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Balancing act

published: July 11th 2022
by: Martha A Hollida

 

The El Seven Ranch runs cattle and raises rice in a harmonious balance that’s good for the environment, both end products and the ranch’s bottom line.

 

The Garwood, Texas based operation has history dating back to the early 1900’s when William Lehrer established the ranch and the name El Seven was chartered in the late 1930’s. William K. Lehrer had two children, William N. Lehrer and Dorothy Lehrer Lewis.  Today, the Lehrer and Lewis heirs continue to own the family operation and represent the third generation of the family.

 

 

Initially rice was the only crop, but in the early 1920’s cattle were added, but rice remained the main commodity. Then about 2016, the switch was made to increase the cattle herd and raise less rice. The cattle and rice coexist very well together, as rice fields are allowed to remain dormant for one years between crops due to the flooding process. They rotate cattle in and out on them, plus have permanent pastures for the cattle. They have over 4,000 acres of rice and some which of that is contracted to tenant farmers.

 

 

Manager Daryl Pieprzyca, a Garwood native, joined the El Seven straight out of college 33 years ago and became manager in 2002.

 

“About eight years ago, we switched about a third of the rice acreage to permanent pasture to increase our cattle numbers. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to raise rice profitably as the foreign markets raise and sell cheaper than we can and our rights to water are being restricted more and more,” explained Pieprzyca.

 

Their 1,250 cows are managed based on the rice growing schedule. Pieprzyca said that the fields that are planted in a particular year for rice are initially plowed and made ready in September and October, then planted in March, harvested in late July or early August, with the ratoon (second) harvest in late October-early November.

 

“We calve Nov. 15-Feb. 15th. This way, I can get the cows on the rice fields so they can eat the stubble. This works great, as we have a great source of supplemental feed for them during that critical period of raising calves and getting rebred,” said Pieprzyca.

 

The initial cattle added in the 1920s were Herefords, which was very traditional at the time and Pierprzyca said El Seven was one of the first in the area to put a Brahman bull on the red and white faced cows. That resulting cross quickly became their cow. In 2005, the switch was made to Brahman cows crossed with Hereford bulls, as the Brahman cow fits the environment better. Today the F-1 Brahman x Hereford Tiger Stripe is still their choice of female. They raise all of their own replacements, as they have a herd of 250 Brahman cows for that purpose. The Tiger Stripe female is crossed with either Charolais or Angus bulls. They do have a small herd of black quarter-blood females that have been retained from the cross with Angus bulls, but the Tiger Stripe is  predominant in their pastures and on the rice fields.

 

“The Tiger Stripe works great in this area and she has earned her keep here. We keep almost all of the heifers from the Brahman x Hereford cross. We do sell some to 4-H/FFA youth who want them for pen competitions at the fairs and stock shows. We cull the Tiger Stripes based on age and move the younger ones into the herd. We don’t raise our own Brahman replacements, we purchase those each year through South Texas Cattle Marketing’s Labor Day Sale in Nixon, Texas and that has worked very well for us,” said Pieprzyca.

 

The steer calves, which fall close to 50% Angus and 50% Charolais sired, are sold in the pasture and as one might guess there are always repeat buyers with the majority being purchased by feed yards through a local broker. Last year the steer calves averaged 670 lbs.,” he added.

 

Pieprzyca and one other employee handle all the cattle responsibilities and they hire extra help for the cattle working and weaning days. The rice farming is handled by two employees and Pieprzyca.

 

While the El Seven operates on a 120 day calving schedule, 90% of the calves are born in the first 60 days.

 

The cattle are worked in April when the calves receive their first round of shots, are dehorned if needed, EID tagged, implanted and castrated. They maintain strict vaccination protocols that they have developed through their local veterinarian. In late May to early June the calves are given a second round of shots so that they are ready to grow for the buyers when sold in August. Most of the calves are sent to a grow yard by the buyers since they are purchased directly off the cows from El Seven Ranch

 

Pieprzyca has his first calf heifers and Brahman cows start calving 30 days earlier than the Tiger Stripes, as bulls are turned out accordingly.

 

“The Charolais bulls are purchased almost exclusively through High Dollar Ranch, in Lockhart, Texas and we used Camp Cooley Angus bulls for many years prior to their dispersal. Now we buy our Angus bulls through the Luling Foundation Bull Sale, with many coming from the Bodey Langford herd, also in Lockhart. It’s my philosophy that you need to buy the best bulls you can afford, as it will pay off,“ he said. The Hereford bulls that are used on the Brahman cows to raise replacements are primarily purchased through the South Texas Hereford Association Annual Bull Sale.

 

He selects bulls heavily for actual weaning weight and weaning weight EPDs for the older cows, while birth weights are scrutinized for the bulls he plans to put on his heifers. Disposition is also analyzed on the bulls purchased, as well as the females retained. The ranch handles the cattle on horseback for the most part and he says the calm cattle just do better all the way around.

 

Bulls are expected to cover 25 cows on the average. The carrying capacity of the land is about one cow to 6-7 acres of permanent pasture and one cow to 10 acres on the rice fields.

 

 

The Tiger Stripe has been delivering paychecks to this operation for many decades and Pieprzyca is quick to point out her virtues.

 

“What is there not to like about her? For our country, there’s not a better cow around. She’s disease resistant, heat tolerant and reproductively sound. She will be grazing when it’s 100 degrees and we have some 18-20 year-olds that haven’t missed a calf. She’s as efficient as a cow can be,” he concluded.

 

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