Outside the Fire…Marcy Epperson

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I am a huge fan of ranching women, because I know that a woman who ranches also raises a family, keeps the books, cooks, cleans, and is just as busy in her community as she is checking livestock and tending to horses.  George Strait said it best, “how bout them cowgirls”!  This month, I want to introduce you to an exceptional lady – Marcy Epperson.  Marcy and her family ranch outside of Rocksprings and she recently successfully completed her Texas Department of Agriculture Certified and Insured Prescribed Burn Manager’s license after years of hard work and dedication to learning.  Marcy is a mom to two boys, a wife, a rancher, and now a prescribed burn manager!  I am proud to call her my friend and colleague!

How did you get introduced to fire? I was introduced to fire through family—as a child I loved helping burn brush piles. There was a hill on the family ranch named Ole Baldy, because my grandfather had burned it. Adult family members always laughed it off as an “accident”, then they’d get serious and say they thought he’d burned it on purpose, like Native Americans had done. I tend to believe the latter, but it probably scared him half to death, and well should have!

How early do you start planning for a prescribed burn? Generally, at least a year; every preparation seems to take longer than the budgeted time, from blading fireguards to having enough accumulated grass (fine fuels) after deferment of grazing. 

What’s most unique about a post-fire environment? I would say the most interesting thing is how wildlife throngs into the black immediately after a prescribed fire. From Rio Grande turkeys looking for scorched grasshoppers to quail with chicks and jackrabbits, they all immediately appear and move right into still smoking areas. Any apprehension about wildlife and prescribed fire is always quieted; this isn’t necessarily the case with the wildfire.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? I know we all look for success with specific goals and objectives, but ultimately, a safe fire is, in my opinion, a successful fire. Every single fire will be good in some way for our fire adapted ecosystem, and safety is key.

Who or what would you never burn without? I would never burn without a comprehensive burn plan, an experienced crew with good equipment and radios, and most importantly– an up-to-date weather forecast. 

Why I Ranch…Ray Pfeuffer

I dedicated a series on West Texas ranchers called “Why I Ranch.” Each month I will highlight a rancher in West Texas and ask them to share their story about the ranch life.

Ray Pfeuffer

Ray and Sandra Pfeuffer make Ranch Life look easy. They have raised a beautiful family. They work hard. They are active in 4H. And, oh yea, they ranch in West Texas. Here is the other half to Ms. Sandra’s answers 🙂

How did you get your start in ranching? My family has always ranched, going back to the 1800’s. It was never our sole source of income, but I have done it my entire life.

How important is agriculture to your family? It is very important to all of us. All of my kids have grown up around it and love working with livestock. I feel I am doing something worth while, helping raise food for our country and other countries as well.

What makes ranching in West Texas so unique? The weather probably, but then again the weather is not normal anywhere, anymore. I like that multiple species can still be raised in most places, barring coyote problems.

Do you feel like there is enough emphasis on agriculture in K-12 education? It seems as if there is not. I believe society as a whole has gotten so far away from the land, they have no clue how food is produced.

Who did you learn the most from along the way? My dad, Billy Pfeuffer, my uncle, Franklin Pfeuffer, my grandpa Raymond Wersterfer and a neighbor growing up in Comal county, George Lackey.

Outside the Fire…Dr. Doug Tolleson

Dr. Butch Taylor loves the Sonora Experiment Station dearly, and another person who loves it just as much is Dr. Doug Tolleson. It seems only appropriate that we follow Dr. Taylor’s words of wisdom with Dr. Tolleson’s.

How did you get introduced to fire? Early in life, we would burn pastures periodically to “clean them up” and at scout camp we would help dig line to contain small forest fires.
Professionally, I would help Keith Owens and his crew at the Uvalde Experiment Station and then Jim Ansley at the Vernon Experiment Station with their prescribed fire research.

How early do you start planning for a prescribed burn? As early as possible, but let’s say about a year ahead on average if you count grazing deferment, etc…

What’s most unique about a post-fire environment? When it rains we look like geniuses… seriously, I think it is the way rangelands respond to fire given the pre-fire conditions and post-fire precipitation, etc…

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? Proper planning beforehand and a good rain after (see question 3)

Who or what would you never burn without? An experienced burn boss and an up to date weather report

Outside the Fire…Dr. Butch Taylor

If you have ever heard of prescribed burning in Texas, then I am sure you have heard of thee Dr. Butch Taylor.  He goes by Dr. Charles A. Taylor, Jr. on his numerous publications (I’m telling you folks, he wrote the book, literally).  Butch is a tremendous friend, mentor, and colleague and I hope you enjoy his story as much as I have.  We could all learn something from Butch.

