Our blog will help keep you informed about news and information related to the farm, ranch and rural real estate markets. If you share our desire for wide open spaces and investment in the land, we hope you will subscribe, read and discuss the stories we find and develop here. More than just an investment, ranch, farm and rural real estate evokes a type of lifestyle that was born over a century ago and still provides a certain romance and passion for those who embrace the pioneering spirit from those days gone by.

Where are all the Quail in Texas?

The Reversing the Quail Decline Initiative is a joint effort between Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department which provides resources for quail conservation in the state of Texas. Their monthly newsletter includes links to educational materials, news articles, information on upcoming events, and invitations to quail-relevant classes and programs. Here is a recent article.

As we head into 2018, it’s time to reflect on the 2017 Texas Quail Index monitoring efforts. Cooperators from counties all over Texas evaluate quail populations and resources in their area by conducting call counts, setting up dummy nests, catching images of predators using game cameras, scoring habitat, and counting quail along the roadsides. This new Wild Wonderings article summarizes the data we’ve collected.

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One question we’re suddenly hearing a lot over the past few months is: “Where did they all go?!” Many folks have commented that they saw plenty of quail over the summer, but the birds seem to have disappeared over the fall and winter. Hunting reports have been mixed as well, with some having decent luck and others feeling frustrated with this year’s crop compared to the exceptional seasons of 2016 and 2015. There are also a lot of hunters reporting suspiciously low juvenile to adult (J:A) ratios, which may indicate that chick production or survival were not as high this year as we might have hoped.

The J:A ratio is something you can monitor yourself if you go out during hunting season. By looking at a set of feathers called the primary coverts (pictured below), you can easily determine whether you have a juvenile or adult bird. See this helpful video for more information. As a general rule of thumb, the more juveniles you have, the better shape the population is in.

To answer the question of “where did they all go?,” we will have to wait and see. Weather may have been partially responsible for low numbers during roadside counts in the fall months, as several areas received rain that made getting around and observing birds difficult. On some properties, the birds might still be present but lying low (there are several TQI cooperators who consistently get skunked on their roadside counts, although other metrics indicate that there are quail there). There are also reports of high numbers of eye worm parasites this year which may be a contributing factor, especially in the Rolling Plains ecoregion where the worms are most prevalent. The low J:A ratios are also concerning, but it remains to be seen what impact all of this will ultimately have on quail in 2018.

It’s important to remember that quail populations follow a “boom and bust” pattern and that a dip in the numbers isn’t necessarily concerning. What we’re trying to address in the Reversing the Quail Decline Initiative is the long-term trend of declining quail numbers.

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Trent Jones Elected Trustee of The Duke Endowment

Trent Jones, a partner with Hall and Hall in Sun Valley, Idaho, has been elected a Trustee of The Duke Endowment.

“With Trent’s passion for the Endowment and its philanthropy, we are adding another wise voice and committed leader to our Board,” said Board Chair Minor Shaw. “He understands the challenges and opportunities that shape this region, especially its rural areas, and he is eager to help us support our grantees and their work.”

Jones joined Hall and Hall in 2003 and became a partner in 2004. He previously spent eight years with The Idaho Nature Conservancy where, as Lands Program Director, he was responsible for overseeing the chapter’s real estate activity. He also served as the Conservancy’s field representative for central Idaho, where he worked with communities and landowners to preserve working ranchlands and resolve natural resource conflict. He was a founding board member of the Blaine County Land, Water and Wildlife Program.

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He currently serves as a committee member of the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation in Durham, N.C. He is also on the Board of Directors of the Wood River Land Trust in Hailey, Idaho, and is the board’s former president.

Raised in Abingdon, Va., Jones graduated from Woodberry Forest School and earned his Bachelor of Arts in history from Hampden-Sydney College and an M.Ed. in Secondary Education from Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Cecile, have served together as members of the Woodberry Forest School Advisory Council and various parents’ philanthropy committees at the school. The parents of two children, they have lived in Idaho since 1994.

On the Endowment’s Board, Jones replaces Russell M. Robinson II, who retired on June 30, 2017, and was elected a Trustee Emeritus.

Based in Charlotte and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $3.4 billion in grants. The Endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, but all are separate organizations.

A Resilient Affair

By J.T. Holt

Seventy-five years ago, the attitude of people in agriculture very much revolved around “beating” Mother Nature. As times have progressed, this attitude has softened as farmers and ranchers have discovered it is possible to work successfully with Mother Nature. Nevertheless, despite all our best efforts, Mother Nature does have a way of, as my father used to say, “making a Christian out of you.”

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The past twelve to eighteen months have proven this adage to be true.  The major natural disasters we have seen include hurricanes and earthquakes as well as the wildfires that swept across the southern plains and, subsequently, pretty much everywhere else west of the Mississippi. In addition, we have been affected by extreme weather that has caused everything from flooding and blizzards to extreme drought. As we battle this adversity, we hope that with each event we might gain knowledge to prepare for the next round. The following are not happy stories, but they describe how two families survived natural disasters and they are inspirational in many ways.

