Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Lone Star Land Steward Awards

By: Justin Bryan

As a wildlife biologist, I’m always interested in properties (ranches, farms, plantations) that utilize management practices such as restoring rangelands, better farming techniques, brush management, improving watersheds, etc. It requires thinking, big planning, financial considerations, and a lot of physical labor. More often than not, the largest challenge is committing to doing things differently from how they’ve always been done.

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Our Hall and Hall Farm and Ranch services team is often engaged to help landowners with such tasks. Bringing in new ideas, with years of experience to support them. Our in-the-field knowledge and staff diversity lend itself well to working with a farm or ranch owner to create a plan of action and see it through. Fortunately, we are able to work with landowners throughout the U.S. and are not geographically challenged. Living in Texas, I try to keep up with the success that all landowners are having when they undertake such endeavors.

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In a state such as Texas that is 97% privately owned, residents rely on private property owners to manage for healthy ecosystems on a diversity of environments. From the piney woods of east Texas to the deserts of west Texas and from the coastal riparian areas to the high plains. The habitats on these farms and ranches are important for items such as clean air, minimizing soil erosion, allow water to filter into the aquifers, acting as a buffer for hurricanes and providing a home to a diversity of plant life, insects, endangered species, common wildlife, etc.

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Since 1996, The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has annually awarded a Lone Star Land Steward Award to landowners in each ecoregion of Texas, who go above and beyond in an effort to manage the natural resources on their property. Below are the 2017 award winners with a brief description of each management program.

Blackland Prairie – Brown Ranch, Fayette County

Mark Brown, owner

  • When the Brown family acquired their ranch in 2000, the property had been heavily utilized for hay production, livestock grazing and row crop farming which left the habitat quality in poor condition and nearly 100% covered in exotic grasses.
  • The Browns began restoring their piece of the vanishing Fayette Prairie back to a tall grass community for the benefit of grassland songbirds and pollinator species. Mr. Brown has utilized a number of innovative techniques to control exotic grasses.
  • Mr. Brown has cooperated with a number of different partners to complete multiple GRIP and EQIP grassland restoration projects.
  • Brown is an active member of a number of conservation organizations and sits on the board of the East Navidad Wildlife Management Association and the South Central Texas Prescribed Burn Association.
  • The family frequently hosts field days on the ranch to share what they have learned with their neighbors.

Edwards Plateau – Three Mile Creek Ranch, Gillespie County

Kim Bergman and Pam Mabry Bergman, owners

  • When purchased in 1996, the 685-acre hill country property was covered in dense ashe juniper (cedar) trees. The Bergman’s began asking the advice from natural resource professionals and quickly developed a plan.
  • The Bergmans selectively hand cut cedar on 500 acres and hand seeded the cleared areas with native grasses.
  • The thick grasses that developed due to the juniper clearing have increased groundwater recharge, improved stream flow/water quality in the creek and improved soil health.
  • They utilize all five of Aldo Leopold’s famous tools for habitat management and income production to restore the landscape.
  • The Texas Youth Hunting Program has been utilized to help control white-tailed deer numbers, and wildlife management classes from Tarleton State University come to the ranch several times per year to learn wildlife, watershed and land management techniques.
  • As a confirmation of their long term stewardship goals, the Bergmans donated a 685 acre conservation easement on the ranch to insure the land will remain natural and intact forever.

Cross Timbers & Prairies – Solana Ranch, Bell & Williamson Counties

Michaux Family, owners

  • Property acquired in 1950 by Frank Michaux has been managed by the Michaux family for close to 67 years.
  • Through the years, the ranch has selectively cleared ashe juniper and applied prescribed fire to restore productive grassland habitats and protect valuable springs and water resources.
  • The Solana’s unique hunting operation provides fantastic dove hunting access for many local hunters, which in turn allows the family to derive sustainable income to manage other aspects of ranch operations.
  • The family partnered with The Nature Conservancy to place a conservation easement on 250 acres of important habitat to protect the Salado salamander.
  • The ranch serves as a trap site for TPWD’s statewide turkey and dove banding studies.
  • Through their innovative cattle and hunting operations, they have found a way to hold a special piece of property together in the face of development pressure.

