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Ranch Management Students Learn Grazing Management and Ecosystem Servicing

John “Chris” Farley ’96 RM, assistant director of the Ranch Management Program and Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show professor, talks old ranches and new frontiers.

Ranch Management Students Learn Grazing Management and Ecosystem Servicing

John “Chris” Farley ’96 RM, assistant director of the Ranch Management Program and Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show professor, talks old ranches and new frontiers.

Chris Farley, assistant director of the Ranch Management Program and Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show Professor said his students need to know they're in an international Market. Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Chris Farley, assistant director of the Ranch Management Program and Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show Professor, said his students need to know they’re in an international market. Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Like all ranch management faculty, you have significant experience in the industry. Lots of city dwellers have romanticized notions about ranch life, but what is it really like?

I worked at an estate where we had 2,000 cows on 24,000 acres. We gathered cows, put them in a set of pens and vaccinated them — for two weeks in the spring and two weeks in the fall. That’s it. If you want to ride a horse and you want to work cows, ranching is just not that. It takes a whole lot more than that: We have to fix the fence; we have to take care of the pasture; we have to feed the cattle; we have to make hay. It’s not all fun and games. That’s why we require at least two years of work experience before students enter the Ranch Management Program, to ask: Is this really what you want to do?

How has the program changed since you were a student?

[Former program director] John Merrill ’85, my mentor, taught us land stewardship and livestock production. We’re really teaching the same art and science of that. It hasn’t changed. What we’re teaching to this next generation is that they’ve got to learn to tell their story. Ranchers are people who like to work by themselves, like to be out by themselves, and therefore they don’t tell their story.

The buzzwords we use now are carbon and sequestering, in that we are managing grass and grazing grass. It’s an annual plant, so therefore it’s going to sequester more carbon than trees do. Proper grazing management sequesters carbon. And that’s a service that we’re giving the industry, we’re giving the world.

We’re filtering the water, too. If the grass was cement, or if that was bare ground and didn’t have grass growing, then the water would not be filtered down into the aquifer. So we’re managing that land as you see those cows out there. And the cows are helping with this system because they’re grazing that grass, which is allowing us to grow more grass, which is sequestering more carbon and servicing the ecosystem. We teach more of that now. That’s how it’s changed.

You mentioned that it’s important for ranchers to tell their story. Why is that?

Because we don’t. And I think that we as ranchers, if we don’t tell the story, then that story is not being told. If people don’t know what we do, they might not support ranching and agriculture. They might think that we’re big factory farms, and we abuse our animals, and that they shouldn’t eat meat. But we would give this beef we raised to our 3-year-old daughters, our own families.

Chris Farley, assistant director of the Ranch Management Program said the curriculum fits into a lot of other degrees. Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Farley said the Ranch Management curriculum fits into a lot of other degrees. Photo by Glen E. Ellman

There’s a person behind every piece of food who is growing it not for profit but to help feed the world. Over the next 30 years, we’re going to have to grow 10 times as much food as we’ve grown in the last 10,000 years. We have 7.2 billion people on the planet now. We’re going to have 9 billion by 2050. So we’ve got to grow more food. We’ve got to do that in a sustainable way.

How do you recruit students for the Ranch Management Program?

The biggest part of recruiting is alumni. I still say we are the best kept secret in Fort Worth. There are a lot of people right here in Fort Worth — a lot of people on this campus — who don’t know about us. And that’s understandable. It’s not anybody’s fault. You just don’t picture a ranch management program at a liberal arts school like TCU.

We do go to all the other universities. What a lot of people don’t realize about our program is that we fit into a lot of other degrees. We require 34 college hours, so it’s really just two semesters. Some students will spend two years elsewhere, then come down here for year No. 3. They’re TCU students for two semesters, and then we transfer those 34 hours to other colleges. Most of our students have finished a four-year degree somewhere else and use this as a master’s-level program.

What has this program been able to contribute to the world’s body of ranching knowledge?

We feel like we’re teaching a box of tools, how to use those tools. And those tools can be used anywhere. We have students from more than 50 countries. Those students are going back and teaching in their countries about how to use these tools and how to use them economically and sustainably.

What do your students need to know about how the ranching business is changing in the 21st century?

Marketing. The science of managing forage and cattle is changing a little bit but not a whole lot. How we market our product, however, is changing. The information, the data that you need to have, like all the business hedging options and the risk management that can protect your business, is something important for their generation.

We’re now in an international market. We’re no longer selling our calves to Oklahoma City and Kansas. It’s now a global market: China and Mexico and all the places that we export to. And there are niche markets. You can go into grass-fed beef. Figuring out how they can capture more of that dollar is what their generation is going to have to do. It differs from my generation and my dad’s generation.

How big of a deal are animal-human disease transmissions, like the infamous mad cow scare?

Chris Farley, assistant director of the Ranch Management Program, said students are taking the knowledge and tools they gained through the program all over the world. Photo by Glen E. Ellman

Farley said Ranch Management students are taking the knowledge and tools they gain through the program all over the world. Photo by Glen E. Ellman

We have inspection systems in the United States. This is by far the safest food in the world. We’re going to have those disease issues, but in the past, they caught them and kept them out of the food chain. Nobody was harmed. We’ve built better defense systems. But that’s not to say another disease won’t come up. It’s true in human health, too.

Nutritionists and environmentalists sometimes debate the amount of meat people should eat, if they should eat it at all. What is the ranching industry’s take on providing and maintaining an optimal diet for everyone?

Everything — from chocolate to wine or whatever — could have a negative impact in the right, in the wrong or the excess amount. But in the right proportions, meat is healthy and safe, and it does fit at the center of the plate when it comes to healthy eating.

Beef is the greatest example of a multivitamin. We call it ZIP — it produces zinc, it produces iron, and it produces protein. But you eat what you want to eat. If you don’t choose meat because of something that you’ve heard, that’s fine. We don’t want to push it on you, but it could really benefit you from a health standpoint.

Given the outmigration happening across the country’s rural areas, where young people are moving to cities en masse, are there enough workers to staff the nation’s farming and ranching operations?

Absolutely not. We take our students on weeklong field trips, and we visit a ranch in the morning, a ranch in the afternoon and maybe a farm. The students come back talking about labor, labor, labor. It’s the limiting factor on those ranching enterprises.

They’re having to go to government programs that bring in people from outside the country. It takes a lot of work because they cannot find people who want to work. And that’s a shame.

It’s going to be challenging going forward, and I don’t know the answer. I hope that we could raise young kids to go into ranching. I have a summer camp that I started seven years ago. It’s called Ranch Brigades and is for 13- to 17-year-olds. I just introduce them to the industry and say there’s a lot of opportunity. You don’t have to be a ranch manager, but there are veterinarians, there are feed salesman, there are nutritionists. I’m trying.

Editor’s Note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Your comments are welcome

2 Comments

  1. Great article “Chris” Farley!

  2. Excellent comment! We have to be involved in this revolutionary beef and range areas everywhere we are responsible. The global marketing requires a lot of background and success in how we raise our animals and we need to be involved in all aspects. We need to place our footmark just like the astronauts did. TCU’s Ranch Management program trains you in all aspects and gives you the ability to be leading the industry.

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