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The Holloway Cattle Story – Mooreland, Oklahoma

This operation has been impacted by fire three of the last four years.  Ranching 400± cows across more than 11,000± acres in northwest Oklahoma where conditions can be harsh is no easy task.  Mark Holloway stated, “In our operation, the goal is to add as much value to the cattle as we can.  Retaining ownership through the feedlot, in addition to selling bred heifers, is common practice.”  In 2017, fire impacted 4,500± acres causing Holloway to feed nearly 300 head of cattle for ninety days until the grass came on.  Mark indicated the NRCS had a program that would pay $8/acre for delaying grazing on these acres for 120 days, which helped to offset some of the feed cost.  In addition, neighboring ranches shipped in eight loads of hay.  “We did not apply for any further assistance as so many were impacted much more than we were,” Mark added.  The majority of the cattle were moved before the fires swept across their ranch and they lost just ten head. Some of the surviving cattle, however, have lasting issues and will have to be sold this fall. We should also point out that Holloways lost 9,000± acres of grass to fire in 2016 and 1,000± acres in 2015, so fire has been truly devastating to this family.  The positive in all of this is most of the western red cedar that has overtaken a large part of this country has been destroyed, springs have opened back up and begun to run again, and pastures look better than ever.  New practices are being implemented including maintaining a firebreak where the grass will be kept short and cedars kept out of the fence rows. In addition, they will utilize controlled burns as Mother Nature allows.

The Haakma Bros. Dairy Story – Farwell, Texas

“The dairy looked like a war zone after the blizzard conditions,” according to Eric Haakma.  Their 3,600± cow dairy and 1,000± acre irrigated farming operation was significantly impacted by these conditions.  The area was reported to have received 20 inches of snow, but with 50 mph winds for 40-hours straight, who knows how much they received!  They made the best preparations they could with all the cots, food, sleeping bags, and water that could be purchased before the storm hit.  By Saturday afternoon they still had seen no precipitation at all, but Eric asked the employees to stay through the night as he knew they would need help based on the forecast.  By 1:00 a.m. Sunday, it was nearly whiteout conditions. The payloader was stuck in the transfer alley and they could not get it out using another loader.  Through the weekend they fed and milked all that they could, which at the time was about 65 percent of their herd.  They were finally able to get a tunnel dug through the snow so they could get the cows to the parlor to get them milked.  By Monday, three payloaders were working to remove the snow, which took all day.  They have lost 400± head of excellent-quality dairy cows.  Eric stated, “You want to talk about something that makes a guy want to hit his knees and cry.” When asked what he would do differently in preparing, he mentioned they may have tried to move cattle around more, but they would have been guessing on where the snow would accumulate.  They had all seen good snow storms, but not with this kind of wind on top of it.  Some pens had six feet of snow, while others were as dry as if it had never snowed at all.  Eric recalled, “Without our employees, we would have never made it.  They stuck with us throughout and worked right alongside us when they could have easily called it quits.”

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These are just two examples out of so many. As we said before, Mother Nature does have a way of humbling us. Our collective hearts here at Hall and Hall go out to our many friends and clients throughout our region who have suffered through natural disasters of which there seem to be so many these days. These stories will pale in comparison to the stories that will come out after  Maria, Irma, and Harvey. We have nothing but admiration and respect for the manner in which people like the Haakmas and the Holloways have managed to persevere.

Thanksgiving Day and Legacy Ranches

By: Jim Taylor

According to Merriam Webster, the operative definition of the word “legacy” is,  “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.”  I was struck by this meaning of the term as I stood to give a toast at our family Thanksgiving celebration.I looked down the table, which for the first time in my 70 plus year lifetime extended the entire length of the room, to see nearly 30 members of our family plus friends spanning 3 generations.

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My parents, gone now for nearly a dozen years, were very much there in spirit as it was the house they built/remodeled when they bought the ranch 70 years ago. I remembered well the many Thanksgivings that we had celebrated with them over the years. I was unfortunately reduced to tears by those memories and was unable to complete what I intended to be an inspirational toast!

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That’s when it really came home to me that legacies are really created by people and passed on to other people. Land and houses often serve as the vehicle in which they are carried and celebrated. It made me realize that the term “legacy ranch” might well be a misnomer because the legacy is really created and passed on by the people who lived there.

When I stood to make the toast I was overwhelmed by the memories of my parents and my siblings and the many Thanksgivings we had shared over the years. It seems to me that we need to think carefully before so loosely using the term “legacy ranch” to describe a property.  Perhaps we simply need to consider more carefully what the legacy of the ranch is or perhaps we should recognize that every ranch has a legacy and that legacy relates to the people who have lived there.

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Farm and Ranch Brokers Get Stuck

By: Bill McDavid

As a farm and ranch broker, it’s inevitable you’re gonna get the truck stuck on occasion. It just goes with the territory. When I first started in the business, I got five flats over the course of three weeks and since it’s been nothing but 10-ply tires for me. Our rigs take a lot of abuse showing remote properties.

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Fifteen years ago, I ended headlong in an irrigation ditch on an uninhabited ranch in Western Montana. It was a long walk to the old barn but I found a rusty “come-along winch” and used a nearby tree to drag it out with a few new battle scars. Last spring I was in California photographing a new listing, Las Piletas Ranch, about three hours north of Los Angeles. I was using the rancher’s side-by-side and was on the far side of the 13,000+ acre ranch where there’s no cell service when it died on me. Dusk was approaching along with a cold, horizontal rain as I realized I had a 10 mile walk out ahead of me.

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Without a doubt, the worst case for me was in the early 2000s when I was in heavy snow, showing the old Wallace Ranch out by Drummond. I ended up axle-deep in a bottomless drift. Fortunately, I had cell service and was able to call a tow truck. Of course, nobody counted on the tow truck getting stuck. But that is exactly what happened. So, the tow truck called another larger tow truck. I have tried to forget how much that episode cost me but I considered myself lucky to avoid frostbite.

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Texas Farm & Ranch Auction Totals $24 Million+

Over 150 bidders attended the 11,831 acre Texas Farm and Ranch Auction on November 14th in Athens, TX.  Seven of the 45 registered bidders prevailed in a spirited competition for 16 tracts.  The auction totaled $24,034,970.  Negotiations are proceeding on remaining parcels.

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