Pineywoods – Arcadia, Shelby County

Greg Grant, owner

  • Greg Grant lives on his great-grandparent’s longtime farm in Arcadia, Texas where he continues to persistently restore parcels of native habitat for the benefit of wildlife and the education of his fellow landowners.
  • From 1953–1993, Grant’s grandfather farmed, produced hay and raised beef cattle and horses on the place. When Greg took ownership, he began to reforest portions of the property and plant some parts in native prairie.
  • Greg’s primary wildlife goal is to create habitat for native cavity-nesting birds, pine savanna birds and a number of pollinator species. His fire-maintained, snag-filled pine forest has attracted seven of the eight species of East Texas woodpeckers plus eastern bluebirds, pine warblers, brown-headed nuthatches and numerous other songbirds.
  • Perhaps closest to his heart is a remnant population of prairie trillium that he discovered growing in his hardwood forest. This rare species was previously unknown in Texas and is now found in only two other locations in East Texas.
  • In addition to restoring his great-grandparent’s 1890’s dogtrot style farmhouse, Grant also cooperated with the Stephen F. Austin State University Center of Regional Heritage Research as the pilot community for their Voices from Small Places project.
  • Over the last 20 years, Greg has hosted hundreds of visitors for educational and recreational tours of the property. He is a shining example of what true land stewardship and rural family heritage looks like on an averaged sized east Texas tract of land.

South Texas – Harris Ranch, Uvalde and Kinney Counties

Mike Harris, owner

John Sewell, manager

  • The Harris Ranch, which has approximately 6.5 miles of the West Nueces River flowing through its boundaries, had been severely overgrazed with resulting poor land and water quality when John Sewell took over management of the property. Cattle were immediately deferred while the ranch began to recover.
  • Sewell worked with NRCS to fence off over 800 acres of riparian habitat along the river in order to allow the area to capture sediment, revegetate, slow down flood water and increase water quality. Recent flood events have proven this work to be extremely valuable, not only for the local wildlife but also for landowners and water users downstream.
  • The ranch has an active brush management program where juniper, mesquite, and prickly pear are controlled.
  • The ranch is an active participant in TPWD’s Managed Lands Deer Program (MLDP) and maintains an active hunting component to ranch operations. Although deer hunting pays most of the bills, turkeys have responded very well to the habitat management on the ranch and have gone from nearly nonexistent populations at the time of Sewell’s arrival to robust and growing numbers today.
  • John Sewell and the Harris Ranch maintain an open door policy to government and university staff for landowner workshops and research projects. They also provide opportunities for kids to learn about the outdoors and hunting through youth hunts with a number of organizations.

Trans-Pecos – El Carmen Land & Conservation Co., LLC, Brewster County

CEMEX USA and J. Austin Ranches, owners

Billy Pat and Bonnie McKinney, managers

  • When CEMEX USA and J. Austin Ranches purchased the property in 2006 the land was suffering from severe erosion and overgrazing by domestic livestock and exotic species. However, they knew that because of the strategic location of the property it was crucial to the long-term health of Trans-Pecos wildlife.
  • A perpetual conservation easement was placed on 9,496 deeded acres adjacent to and south of Black Gap Wildlife Management Area along the Rio Grande.
  • From inception the mission statement of ECLCC has been “To restore the lands and native wildlife of a lower desert ecosystem, and protect vital dispersal corridors for wildlife and birds on a local and transboundary level, with the long-term goal of having the area serve as a demonstration and research property that can eventually be used as a model for lower Chihuahuan Desert Conservation.”
  • The property serves as an important travel corridor for black bear and desert bighorn sheep.
  • Sources of water were scarce when the property was acquired, but today a total of 37 permanent water sources are now available to wildlife on the ranch.
  • The ranch has cooperated with government partners on a number of translocation projects where native wildlife species including mule deer, Gambel’s quail, and Rio Grande Silvery Minnows were reintroduced on the ranch. One such project was the four-year partnership with TPWD to relocate Gambel’s quail to their historic range. To date the birds have done very well dispersing along the Rio Grande corridor and showing good reproduction each year.

