do, quicker than you can by scaring the heck out of them or using the hot shots or, you know. Cause they just walk through and everything’s calm and everything works well and so it’s more efficient.
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So to me the humane aspect would come in to be handled like nearly all producers I know handle their cattle anyway. You would use a small feed yard where there’s not a—a large scale, you know, they have individual attention almost, you know. They’re given plenty of room in the pens if you feed them out that a way. And then you go to a small packer where the animals are just handled easily and handled gently and, you know, it’s—because it’s not, you’re being paid more for them therefore you can slow down, take your time and do it right.
DT: I think said that to try and handle these—these cattle without using antibiotics or hormones, if they’re going through a feedlot, how you going to do it without antibiotics well and I guess without hormones you’re going to require more time to grow out the cattle.
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JBA: It requires a little more time. But the particular cattle we’re going to be using are kind of a lean animal anyway. And—and it’s not efficient to try to feed them to a lar—you know, for a long time because their genetically kind a lean and lean and—and—and not to large. The way you can avoid antibiotics through the feed yard is through a proactive approach. From birth on, you make sure they have their proper vaccines just like you would your children. You—you use the proper vaccines, use them in a timely manner so they’re not so susceptible to diseases, you know. They’re healthy and they’re vibrant and they—and there’s a little bit—there is somewhat of a misnomer, not every
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animal that’s in a feedlot gets a va—is—is given antibiotics or, you know. If you slow down the production a little bit and don’t feed them such high concentrates, they don’t need antibiotics in their feed to offset, you know, their system being put in fast gear, high gear, you know. So yes it can be done. It—it requires just a little bit more time and just a little—a few more cents per pound to do it but you’re more than paid for it.
DT: Is this sort of an economic decision of yours do you think it’s—it’s the right thing to do?
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JBA: Well there again I’ve never been able to separate those two. I mean that’s just the way I feel about everything. I don’t—I don’t know—I’ve found that if you do the right thing, it’s the economic thing to do, you know. I guess I haven’t—I guess somebody could tell me when that isn’t the case but I’m not aware of it, you know, whether it’s encouraging your native range to—to be vibrant and—and healthy so you can get more pounds of gain—I mean, I just, you know, that’s just one case I keep going back to or—or giving the animals their vaccines as a calf where their immune to a lot of these diseases, where you don’t have to doctor them, you know, I just don’t see. But yeah it’s the right thing to do, you know, it’s economically rewarding so that makes it doubly good I guess.
DT: Yesterday I—I got the nice chance to—to meet your grandchildren and—and they’re—they’re quite young.
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JBA: They’re quite active too.
DT: They’re quite active. I’m curious as they grow up and—and you try and explain your way of life and your attitudes towards conservation, how do you explain where you’re coming from and where they might be going towards?
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JBA: Well I suppose the same way that I received my education. You—with our lifestyle—the ranching lifestyle, you—you’re with your parents and not other friends all the time. I mean that’s who your with mostly and—and so you—you get a lot of—you have a lot of things that are engrained in you. You have no idea why you do it or where it came from because you learned it from the first day you understood what they were doing. And for instance my little grandson’ just turned three, I have him saying, I hate trash. He picks up cans and paper and puts them in the trashcan. So I guess you just pass those things on. I—I assure you by the time he’s ten years old he won’t know why
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he hates trash. But I—and I hope he still does. But I mean that’s just an example. I—it’s just engrained in you and you—you know, it’s just part of you. Because the land I mean it’s—it’s upsetting when there’s a drought or when there’s a fire or a wildfire at the wrong time of year. I mean fire’s not all bad but I mean it’s just part of it, you know, I don’t know.
DT: You mentioned fire; do you do any prescribed burning?
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JBA: We’ve done some yeah.
DT: Why do you do that?
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JBA: To get something I—I did it on—well I mentioned earlier I’d—I’d segregated my bottomlands and meadows from the uplands and they’d all been grazed as one for years. And so I wanted to get it back to a state—I wanted to clean it up, you know. When you do that, you can’t manage those two kinds of grass systems as—as one. And so one of them had suffered. The bottomlands had become overwhelmed with—with grasses that were rotting and falling over and actually it was decreasing. It was in a declining state. So I used fire to clean it up and get it back to, you know, a—a—a—a state that’s—where it’s now increasing.
DT: Can you describe what it’s like setting this fire and doing back burns and so on?
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JBA: Yeah it makes your hands sweat and it scares the heck out of you. I actually—I attempted—I had done a little bit of it and it got away from me one time on my own. It’s a science and even though I’ve read about it and talked to people who did it and went through all the proper steps, you have to do it to do it right. You have to have some experience, real life experience. So the second time I did some prescribed burning, I paid a gentlemen a couple dollars an acre to do it and he made it look simple.
DT: What time of year did you do it?
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JBA: This was spring. You need to burn a little green. It’s when the—the grass has begun to put out chutes. And I have friends that live in the foothill of Kansas and they burn every year have for generations, you know. And so they’ve always told me burn it with the green and that’s what this gentlemen recommended, right as it starts to have a little bit of leaf—leaf growth, you know burn it.
DT: What did it look like—how did the land respond after you burned?