How did you get introduced to fire? Fire was first presented to me as a viable range management option when I was in 4-H and involved in range judging.  Later, as an undergraduate majoring in range science, fire was again presented as a viable range management option.  However, both of these experiences were more hypothetical and involved no practical application of fire to the landscape.  In fact, in the mid-and late 1960s, fire was viewed as being harmful to the ecosystem by the general public and even by some range professionals.  Also, growing up in a “dry-climate”  (Pecos County), I was not able to experience or view any evidence that fire was something that could be used in range management (I never saw any evidence of a fire-culture and didn’t know if it existed).   

Surprisingly, the army provided my first experience of the benefits of fire.  I entered the Army in 1968 and was sent to Fort Sill for artillery training.  I’m sure I was the only range science major in the class.  A big part of our training was live-firing artillery into the impact zone.  They would load us in trucks and transport us to the firing range where we would be assigned a target and we would have to send in fire missions via radio.  This training occurred during July and August and it was extremely hot and dry.  Coming from the Trans-Pecos region of Texas, I had never seen grass production like what was produced at Fort Sill (i.e., tall grasses such as big bluestem, Indian grass, little bluestem, etc.).  

One extremely hot, dry, windy day, while firing artillery rounds into the impact zone a fire broke out.  The wind was blowing towards us and even though there was some distance between the impact zone and our location, it was obvious the fire would be upon us quickly.  The Colonel in charge of the exercise quickly gave the order to load-up in the trucks and get out of the area.  While everyone else was scrambling to get into the trucks, I stood and watched in amazement as the fire traveled across the landscape with flame lengths over 20-feet high.  My attention was quickly brought back to the issue at hand as the Colonel screamed in my ear to get my b_ _ on the truck, right now! 

Later I asked the Colonel how often they had fires during the training sessions.  He commented he had been stationed at Fort Sill for over 5-years and his recollection was that it had burned every summer.

Later I was stationed at Fort Hood, where I observed the same results of frequent fire as I observed at Fort Sill.  And, then I spent a year in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam and while most of the land was used for rice-farming, there were zones where farming was not used due to frequent and intense combat.   These areas were dominated by tall grasses which burned frequently during the hot, dry- season.   

Because of these observations in the Army, I started setting fires under hot, dry conditions as soon as I got in a position of authority.     

How early do you start planning for a burn? There are general guidelines that can be used in the process for prescribed burning.  A general guideline is to start prescribed burn planning 2-3 years prior to implementation of the burn.  The application of prescribed fire is not rocket science, but it can be complicated.  One major reason for this is that actual burn days are limited within any particular year, and the burn plan should be planned and developed well ahead of the actual fire (e.g., wait until optimum weather conditions and then be in a position to pull the trigger at a moment’s notice).   Preparation of the burn unit is also time consuming.  For example, fire-line preparation results in piles of brush along the fine-line.  Brush piles contain large amounts of 10-hour fuels.  Diameter of these fuels range in size from ¼” to 1” in diameter.  They are light enough to be picked up by the energy of the fire but large enough to continue burning a considerable distance downwind (i.e., I’ve experienced spot fires starting 600-feet downwind from brush piles).  Brush piles should be burned during safe conditions.  Bottom line is that a comprehensive burn plan may contain over 20-important items that have to be developed, planned, and explained prior to the burn; this takes time. 

What’s most unique about a post-fire environment? The answer to this is somewhat a function of the goals and objectives of the landowner.  For example, if a manager is mostly trying to improve cattle production then fires that reduce woody plant cover and increase grass are usually favored.  If the major noxious plants are perceived to be prickly pear, ashe juniper, and Eastern red cedar, then starting prescribed fires during dry periods in the summer time can have drastic effects on the vegetative complex.  Even with dense stands of juniper and pear these plants can actually be killed with the right kind of fire (i.e., reclamation burns conducted during drought).  This practice of growing season burning has the most potential for increase grass production in the Edwards Plateau.

If the goal is to improve forage quality with some suppression of woody plant growth and/or mitigate wildfire frequency and intensity, then burns conducted during the dormant season under mild conditions might be the choice.  Actually, very few species of plants are killed by fire.  Most plants are well adapted to fire and respond in a positive manner following fire.  Fire is not a one-time tool.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? Any fire that meets the goals and objectives of a land manager is a successful fire.  The goals and objectives should be clearly explained in the burn plan and a prescription developed to meet those goals and objectives.  It should also be remembered that grass is the major component of the fuel to carry the fire.  And that grass can be used for forage or fuel.  So a successful fire not only requires a comprehensive burn plan but also effective grazing management.