Rolling Plains – Wild Wings Ranch, Scurry County

Rod and Mary Hench, owners

  • When Rod and Mary Hench acquired the Wild Wings Ranch it had been severely overgrazed and was covered with prickly pear, mesquite, and red berry juniper.
  • The Henches developed an innovative block management approach across the entire ranch where 25 percent of each acreage block is treated each year according to a color-coded grid. Nearly every acre of the ranch has been treated to control invasive plants and optimize wildlife habitat.
  • They also protect valuable spring systems on the ranch with strategic mechanical brush control. They catch runoff water and prevent erosion by developing small spreader dams seeded with native grasses after construction.
  • They provide for future turkey roost sites by controlling brush in riparian (creek) areas and planting cottonwood trees to improve riparian habitat. Artificial turkey roosts have also been constructed to provide winter roosting habitat.
  • Stocker cattle are utilized during the dormant season to improve coverage and diversity of warm-season grasses and forbs, which are highly valuable for native wildlife.
  • Rod and Mary regularly work with natural resource agencies to host landowner field days on the ranch. They also open their gates to universities for student field training and wildlife research.

Montana Ranch Owned by Former Metallica Bassist Goes Viral

Our Sula, Montana ranch listing owned by former Metallica bassist and heavy metal icon, Jason Newsted, has been making headlines across the globe for the past week. Cowboys & Indians, The Wall Street Journal, The LA Times, The Daily Mail, People Magazine, and dozens of other outlets have done stories.

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Wildlife Photography on Colorado Ranches

By: Cody Lujan

One of the most attractive attributes of any ranch is its wildlife. From songbirds and quail to white-tailed deer, elk and moose, a diversity of animal life inhabit ranches throughout the country. While experiencing dramatic landscapes and peaceful settings are certainly integral aspects of ranch ownership, photographing the wildlife that resides on one’s own property is truly rewarding.

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Some of the most knowledgeable landowners I’ve met seem to have an impeccable understanding of the wildlife residing on their properties. They know what animals will be where and when they will be there – regardless of the season. Through patient observation and diligent photographic documentation, these individuals have patterned both their resident wild denizens as well the itinerant migrators who may pass through, only utilizing their land for a day or a few weeks. In short, many landowners will agree that wildlife photography is not only an enjoyable aspect of ranch ownership but also an important stewardship tool that enhances the overall understanding of their land and its wild inhabitants.

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My favorite time to photograph wildlife on Colorado ranches for sale comes during a three-week window in the fall. This window of opportunity opens immediately after Colorado’s archery elk and deer season and closes the day before the 1st rifle season. A combination of peak leaf color on aspen trees, cool temperatures, a lack of human activity, and the peak of the elk rut provide the perfect setting for days spent in the pursuit of wildlife photography.

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One of the best days our Colorado ranch broker team recently experienced was at the Ghost Ranch. We were surrounded by bugling elk for nearly an hour before the sun broke over Mount Werner and the Steamboat Ski Resort to our east. With the golden hour of morning light in our laps, we began to call and the elk participated in earnest, with bulls running literally right up to our cameras. After close encounters with a number of elk herds and bugling bulls, we headed back down the mountain to the ranch’s stretch of Yampa River – capping the day with an afternoon of shooting still and drone imagery of fly fishing for trophy trout.

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Factors such as weather, lighting, and the wary nature of wildlife can dictate the level of success one experiences when out on a large ranch with a camera. Colorado partner Jeff Buerger and I spent several days photographing wildlife on the Piedra Valley Ranch during the last week of September. Conditions ranged from warm and sunny to cool and overcast. While we were able to photograph raptors, waterfowl, turkey, and deer throughout the day, our best results were predictably achieved during the first and last hour of each day.

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These “golden hours” typically provide the optimal shooting light for cameras, as well as the best opportunity to locate animals as they transition between bedding zones and feeding, watering, or rutting areas. In addition to capturing excellent photography of the ranch’s abundant animal life, we gained an in-depth knowledge of herd size, feeding and watering habits, roosting and bedding areas, and located areas of the ranch we might have otherwise not discovered, all of which are important details that will be shared with every potential new ranch owner.

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Colorado Farm & Ranch Land Sells for $10.14 Million at Auction

The 8,735± acre Bowen Arrow Farm and Ranch sold at auction on October 19th, fetching a total of $10,140,000.  The property, spread throughout eastern Colorado with 4,470 acres located in Adams County, 1,025± acres in Weld County and 3,240± acres Washington County, was offered in 26 separate tracts. Competitive bidding took place with over 200 people in attendance and 73 registered bidders. Eight buyers purchased tracts for a total sale price of $10.14 million.