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JBA: Well the land responded by of course a lot of these species—there’s these species that were established on this prairie were established under grazing of, you know, elk and buffalo and also by fire and—and it—it responded quite favorably. The grasses I wanted to increase, increased and some of the stuff that I would call junk grass it was just coming in, went down hill. It doesn’t like fire and when you open the ground up and your—your (?) switch and your Big Blue and—and Little Blue and all those, they just choked them out, just took over. It’s pretty impressive actually, did it really quick. We haven’t done as—maybe as much burn as we should because the ranch we lease is a main part of our ranching is pretty fragile sandy country and—and if you burned it off and you happened to have one of those 60 days of no rain, it could be quite a mess, you know.
DT: Earlier you mentioned buffalo and elk as being some of the traditional herbivores around here. Is there any interest either on your part or others to—to reintroduce those or do you find that—that cattle is most efficient way to…
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JBA: Well cattle’s by far the most efficient. For one thing buffalo are so hard to handle, you know. They—we’ve had friends who’ve attempted to use—to have a few buffalo around, if nothing else just for token thing and—and they have a tendency in the spring if the old bull (?) off a young bull, they’ll just walk through a fence, just push it down and go somewhere. I mean, it’s just such a strong, natural tendency. To keep them where you want to keep them you have to keep them—you have to build such an expensive fence; you can’t fence off a very large area. You know, unless you—I mean I know there’s ranchers in the Dakotas and such that put together large blocks of land and—and do it and I guess with some success I don’t know. Elk, I haven’t heard considered. The cattle are—they’re easier to manage. You can do everything in such a timely manner and, you know, I—I—I personally would not be interested in buffalo.
DT: And have you done any particular breeding to try and get this lean animal that—that you have?
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JBA: No what we did is we have a few cattle that are called—I guess were called sport cattle. They’re Corrientes. Corrientes and Texas Long Horns are typically the—the same animal. They came over with Columbus on the ships. They’re called Criollo cattle from the mountains, the Andalusian mountains of Spain. They’re a small hearty animal and the explorers used them because if you put them in the hull of a ship, when you got where you were going, a lot them—enough of them would be alive that you would have fresh meat, you know, to take with you as you trekked across the country. And so anyway we had some of these and—and would use them on some like the Canadian
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River bottoms or some of the lands that weren’t—didn’t produce good gains on your traditional cattle would use these because you sell them by the head. And—and rodeo—that’s what they use in rodeos in order to rope, you know the head and healers, they use these Corrientes. And—and so cutting horse people cause they’re athletic animals—cutting horse like to train their horses on them and they really have quite a good life. I mean better than some of your beef animals actually. But naturally we started this (?) bunch to—to use to graze some of these non—less productive lands. There was a group I got to know about and became acquainted with who were putting together a marketing plan
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plan on the meat because Corriente beef or Long Horn—these are actually Long Horn breeders but like I say, they’re the same animal basically—discovered that the beef is—a—has less cholesterol and abo—and about the same fat content as a skinless chicken breast. And through university studies at Clemson, New Mexico State, they found it to be tender and—and palatable. And so that’s kind of all evolved since I actually got the
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cattle for other reasons. I was looking for a non—a source of income that wasn’t tied to production agriculture and sport cattle or not, it doesn’t matter to those people what the price of beef are. They pay so much a head or lease them—I like to lease mine out because I like to control who has them and where they go to someplace where they’re treated right, you know. If they rope these animals and they do it correctly, it doesn’t hurt them. You know, they have protectors—protectors over their head and their ears and, you know, they don’t jerk them down like they used to. As a matter of fact, it’s against the rules now to jerk them hard. Which is a good thing. So…
DT: Did you ride rodeo?
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DT: In your early days?
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JBA: No. No never no. Just ranching. I rode milk (?) calves and—and young colts but it was all at home. It wasn’t in a rodeo arena.
DT: I have one more question and I’m sure you may have things to add but I—I always try to ask people if there’s a place that they always enjoyed visiting that gives them some sort of peace, serenity or comfort? Is there on that you could describe for us?
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JBA: Well the thing I do or the thing that my wife sends me to do sometimes is catch a horse and go ride around and look at the condition of the—of the grasses and—and things on the ranch and—and—and be gone half a day. I can’t come back for half a day. And she does that because, you know, spouses tend to take the brunt of people’s ill moods and things. So—and that helps a lot. If we go anywhere that we enjoy and thank goodness she feels the same way I do, it’s like the Flint hills of Kansas, the Sand Hills of Nebraska. It’s prairie land. That’s what we love.
00:42:41 – 2227
JBA: Yes and so we’ve also found that it’s easier to just stay here and just enjoy it. We’ll—we’ll pack a some Sunday afternoon in the spring, we’ll take a sandwich and drive up the North River Road for two hours and come back down the South River Road for two hours and just look at the—what we have here because we have everything from cap rock to rolling sand hills to, you know, we got quite a few different ecosystems and—and—and areas in a relatively small place.
DT: Sounds like a good place. Thanks for telling us about your life here. Anything you’d like to add?
00:43:18 – 2227
JBA: No. No I’m teasing. No other than, you know, I am positive about the directions agriculture’s taking. I mean people get discouraged about some of the production agriculture and they get discouraged about some people who don’t care for their animals or their land like they should but for Pete’s sake this is a new—I mean they were trading stocks in Wall Street before this place was even settled. So I mean, if you put it in that perspective, we made a lot of strides in the last 100 years and I don’t see any reason to stop doing it and—and to learn to cooperate and—and profit from what’s around you without altering it much.
DT: Good advice. Thank you.
[End of Reel 2227]
[End of Interview with Jim Bill Anderson]