GATESVILLE — When Cody Archie decided to break into the cattle business, he had a simple plan in mind.
“I wanted to be a cow-calf man,” he said. But factors such as a years-long drought and high input costs led him to convert to a stocker operation during his first few years of management.
In cow-calf operations, a permanent herd of beef cattle is maintained to produce calves for later sale. Stocker cattle operations receive calves after they have been weaned, place the cattle on grass to grow, and then typically sell the animals to feedlots or other buyers.
Archie purchased his 100-acre ranch near Turnersville eight years ago, but it has required time and work to become the growing operation it is today. Recently, he and his wife, Erika, and their two children settled into a new home on their Bar 7 Ranch near Gatesville.
With costs rising to restock herds and purchase fertilizer, feed and water, the lure of breaking into the cattle industry gets riskier and costlier for ranchers.
“I can’t afford to make a mistake,” Archie said. “A $2,000 mistake could ruin it all.”
While Archie said he is getting larger returns on his investments now, costs to keep the land productive along with timing and keeping a close eye on the market all make for big challenges.
But it’s a way of life Archie doesn’t want to give up.
“You can’t beat driving through your property and seeing cattle that you own, that God gave you, teaching your kids about where their needs come from, and providing a safe food supply,” he said.
Archie’s goal is to eventually own a larger ranch and work full-time as a cattleman. The former auto salesman also owns and operates Valet Cleaners & Laundry of Gatesville.
Longtime Coryell County rancher Kermit Miller, who’s been in the cattle business for more than 50 years, shared similar sentiments about the industry. Miller manages a 650-acre cow-calf operation on two properties.
He recently sold feeder calves for a good price, but Miller said “I’ve backed off on feeders now, running mostly mama cows.”
Miller said the difference between input costs now and in the past is vast.
“I used to buy milo (feed) for $1.50 per 100 pounds,” but now milo sells for about $20.80 per 100 pounds, he said.
The historically long Texas drought has meant less hay production, which in turn, has added to feed costs.
“It’s dry,” Miller said. “With some rain, we can produce more forage, but even with rain now, it’ll take some time to get our pastures back in shape.”
Even so, Miller is willing to face these challenges.
“You’re your own boss, and you’re free to take risks and make your own decisions, but it’s a challenge,” he said.
Now and later
Modern technology has helped ranchers survive tough times.
There are new vaccines that keep cattle living longer and healthier, Miller said. Improvements in breeding to beef supply animals have been made, and grazing has improved with new varieties of grasses.
“Fifty percent of your herd relies on quality bulls, which is made more possible through genetics technology,” he said.
Miller said good management and learning from experience is still key to being successful in the cattle industry.
“It’s a tough time to start, with high land and lease costs,” Miller said. His advice for upstart operators is to “enter into the business gradually as land becomes available and cut back better heifers for breeding stock.”
Coryell County’s Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Agent Pasquale Swaner also urged caution.
“I’d be kind of conservative on stocking rates. I would not restock until we have a long-term forecast for rain,” he said.
Swamer said to survive in the business, many established operators have learned to do more with less food, kept only their most productive livestock, and have planted new varieties of low-maintenance grasses for damaged grazing.