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The sale generated interest from 37 different states and six countries. Sale prices ranged from $616 per acre on Washington County grassland to $1,750/ac on Adams County dryland. Smaller 40-acre parcels fetched as high as $2,375/ac before becoming combined with larger offerings. Bidders stayed engaged and active throughout the auction with the largest combination consisting of 3,680± acres prevailing at $1,359/ac. Six of the eight winning bidders were single tract purchasers. Several farmers and ranchers were able to add to existing holdings.

Call Scott Shuman, Head of Hall and Hall Auctions, with questions – 800-829-8747

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The Role of a Ranch Management Company

By: Justin Bryan

Historically, the most reliable predictor of a successful farm, ranch, or recreational operation is a competent, honest, and qualified management team. This team should have the owner’s interests at heart and possess the attributes necessary to effectively manage the property. In the end, their oversight of the property and relationship with the owner will have profound long-term implications toward the success of the property and ultimately influence those who may desire to purchase it in the future.

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The real pleasure a landowner receives from ownership is obtained when he/she is confident that the property is being properly supervised.  When this occurs, the owner, family, and friends will be able to enjoy it as intended both from the operational and the recreational point of view. The enjoyment of ownership is what we term the “psychic return” and is a significant part of the “return on investment” derived by the landowner. Each landowner has his or her own unique needs – large and small – and matching those with the correct management system is the key to successful property management.

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For the on-site landowner who is consistently present and knowledgeable regarding rural property management, the ability to guide the daily tasks and develop valuable relationships with the staff creates a healthy environment to thrive upon.

In contrast, many rural properties are owned by on-site individuals who lack a real understanding of the unique aspects of rural property management. This can often result in poor overall performance of staff at which point ownership ceases to be enjoyable. A common example of this would be a situation in which the principal managing family member passes away and an inexperienced family member is required to fulfill the duties. Then there are the true absentee landowners. This inherently creates the most challenging situation for staff and owners to communicate clearly. Often the managing director of an absentee-owned property is an estate executor or a successful business person who, although accomplished in their chosen field, lacks knowledge in real-world rural property management. Procuring the right people in place who “ride for the brand” and perform their job as expected can come in a variety of forms to meet the requirements of each type of landowner.

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In terms of management, each type of landowner is afforded a few options regarding administration and on-the-ground labor. Their requirements might involve simply livestock and/or agriculture, or they might involve a mix of livestock, wildlife/fisheries and the maintenance/restoration of buildings. These choices include traditional staffing, farm and ranch team consultants, or a hybrid mix of traditional on-site staff with consultant oversite. Each of these staff options have pros and cons and must be evaluated by landowners whose needs are unique unto themselves. The selection of the system that best fits the owner provides the opportunity for the “return on investment” – either psychic or financial – that is desired.

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Traditional Staffing

It is a unique individual who chooses to be a beneficial source of labor and knowledge on a rural property. Ranch employment is not your average everyday eight-to-five job and, therefore, necessitates a high-level of personal commitment.  Be it a livestock guy or gal, wildlife biologist, or all-around ranch hand, reliable and competent employees are a must. To alleviate poor hiring choices, those individuals who are well-vetted by someone who truly understands what is required on the property and knows the owner’s expectations often have the best opportunity to succeed. These individuals provide a stable platform upon which a property can thrive. The relationships that can be built between an owner and long-term staff are rewarding as both entities work in conjunction to develop the property and see it flourish over time. Staff turnover, when it occurs, can, unfortunately, be the most expensive, stressful, and time-consuming issue in farm and/or ranch ownership causing the enjoyment of ownership to begin to wane.  If and when employees leave, they take with them the comprehension of what is actually required to permit a property to operate efficiently and effectively – from water systems to haying, livestock to bill paying, to hunting operations. Their knowledge of the property derived from a long tenure can be challenging to replace.

Farm and Ranch Team Consultants

Acquiring the services of a rural property management firm is an option available to landowners, especially absentee landowners or estate executors who desire to immediately have in place a proven team focused exclusively on their needs. This independent focus allows the firm to work with and typically mentor the on-site staff, and it allows them to always be part of the solution for the landowner and never part of the problem. A firm such as this can effectively manage the increasingly complex federal and state environmental regulations, changing national and world markets for livestock, crops and timber, critical water and mineral rights issues, and tax considerations on any given property. The firm’s experience with multiple successful operations gives them a high level of current knowledge and practical expertise for these details to be dealt with correctly and in a timely and professional manner. In this situation, the owner/executor is assured that the property is being taken care of properly. In addition, a history of professional management is, without a doubt, a major advantage if and when the decision is made to sell a property.