Who or what would you never burn without? I would never burn without a weather forecast.  Over the years I’ve seen more people get into trouble starting fires without having a comprehensive weather forecast (this includes prescribed burns, burning brush piles, trash burning, etc.).  A close second would be a good comprehensive insurance policy.

Why I Ranch…Sandra Pfeuffer

Sandra Pfeuffer

Did you know that Texas female operators have increased approximately by 50% and the number of acres they manage by about 15% since 1997?  For August we are featuring Sandra Pfeuffer.  Sandra and her family ranch just outside of Christoval in Schleicher County.  Her family is extremely active in 4-H and there isn’t much that this woman doesn’t do.  As I am sure you could say about all women ranching and raising families in Texas – they do it all.  Here is Sandra’s story…

How did you get your start in ranching? I have always been exposed to ranching because my Mom’s side of the family has always ranched. My mom married a carpenter and she stayed at home and raised 7 children, took care of the homestead and made sure we stayed active in 4-H and/or FFA when we were growing up.  However, my actual start in ranching, was when I married my husband Ray in 1996.  I was working at Tyson Foods in Seguin, Texas and he worked for his dad, who had an earth moving business, and ranched on the side.  The Pfeuffer Family, like my mom’s family had been ranching since they immigrated to Texas.   In 1999, my husband encouraged me to quit my job at Tyson to be a stay at home mom, aka full time ” Ranch wife”, I remember my boss telling me I was making the “biggest mistake of my life, you will never be happy as a rancher’s wife, you  won’t be able to provide insurance for your family, you will never have enough, because every successful rancher had a wife who worked a “real job”, you will get bored.”  I am glad, I took his advice with a grain of salt, and still decided to retire from my”real job” and begin my life as a rancher’s wife.  Doing whatever my rancher husband, needed me to do.  For the record, I am happy, we do have insurance, we usually have enough, I still work, just don’t get a paycheck, and I am hardly ever bored.

How important is agriculture to your family? Agriculture is our life, our income is totally dependent on agriculture. Agriculture has provided our children with valuable lessons and values, that we hope they will pass on to the next generation.

What makes ranching in West Texas so unique? I have always said “That being a rancher is like being a quail.  Something is always after you.”  You have to be vigilant and keep watch on the water, the weather, the predators, the market, the cows, the sheep, the goats, the horses, the fences, the bills, the tax collector, the list goes on and on. When you ranch, something is always going to happen that causes you to take two steps back, and you need to be ready, so when it happens you can quickly step forward again. We try to be very proactive controlling brush, Ray spends most of his time improving the land, we want to have as much grass as possible to make it through the drought.  Being in West Texas is unique for many reasons.  The weather, you never know what the weather is going to be like. Most days your praying for a rain, and then there will be that day when a massive cold front blew in overnight, it’s freezing, and your out fixing water gaps that got knocked down in the rain over night, using every ounce of strength, to try to stand up a fence gap with shit and everything else frozen on it, while trying to be thankful for the rain you just received. Definitely, have to be careful what you ask for in West Texas.  Lightening, I have lived in four different areas of Texas, the lightening in West Texas is by far the most impressive, it can definitely have you gathering spray trailers and neighbors in a heart beat.   But the most unique thing about ranching in West Texas is water.  Most, West Texas ranches utilize well water, so water definitely determines what your day will be like.

Do you feel like there is enough emphasis on agriculture in K-12 education? NO!  I don’t think children today realize how important agriculture is to our society.  I am thankful for programs like the Extension Service and the Farm Bureau that are trying at the elementary levels. But, I would like to see more effort at the middle school and high school level when the kids are starting to actually think for themselves. We really need to impress on them the importance of agriculture and reinforce what we attempted to teach them in elementary school.

Who did you learn the most from along the way? My husband, he has been doing this his whole life. It is what he does and what he is good at.  He has trained the kids and I well.

Why I Ranch…Dr. Jake Landers

Dr. Jake Landers

After a 30-year career with Extension, I hope I have half the brains, sanity, and passion that my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Jake Landers possesses.  Dr. Landers set the bar pretty dang high and it is an honor to learn from him in the pasture and in the classroom.  As I said in an earlier post, Dr. Landers morphed into a Range Father of mine overnight.  The second I met him he was my hero.

