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Grazing School for Novices grows loyalty of past students


The first lesson Willis Hargraves learned when he retired from the commercial insurance business and started a cattle-raising business was an economic one, he said.

"I said to my wife one day, 'I don't know how I lose so much money so fast,'" he said.

However, five years ago Hargraves attended his first three-day Grazing School for Novices at Overton, and he learned what he was doing wrong the first morning.

Dr. Larry Redmon, Texas AgriLife Extension Servicestate forage specialist, explains how to calibrate a chemical spray rig at the Overton Grazing School for Novices. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo by Robert Burns.)

"I learned that we're grass farmers, not cattlemen," Hargraves said. "We're in the business of growing grass. We just market the grass through the cattle. Like most folks, when I got started, I didn't know that."

Hargraves has come back to take the course every year since.

"It's like getting baptized," Hargraves said. "To really get to know the Lord, you've got to keep coming back."

Ray Campbell nods in agreement. It's the fourth return-year for Campbell, whose land adjoins Hargraves near Alto.

After retiring from Brookshire Brothers grocery stores in the 1990s, Campbell started with 60 acres. Today he owns more than 700 and leases several hundred more. He also has eight broiler houses and raises nearly 1 million broilers per year. The chicken litter allows him to maintain high-quality improved Tifton85 Bermuda grass pastures, he said.

"If you can grow (quality) grass fast enough, you don't have to have as much land," he said. Which is another thing he learned at the grazing school.

"This business is like any other (including retail grocery); it's all about volume. There's an economy of scale," Campbell said. The course is not free. Cost of the workshops, which are scheduled at the end of March and early April every year, is $350. But both Hargraves and Campbell agree that the course is worth that and more, whether for the absolute beginner or the rancher with some experience.

"If a novice (or a returning student) picks up two useful practices that he can use every day on his operation, then he's more than paid for coming here," Hargraves said. Course instructors are scientists and educators with Texas AgriLife Research, the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, and Texas A&M University. All hold doctorate degrees related to their area of instruction. The courses are held at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton in East Texas. Enrollment for the courses is limited to 50 people per class to allow for personal interaction with the instructors.

"That's another good thing," Hargraves said. "When you leave, you have a relationship with the professors, and you can call them when you have a problem. It's like a support group."

The three-day course consists of time split between the classroom and instruction in the field. In-field demonstrations cover all aspects of running a beef operation, from establishing forages and maintaining high-quality pastures, calibrating sprayers, taking soil samples, castrating and vaccinating cattle, and dehorning calves.

A full agenda for the grazing school can be found at http://overton.tamu.edu/grazingschool.htm.

To register or for more information, contact Lloyd at 903-834-6191 or by e-mail, jllloyd@ag.tamu.edu.

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