Hybrid Management

A hybrid management scenario occurs when a landowner desires to have competent staff on-site in combination with supervision expertise from a management firm. This allows for the management company, which has extensive exposure to a diverse array of operations, to provide operational oversight on a broad spectrum of ranching enterprises while the boots on the ground fulfill the daily tasks. A hybrid system is commonly utilized by all three types of landowners who desire to maximize profits and minimize potential headaches.

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Desirable Management Services

  • Budgeting, accounting and bill paying
  • Creation and execution of natural resource development and business plans
  • Asset evaluation including land, equipment, structures, herds, crops, fish, wildlife, and other tangibles such as the human resources available
  • Product sales and marketing services
  • Recruitment and hiring of management level personnel
  • Direct management and/or consultant services to staff
  • Periodic oversight of operations
  • Direct management of deeded properties, leases, and grazing allotments

Such services are most often chosen a la carte per the landowner’s needs. These can be as complex as the cost-benefit analysis of financing farm equipment, restoration of wetlands and/or native grasslands, or habitat mitigation credits. Or as simple as periodic oversight, bill paying and monthly reports or consultation with or mentoring of staff.

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Managing quality rural real estate properties, be it commercial farms or ranches or prime recreational retreats, can be a daunting challenge. This is particularly true for absentee owners, but even full-time resident owners can often benefit from the outside perspective of an experienced farm/ranch management firm. Ultimately such services should ensure that details of the property are being properly taken care of to allow the landowner to fully enjoy his/her property with family, friends, and business associates.

Hall and Hall is one of the few companies that provide management services and the recruitment of management level employees on behalf of landowners across a broad geography and property type. Please feel free to contact one of our offices if we can be of help. It is the stated purpose of our management group to make the ownership of rural land a positive and worry-free experience for our clients.

 

Hall and Hall Featured in Mansion Global Ranch Real Estate Story

We were pleased to see two of our Partners, Jeff Buerger and Jim Taylor, prominently featured in a Mansion Global story about the ranch real estate market. The piece highlights Stealey Mountain Ranch, a new Colorado ranch listing. Excerpts from the story entitled, “Home on the Range: Multi-Million Dollar ‘Lifestyle’ Ranches Are a Strong Draw For Wealthy” can be read below.

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“We have a long list of people who will quickly buy something really super [that are] under the radar at a top price but won’t even consider places that aren’t quite super,” said Hall and Hall’s Jim Taylor

Though not the most common method of sale, Mr. Taylor said that this year, his firm sold four premium recreational ranches—ranging from about $10 million to $40 million—without ever formally listing the ranches.

Putting a premium on the beauty and recreation value of a ranch really began in full-force in the late 1980s, Mr. Taylor said. In 1989, he helped broker one of the largest and perhaps most well-known recreational ranch sales of the time: Ted Turner’s purchase of the 107,000-acre Flying D Ranch in Montana for $21 million. “After that, the floodgates opened,” Mr. Taylor said. “People were then really willing to pay for the scenery, for the trout fishing, it was much more than just about a ranch.”

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“What makes a premium recreational ranch can really depend on the buyer, but when it has a lot of those bells and whistles—really beautiful views, privacy, great hunting and fishing, tucked up near a national forest, and not too far from civilization, it’s something people who can afford it will buy,” said Jeff Buerger, a Hall and Hall broker who represents the Stealey Mountain Ranch—a $24,950,00 Colorado property at the foot of the San Juan mountains, a soaring and rugged range of the Rocky Mountains. Along with wildlife and expansive views, the more than 2,100-acre property, bordered by the Uncompahgre National Forest, also features an 8,079-square-foot main residence, perched on a hilltop, with an indoor saltwater pool. The seller of the property, which has been on the market for about three months, declined to comment.

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While the demographic of the top-tier lifestyle ranch buyer is generally someone from the Baby Boomer generation, “someone who maybe grew up watching John Wayne and really put value in that old-fashioned Western way of life,” Mr. Buerger said, he’s also seen a growing number of younger buyers, especially from the tech world, looking to invest in the land and the lifestyle.  

“A beautiful ranch can really be like buying a beautiful piece of art,” Mr. Buerger said. “It can be a be a long term investment, and it’s also very subjective.”