Rotational Grazing on a Large Scale: Duval County Ranch in Texas

My name is David Kitner, and I am the manager of Killam Ranch Properties, Ltd. I manage several ranches from South Texas to the Flint Hills of SE Kansas. My presentation will mainly focus on the transformation of the Duval County Ranch in Deep South Texas, and how I utilize rotational grazing to benefit the land and the cattle. Duval County Ranch is located 2 hours south of San Antonio, and covers 125,000 plus contiguous acres. It is located in an arid, mesquite covered region. Along with the mesquite, there are numerous species of brush that cover the landscape. Forage production is limited by the amount of brush cover. The ranch is split by 3 major highways which present another challenge to its management. The ranch is a multi-use operation consisting of grazing mainly stocker cattle, a hunting/wildlife operation, and also oil and mineral production. I would like to stress that the Duval County Ranch is a working ranch, and none of the oil and gas revenue goes into the ranch budget. My management entails the planning and supervision of all surface operations on the property. Past Management I came to the DCR in 2001, and prior management used what could be considered a "scorched earth" policy. The ranch was severely overgrazed with cattle in every pasture on the ranch with no rotation in effect. Forage was non-existent and bare ground was extensive across the ranch. My first objective was to de-stock the ranch to begin the healing process, and with the owner’s bless

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7 thoughts on “Rotational Grazing on a Large Scale: Duval County Ranch in Texas

  1. When we were switching from one server to another, the following two comments got left behind.

    From Tina Williams:

    This is a great article about how a ranch has used rotational grazing and hunting/wildlife to make huge and great changes in not only their profit margin but also the quality of their land. Excellent!
    Then, in the comments, this is a great discussion about some of the finer points of stockmanship (even though we understand this wasn’t the main thrust of the story).

    [Quote from the article] “With the improvements begun and the land healing, stockers were re-introduced, with a main goal of low-stress cattle handling and pasture rotation helping to further improve range conditions.”

    There are SO many different definitions and practices of “low-stress cattle handling” that we at Hand ‘n Hand Livestock Solutions have stopped using that term and use the term “Proper Stockmanship” which Bud Williams (my dad) used to describe what he taught and we continue to teach. That takes nothing away from others who practice or teach stockmanship in their own way, Patrick was just talking about Bud Williams Stockmanship.

    The animals in this article are handled in a way that the author feels is low-stress, and that’s fine. It’s so much better than the rough-and-tumble bang-on-them approach of some other ranches and certainly of years gone by. He’s not using Bud Williams’ techniques, but that’s totally ok too (and he never said he was in the article). The other stockmanship educators he mentioned each have their own take on what “low-stress” is and how it should be applied in various situations. Again, that’s all great.

    Patrick was just trying to bring up that there might be some stress problems with calling your animals and having them run up all excited. There are ways to call animals that don’t involve running and excitement, and there are ways to drive animals in large paddocks so you gain the result of an animal not under stress and an animal you can handle anywhere easily. We feel this excitement from calling comes at a cost through production loss (which the owner will never know because you don’t get a bill for it), illness, death loss, and difficulties when you do have to work these animals in a corral.

    As Patrick mentioned, Dad herded reindeer in the Arctic alone on 5,000,000 acres without any fences and walked them into a corral without “wings” or other fences to help. He also worked and taught in Canada, Australia, Texas, and Old Mexico where they have large pastures too. So, it certainly can be done.

    Thanks for this great discussion,

    Tina Williams and Richard McConnell
    Hand ‘n Hand Livestock Solutions
    In reply to Tina Williams.

    DWK responde to Tina’s email:

    It amazes me the talent that he had. Very few others have that gift, I certainly do not and am non-trainable according to my wife. I enjoyed reading David’s article and the other responses as well.

  2. It’s really great to hear about these success stories especially in my home state.

    I am a recent student of low stress livestock handling as formulated by the late Bud Williams and have been to a Hand ‘n Hand Livestock school. I’ve been reading Bud’s written materials on the Stockmanship.com website and have been watching the videos he produced and learning to apply his principles to my own cow herd. As far as I can tell, you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the principles of low stress livestock handling. The most obvious sign is that you call your stockers to feed with the siren and they run to the truck excitedly. This is very stressful on the cattle. I would recommend contacting one of the two OnPasture livestock handling sponsors (CattleExpressions or Hand ‘n Hand ) and arrange for on ranch training or at least attend a school. It has made a huge difference for me and I hope it will for you too.

