Ranching with Wildlife: Teaching Sustainable Livestock Production Practices for Wildlife Habitat

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $78,838.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
John Tomecek
Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service


  • Animals: bovine, goats, sheep, Exotic Cervids
  • Animal Products: fiber, fur, leather


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed/forage, free-range, grazing management, grazing - continuous, grazing - multispecies, grazing - rotational, pasture fertility, preventive practices, rangeland/pasture management, stocking rate
  • Crop Production: pollinator habitat, pollinator health
  • Education and Training: decision support system, demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, drift/runoff buffers, habitat enhancement, soil stabilization, wildlife
  • Pest Management: cultural control, integrated pest management, physical control


    Truly sustainable agriculture provides system stability on the land for humans, wildlife, and the land. From the farmer to the butterfly, both humans and wildlife rely on agricultural systems. Today, the ability to capitalize on wildlife resources provides farmers or ranchers with additional financial flexibility during difficult times. This option did not exist 100 years ago, but for many, can make the difference between a family agricultural operation remaining in business, or selling out. At the same time, many wildlife populations rely on habitat created and maintained by agriculture, such as waterfowl in rice fields on the Gulf Coast, or quail and prairie chickens on the prairies. For rural communities, the effects of developed wildlife industries helps create jobs, retain citizens, and provide for healthier rural America. In many parts of rural Texas, support businesses based on hunting form much of the local economy. Finally, many wildlife species provide services in the form of crop pollination and pest control worth billions to producers. Thus, in providing for truly sustainable agriculture, it is critical for producers to understand how to produce agricultural products without degrading natural resources, and the wildlife that live on working lands.

     This project was designed to provide County Extension Agents (CEAs) with the fundamentals of wildlife management as it relates to grazing lands in Texas, specifically native or mixed-native rangelands. We provided four, two-day training events to over 104 CEAs in Texas. This represents an order of magnitude increase in CEAs qualified to provide this expertise. These events, in conjunction with online webinars, provided CEAs with roughly 50 hours of education on wildlife management. The behavior-based outcomes we identified in our proposal saw a dramatic increase in CEAs abilities, confidence, and knowledge. Based on these survey results, we feel that we provided more than half of the working Agriculture and Natural Resources CEAs in Texas with training to bring greater sustainability to the ranching operations of Texas. In terms of acres impacted, this work will reach millions of acres of rangelands, many of which are arid environments particularly fragile and difficult to keep sustainable in the facing of changing economies and ecosystems.

    Project objectives:

    This project was conceived by interviewing Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service County Extension Agents (CEAs), as well as agricultural producers who utilize these agents. After my first year as an Extension Wildlife Specialist, it became clear that most CEAs were not prepared to offer advice on wildlife management for producers. Staff at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department confirmed that, while that agency provides limited technical assistance to producers, they do not have the perspective on agricultural production to tailor recommendations to integrate with production needs. In order to effectively provide producers with advice and education based on sound science, there are several general categories in which participants will receive training.

    1. Ability to Conduct Habitat Evaluations for Producers

    Participants will learn how to evaluate the potential for various wildlife species to inhabit a given property based on habitat needs. This is likely the most important element of providing wildlife management advice to producers. After training, participants should be able to target key habitat features, vegetation needs, identify relative quality and quantity of food resources, and current status of target wildlife species on property. These will address needs in game management for mammals and birds, as well as non-game management for alternative wildlife enterprises, such as bird watching. Additionally, special evaluation of endangered species habitat needs and status will be taught.


    1. Knowledge of How to Target Wildlife Management Strategies

    Aside from evaluating habitat quality on a property, the ability to prioritize management strategies is critical for economic returns to producers. Participants will learn how to prioritize both (1) species and (2) locations for management, based on habitat evaluation, above. As a result, they can direct producers to the wildlife management options best suited to their property in its current state, long-term management directions and needed practices to achieve goals. This includes, but is not limited to identifying regions of the agricultural property that are better suited for target wildlife species, or times of year where habitat is available to provide for these species and/or their use.


    1. Providing Producers with Wildlife-Livestock Integration Solutions

    Although not necessarily incompatible, some livestock production schemes are not optimal for wildlife production. Participants will learn about (1) potential competition between wildlife and livestock for food, habitat, or both; (2) modifications to livestock management that keep production on-track while allowing wildlife to thrive on the same property; and (3) planning wildlife and livestock management schedules that minimize conflicts between production needs and wildlife user experience.


    1. Advising on Developing and Growing Wildlife Enterprises

    It is one thing to have wildlife resources to capitalize on, but another entirely to successfully market and develop the business. Experienced ranchers, hunting outfitters, consultants, and tourism professionals will train participants on how successful, sustainable wildlife business is developed on agricultural lands. This training will include development of both consumptive (hunting) and non-consumptive (wildlife watching, hiking, camping, etc.) tourism, laws related with various businesses, and marketing strategies to optimize returns on investment. While participants will not be qualified to dispense legal advice, their familiarity should allow producers to navigate their options with minimal need to enjoin an legal counsel.


    Desired changes in behavior: Participants will be comfortable and confident providing agricultural producers with timely, relevant advice on how to best steward wildlife resources on their property, capitalize on these resources, and understand legal matters surrounding certain species, including their options for mitigating effects on agricultural production.


    Participants successfully completing this course will receive a certificate of completion certifying their proficiency in sustainable wildlife management in agricultural systems.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.