Section Awards

Outstanding Rangeland Management Award
2009 Recipient:  Charlie and Peggy Winfield

Charlie and Peggy Winfield

Charlie Winfield has been ranching near Cotulla, Texas in the western Rio Grand Plains for 23 years. He and his wife, Peggy, began purchasing the ranch in 1986 with 500 acres. Charlie and his family kept expanding the operation to include 1710 acres of purchased land and an additional 100 acres of leased land. The land was bought for the goals of raising cattle and having a place for the Winfield's kids to hunt. Charlie and his family have worked hard to develop this land into a successful grazing and wildlife operation. Charlie has successfully applied the principles of range management to create an operation that endures the frequent drought periods in the area. Flexible stocking, proper grazing, and adequate rest for recovery are the foundation of Charlie's management strategy.

The land Charlie manages has been characterized by early explorers as "a land of continual drought .... interrupted by periodic flooding." Climatic data for the area proves that 2/3 of the time received rainfall is below average. Thus, the carrying capacity of South Texas rangelands fluctuates widely and the manager must be especially astute to balance animal demand with forage supply.

Of the original land purchased, 50% was old farm fields with nothing growing but broomweed and regrowth mesquite. The remaining portion was native brush that was so thick that neither cattle nor deer could penetrate. There were no cross fences. As far as the water situation went, there just wasn't much of one. The livestock carrying capacity was probably less than 10 AU/yr for the entire ranch. They flew the ranch that first year and sighted 7 does and 3 bucks that didn't amount to much. The first thing Charlie addressed was the lack of water for livestock and wildlife. He drilled new wells, installed submersible pumps, and ran pipelines. He began the fencing project to facilitate a 1 herd multi-pasture rotational grazing system.

Charlie then began renovating the old fields one by one. Each year he would renovate a new field. He planted them to buffelgrass or kleingrass. He chose buffelgrass for its forage production potential, adaptability to sandier soils and drought tolerance. Kliengrass was chosen for a little diversity. This is important to note: At the time, the only native seed commercially available was not adapted to south Texas. Charlie was very familiar with the lack of success seeding natives on CRP in La Salle County. Therefore; seeding these introduced grasses was an easy choice. Charlie manages all these fields as rangeland and maintains the brush with the use of individual plant treatment.

By 1989, Charlie stocked the ranch conservatively with 15 X-bred cows and 1 Charlais bull. He took the calves to the local auction barn. Although the range was improving, there wasn't much improvement seen on the wildlife side of things. Charlie wanted to improve the quality of the deer herd, but being surrounded by many small landowners, made it difficult to implement different management strategies to accomplish this. This same year, he high-fenced the ranch.

Charlie carefully planned out a brush management program on the ranch to enhance wildlife habitat. Areas with diverse mixed brush have been left alone, while mesquite and pear dominated areas have been improved.

Three years after the ranch was high-fenced, Charlie started an intensive culling program. Anything that was at least 2 years of age and 8 pts and less was culled. To maintain the nutritional plane, supplemental feed is provided to the native deer herd. What once was a place for his kids to hunt, has now turned into a successful commercial hunting operation. The ranch had not been flown since the first year of purchase; however, it was flown again in 2007. Ten 190 class bucks were spotted and one 22 point deer that is estimated to score 232 inches.

Charlie continues to market his calves at the local auction barn, but these days he usually takes more than 15. Charlie believes whole heartedly in not abusing the land. He pays special attention to the ranch and to the amount of forage production on the property. A rotational grazing system with relatively small pasture sizes are used to ensure uniform utilization of the forage in the pastures. The smaller pasture sizes also allow the cattle to be within 1/2 mile of water at all times. Charlie bases the movement of his cattle on stubble height, not calendar dates. The grass in the pastures is grazed to a height of 6 inches and no less to ensure that there is enough plant material left to serve as a factory for future grass production. If rainfall and forage production are low, Charlie will begin to remove cattle from the property to balance animal demand with forage supply. Feeding hay or holding on to animals during drought is not an option. Charlie occasionally supplements the animals with protein concentrates when forage quality is low. Charlie says that he has seen the country grazed to the ground and get 3 inches of rain and take too long to recover. In normal years the ranch now sustains 100 AU/year and twice that in exceptional years.

Since owning the property, the ranch has been completely de-stocked three times to avoid damaging the grazing resource during extreme drought. Charlie keeps records on his cows and calves to allow him to make management decisions when reduction is necessary. He first culls cows that are open or did not produce a calf and then culls the cows that wean the lightest calves. Charlie runs commercial cattle so as not to be tied to years of breeding. This way, drastic de stocking decisions are much easier. His herd consists of X-bred, Brangus, and Fl Tiger Stripes with Charlais bulls. Charlie and Peggy work and handle all of the livestock themselves to reduce operation costs on the ranch and to make sure they stay in touch with what is going on with the animals.

Charlie Winfield has been a student of the land he manages. He pays close attention to the experience of neighbors in the area. Charlie also does a lot of reading and attends field days to continue his education. He makes sure there is a sound reason behind every action taken on the land. Charlie is excelling at ranch management where many others struggle to survive. He has truly improved the land under his management and is a first class example of good stewardship. In summary, Charlie has taken tracts of beat up, abused country, put it together, made improvements and turned it into not only an economically successful cattle and hunting operation, but a healthy, sustainable ecosystem.

The Texas Section is pleased to recognize Charlie and Peggy Winfield as our recipient of the 2009 Outstanding Rangeland Management Award.


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