Texans turn from row crops to native forages. Taylor Moore wouldn't be caught dead in a flowing gauze shirt. He doesn't sport a beard or long hair and handing out flowers to perfect strangers isn't his thing.
Nonetheless, this Navasota, TX, rancher believes some folks may liken his non-traditional professional philosophy to that of a late-1960s hippie. But even if the neighbors don't understand or embrace his recent career change, Moore is excited about his future in the family business. Why? It's all about an old concept with a new name: holistic resource management.
For generations, the Moores raised cotton, corn and milo as cash crops. Because of rising labor, chemical and irrigation costs complicated by drought, declining yields and rock-bottom commodity prices, they started losing money in 1996. So they decided to break with family and local tradition and make a drastic change: They would abandon row-crop production and use the land to graze cattle.
"In 1997 and 1998 we raised about 2,500 acres of corn, which was sold as grain for cattle. But '98 was the last year corn was grown on our ranch," Moore says. "We may plant 400-500 acres of milo for grazing or hay, but that's the extent of our planting."
Now Moore and his dad, Robert, are devoted to holistic resource management, a concept that he says is often misunderstood.
"We're trying to get the natural grasses to come back, the ones that want to be here, the ones the land wants," Moore explains. "We're not touching anything, we're not spending any money, we're letting nature take its course. Some people here might think we're crazy ranching without insecticides and herbicides, but we prefer animal impact rather than chemicals."
The smorgasbord of natural grasses on the Moore property includes common bermuda, dallisgrass, johnsongrass, Texas panicum, crabgrass, rescuegrass, burr clover and several varieties of bluestem.
"Farmers around here fought these plants for years because they reduced cotton yields and quality," Moore points out. "But the cattle love them, and they're all in different stages, so grazing is available from mid-February to mid-November."
Since quitting row crops, the Moores have expanded their herd from 200 cows to 600 and now concentrate on grazing strategies. "We've changed our calving season to later in the year - April through June," Moore says. "Our grass is best nutritionally during the spring, and we want our animals to be in optimum condition during calving.
"Our cattle are so much gentler now," he continues. "With rotational grazing, they're accustomed to being moved quite often, and we can get them to move simply by honking the horn. They associate the honking with fresh grass."
The Moores have 2,000 acres in 50-acre paddocks, with about 200 head in each paddock. Grazing time per paddock depends on the season, weather and amount of grass available.
"Our program is going well, but it's a work in progress," Moore says.
"The cattle are healthy and look great. It hasn't been an easy transition, because 150 years of commercial farming took a lot of nutrients from the soil. Now the cows are naturally putting nutrients back in the ground, which helps increase organic matter."
When cotton was the focus of their enterprise, the Moores had 20 full-time employees year-round. Today the work force consists of the two Moores and one full-time employee.
"Our overhead is way down," Moore emphasizes. "Before, we had constant worries about the success of our crop and prices, and we were always relieved just to break even. Now we can live off what we make. We're definitely happier now and have less stress."