    Good luck.

    1. Mr. Tobola,

      I am curious what you meant by “The most obvious sign is that you call your stockers to feed with the siren and they run to the truck excitedly. This is very stressful on the cattle.”? Other than training your livestock to come at a certain time to feed, how else are you suppose to bring them in? Nothing works as good as the siren for long distances and for a place as large as Mr. Kitners, I don’t see what else would work. Please enlighten me.

      1. Remember I am new to the low stress handling field (also called proper stockmanship) so I may not be the best source for advice. At the school the instructors stressed not to call the animals to feed where they will come running in an excited state. It’s ok to lead them to feed if done properly but not to bait and lead them with cubes. For my situation I almost entirely quit leading with cubes, started learning how to drive the animals from the rear, and when they must go into a working trap I will go to them and gather them and get them starting to move and then walk or drive to one side of the group and quietly call them with my old “sook” signal and they all follow me calmly to the trap. I do this by myself but it will work better if you have a good working dog or another person to bring up the rear of the herd. I do this because I am not able to control the herd direction yet and I must sell calves periodically. I believe it would be possible to train your animals to calmly come to the siren, but you will first need to learn how to properly drive animals, then train your animals to drive, then train them to come to the siren. The most difficult part of this will be for you to learn how to do all the things required to drive your animals. The animals will learn very quickly if done properly. I have seen some learn things in minutes where I have been learning how to drive animals for almost two years. This process will quickly rekindle the herding behavior in the animals so they will stay and move together in one bunch. You will train them to respond to what you tell them instead of coming to cubes or wanting to move at a certain time to new feed. Bud worked reindeer on 5 million acres in the arctic. He was able to train them to be driven and they would stay together as a herd and work through corrals like domestic livestock.

        1. Wow, that was interesting! From time to time I go out and feed my cows cubes by hand, just for a snack and to get used to me. I am able to walk around them and when needed spray them with a spray bottle to eliminate flies. Always looking for new ways to do things that don’t require penning them up and getting them agitated. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

        2. Mr Tobola,
          I’m reluctant to reply to you comments, but feel compelled to do so to clear up some of your misunderstandings about the way I handle cattle. Unfortunately I did not send Kathy the drone video of us moving cattle, it would show how calm and happy the cattle were. There is a difference between animals stressed by noise to animals happy about getting fed. I am not sure who your mentors are, but I considered Bud Williams a friend until his passing. I took several of my employees to different schools that Bud put on and was able to spend hours visiting with him discussing his methods. There is no bigger fan of Mr. Williams than myself, or no bigger proponent of low-stress cattle handling. Kurt Pate, another well known stockmanship teacher, has put on a seminar for us and has been to the ranch and stayed here also. I have also attended schools put on by Dr. Ron Gill who is another well known stockman, so I have been taught “proper stockmanship”. Calling cattle with a siren and having them come to you in an 8,000 acre pasture where you cannot see the first animal because of the brush is much less stressful on them than hiring a couple of helicopters to gather 80% of these cattle. It is also much less stressful than getting 15 or 20 men horseback ,if you could find them, with dogs and try and gather these large pastures. I think you missed the point of the article. I am not sure what the size of your operation or your pastures are, but until you are a little more knowledgeable in what you are talking about you should learn to refrain from giving advice to others. Our operation spans from Deep South Texas to Kansas, Nebraska and North Central Montana and we handle about 6,000 cows a year as well as their offspring and several thousand purchased stockers. If we were doing it wrong we would be out of business.
          Respectfully, David Kitner

          1. I didn’t intend to suggest you were doing anything wrong only that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what is meant by low stress based on the statement “they can hear us and come running” . I took the proper stockmanship class from Tina Williams and Richard McConnell in 2015 (Bud’s daughter and son-in-law) and one thing they really stressed was to not call the animals to feed because it tends to put them in an excited state (versus being happy) which is stressfull and counterproductive to proper stockmanship. The only thing that I think that I have any credibility on giving advice is that it is highly likely that everyone misunderstands at least something about Bud’s methods. I have two years of experience in that field and have heard the same thing from several instructors who had Bud as a mentor.

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