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Cattle, wildlife click

Cattle and wildlife work splendidly for Rick Hanson and business partner Matt Matthews on the Merrick Davis Ranch operated by their H&M Cattle Co. in Shackelford County, Texas.

Cattle, wildlife click

Cattle and wildlife work splendidly for Rick Hanson and business partner Matt Matthews on the Merrick Davis Ranch operated by their H&M Cattle Co. in Shackelford County, Texas.

Making both livestock and wildlife fit begins with knowing your goals, Hanson says, and creating a plan to get there.

Make no mistake, the 700 mother cows are the foundation. It all starts with managing for the cow-calf operation of black baldy and black motley cows, all run with registered Angus bulls.

The wildlife also thrives with the abundant water and natural vegetation native to the 13,622-acre ranch. The work has paid off; the ranch was honored as a Lone Star Land Steward in 2007 from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for the Rolling Plains.

This year creeks and streams are flowing, and the 40-plus stock tanks are full after an unusually wet winter. But if the rain stops, Hanson and Matthews are fortunate to have pipeline access from Hubbard Lake that flows through the ranch en route to the city of Abilene.

“We have a massive system of water lines across this ranch, including many reservoirs for water storage,” Hanson says. About 15 miles of water lines flow along the south side of the ranch.

Key Points

• Rick Hanson and Matt Matthews make cattle and wildlife work together.

• Shackelford County, Texas, ranch is blessed with an abundant water supply.

• Having long-term goals and staying with a solid management plan are vital.

As all old-timers know, the rain will quit at times for a long dry spell. That’s why it’s vital in this area to have a long-term management plan, such as proper stocking to support the native forage.

Strategic plan

The ranch is now in its 13th year of a 20-year Resource Management System conservation plan with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“Rick takes care of business; you don’t have to call him, asking him to do things,” says Gary Franke, NRCS soil conservation technician, Albany, Texas. In fact, Franke says the ranch often is used as an example of doing things right.

Hanson notes the 20-year overall plan means taking one pasture per year, then employing prescribed burning, spraying prickly pear, and selectively grubbing and raking mesquite. When selectively grubbing, Hanson aims to leave some single-stem mesquite with rough bark as shade for cattle and wildlife cover.

Hanson also maintains brush along the steep hillsides, balanced with little bluestem to control erosion.

He says H&M is fortunate to have Ronald “Vern” Presley as its bulldozer man and grader, who is meticulous in his mechanical work.

Hanson credits the talents of Presley and the guidance of Franke and NRCS in helping him achieve his goals. And most of all, he gives credit to Matthews, his friend for 32 years and business partner for 21 years. “His wisdom and advice of being a fourth-generation rancher has influenced every single decision made to shape the Merrick Davis Ranch into the successful balance of cattle and wildlife habitat that it is today,” Hanson says. “I would not be here today if not for him as my mentor, and I will be forever grateful to him.”


LITTLE BLUE SHINES: Gary Franke (left), a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service technician, looks at some brush patterns in little bluestem grass with Rick Hanson on the Merrick Davis Ranch in Shackelford County, Texas.

This article published in the May, 2010 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.

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