Dr. Jake Landers served as an Extension Range Specialist at the Texas A & M Research and Extension Center, San Angelo in 1979.  He developed techniques and procedure for individual plant treatment of brush and prickly pear cactus for ranchers in 17 counties.  He initiated prescribed burning as a procedure for managing rangeland to reduce undesirable species and stimulate grasses.  He wrote short articles for newspapers and magazines and continued writing after his retirement from the Extension Service.  He was recognized as the outstanding person in Range by the Texas Section of the Society for Range Management in 1990 and Sustained Lifetime Achievement Award by the parent society in 2016.

Jake described himself as a gentleman rancher at best, but I beg to differ.  His Dad was in full charge until Jake was 60, and his brother Fritz assumed the duties until they divided up 20 years later. Since then Dr. Landers has helped decide when and where to graze and when and where to burn, control mesquite and pricklypear. Dr. Landers is not trying to make a profit, but he is still learning and operating by experiment.  Most of which I am convinced is adaptive management, but Jake makes it look so dang easy, fun, and effortless that it is more stewardship than anything.

How did you get your start in ranching?  I learned a lot about raising sheep, goats and cattle growing up on the ranch until I was 18. I had intended to get a degree and come home to ranch. But the drought and other interests kept me in school until I was independent of making a living  on the ranch.

How important is agriculture to your family?  Agriculture was important growing up because it was 95% of our income. Now it is important as an enjoyable experimental hobby.

What makes ranching in West Texas so unique? Speaking more of the Edwards Plateau, the mix of vegetation allows raising of cattle sheep and goats while keeping a viable white tailed deer herd for hunting.

Do you feel like there is enough emphasis on agriculture in K-12 education? Not in the least. My experience with teachers in conservation workshops indicates that most do not have an adequate background in agriculture to provide the information.

Who did you learn the most from along the way? I learned about plants mostly on my own. I learned a lot working on programs with county agents and a lot about burning from Larry White, Range Extension Specialist at Uvalde.

Outside the Fire…Chuck Stanley

Do you have any idea how blessed we are to have such incredible mentors of prescribed burning?  I believe what makes a good burner is one that never stops learning and always learns from every fire, every experience, every time.  I decided to showcase prescribed burn practitioners who are just AWESOME at what they do.  I have found that the best guys to burn with are the ones who do not care about the glory or the attention.  “Why I Burn” will showcase a prescribed burn practitioner who gets the job, doesn’t care about the credit, and has a true love and passion for prescribed burning.  These are their stories of fire.

Hello Chuck Stanley.  A friend. A colleague.  And a guy that has a wealth of knowledge underneath a dang good looking hat.  I first met Chuck through my dad.  Chuck and my dad were at a Society for Range Management meeting in Albuquerque and they were the only two men in the Advisory Council meeting that were #1) wearing black Stetsons and #2) talking common sense.  They would later bond over fire stories.  Fast-forward 8 years later and I am still hitting Chuck up for that common sense, boots-on-the-ground, hard-working, well-deserved, sweat-equity common sense.

Chuck has been putting fire on the landscape for 30 years, since his beginning range days at Texas Tech.  Chuck is a Range Management Specialist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in Fort Worth.  He is, basically, the go-to-guy for all things RX Fire in Texas and, especially, with the NRCS.  In other words, he knows his stuff.  This is Chuck’s story of fire.

How did you get introduced to fire? Well that is interesting, To me anyway. When I first started Texas Tech, like many other freshmen, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I bounced from major to major and not really finding my niche. I believe at the time I was taking engineering classes and took an introductory course into range and wildlife habitat. That was when I decided to change majors once again and moved over to the Range and Wildlife department at TTU, thinking what a fortunate decision this would be as I could hunt and fish and get paid for it. So I had to go and visit with my new advisor to get my classes set up and little did I know I was sitting in front of the man who wrote the book on prescribed fire, Dr. Henry Wright. During my “interview” on classwork, Dr. Wright asked me if I had ever burned any rangeland. I thought it might be a trick question to see if I was or had been convicted of arson at some point. I have not been but I have “accidentally” burned a few acres in my younger days. Dr. Wright smiled and said “ well tomorrow we are going to go burn 5000 acres”, I said “on purpose?” From that point on, I was hooked and have been involved with prescribed fire for 30 years. Funny thing, I am getting paid for it.

Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come? It all depends on what type of burn we are needing to meet objectives, and where the burn is to take place (smoke management issues etc.) However, there are times that I have known a place that needed burning, and when a perfect day comes along, we get it done.

What’s the hook for you on fire? I would say the main hook for me is the rejuvenation of the vegetation following the burn. And the landowners satisfaction of the results. I really like to teach the art of prescribed fire and try to get others interested.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? Generally speaking, I would say one that stays within the perimeter of the burn site, and all personnel are safe. Beyond that, one where the objectives were met.

Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without? My matches and driptorch…. Over the years there have been a bunch of folks that I truly have absolute trust in while burning. Generally they have been doing this a good while, and know what to look for, and understand fire behavior very well. I would not hesitate calling anyone of them if they were in the vicinity. Because of my position now, I just don’t get to go and burn like I used to.

Outside the Fire…Duff Hallman

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The Duff Ranch, located in Tom Green, Schleicher and Irion counties, received the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Family Land Heritage Award last fall for continuous operation by the same family for 100 years. The Duff Ranch was established in 1904 by Sam Houston Henderson 13 miles east of Eldorado. Sam accumulated more than 100,000 acres during his lifetime, where he ran 6,000 head of cattle. Today, Duff Hallman and Trip Hallman have operated the ranch since 1975.

Duff is a licensed and insured private prescribed burn manager through the Texas Department of Agriculture.

How did you get introduced to fire? Dr. Jake Landers at a field day at the San Angelo Research and Extension Ag Center

Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come? It is a combination of both; planning ahead for proper fire guards is ongoing whether it is a summer or winter burn and if fire is one of your methods of range improvement you seize opportunity when it knocks.

What’s the hook for you on fire? The hook for me is cost and results.Customary methods of conservation work are not cheap and cost share is fading. Burning must be a long term systematic approach.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? A successful fire is one that accomplishes the goals set out in the planning of the burn. I have never had a bad one. 

Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without?  My weather monitor and one of my sons who I am teaching this practice to. 

Meet a CEA…Lisa Brown

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Meet Lisa Brown – Menard County Extension Agent!  Lisa recently won the top Professional Category Award for Plant ID at the Texas Section Society for Range Management meeting in San Angelo earlier this month!

Why did you become a County Extension Agent? Growing up in a ranching family here in Menard the local ranchers are close to my heart so the opportunity to work with them was exciting. I also knew working with the youth here in Menard…bringing agriculture into the classrooms of the hallways in which I used to walk myself would be rewarding.   In addition I found great comfort in knowing I had 3 retired county agents and a retired range specialist living in Menard  to help show me the ropes. 

What are some concerns specific to agriculture in your county? Increased amounts of invasive brush and lack of water are the main concerns here in Menard County. 

What is the most rewarding part of your position? Working with the ranchers and landowners would by far be my favorite part of this job.  I have great respect for them as stewards of the land. 

What is the weirdest request you have ever received as a CEA and how did you solve it? I received a phone call that went something like this:  “My daughter just bought some goldfish.  Can you sex them for me?”  would definitely be my weirdest request.  While I scrambled to figure out which specialist I should call to find out the answer to this question, the caller finally identified himself as a fellow agent playing a joke on me….we still laugh about this.

If you could be anything else, what would you be? A FULLTIME rancher…no doubt. 

Why I Ranch…

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Frank and Sims Price Ranch

In 2012, Price Ranch was recognized for their range management when they were presented the Outstanding Rangeland Stewardship Award by the Texas Section, Society for Range Management and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. And it was recognized as a 2013 regional Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP) winner during the 2013 Cattle Industry Summer Conference.

How did you get your start in ranching? The Price family began ranching in 1876. Frank Price has managed his family’s ranch for 40 years, first in partnership with his father, and then in partnership with his son Sims in 2011. Together, they run their cow-calf operation on 68,000 acres. Sims and his wife Krista are the fifth generations of Prices on the ranch, which they operate in four counties. The ranch operates with three primary income enterprises including sheep, cattle, and hunting. 

How important is agriculture to your family?  The Price family has two primary goals. First, the ranch is operated as a separate business, self-sustaining, and is expected to show an annual profit. Second, but equal, their goal is to leave their natural resources in the best possible condition for the next generations.The family is dedicated to these goals. They have recently started using Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) dollars to make continuous improvements to the ranch, and they also use controlled and prescribed burning to their benefit by adjusting their livestock grazing charts to include speed of moves, flash grazing, animal density and total deferment.

What makes ranching in West Texas so unique? In a normal year, they receive 18 inches of rainfall. These last two years have been abnormal, with exceptional drought and devastating wildfires, particularly in their area,” said Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association President Joe Parker, Jr. “Even though they had to reduce their herd to protect their land, they still found lessons in flexibility during the adversities. The Price family’s experiences with wildfire lead them to be a leading voice in Texas on inter-agency cooperation in fighting wildfires. We are glad to have his practical and sound leadership in such an important area.” The father-son partnership at Price Ranch represents the fourth and fifth generations of Prices to ranch in west Texas.