Sterling Cattle Company, Coahama, Texas, has been selected as one of six regional honorees of the Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP). The award, announced during the 2017 Cattle Industry Summer Business Meeting July 13, 2017, recognizes the operation’s outstanding stewardship and conservation efforts. This year’s regional winners will compete for the national award, which will be announced during the Annual Cattle Industry Convention in Phoenix, Ariz., in February 2018.
Established in 1991 by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to recognize outstanding land stewards in the cattle industry, ESAP is generously sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Cattlemen’s Foundation.
“Cattlemen and women everywhere understand that the land, air and water resources in their care are the cornerstone of their success and they are only stewards of those resources for a short time,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Craig Uden. “Each of us understands the importance of improving those resources and leaving them better for future generations. This year’s nominees are outstanding examples of what is possible for the beef industry and they serve as an inspiration for producers everywhere to continue improving their stewardship practices now and in the future.”
Sterling Cattle Company, which is operated by Jimmy and Theresa Sterling, is a cow-calf operation started in 1954 by J.M. Sterling. The deeded headquarters ranch in Coahoma, Texas, consists of approximately 11,550 acres. J.M.’s son, Jimmy, took over the daily operation of the ranch in 1991. Under his nearly 30 years of management, Sterling Cattle Company serves as the steward of 215,000 acres of leased and deeded rangeland in West Texas, with plans to add more lease land to their operation soon.
“Our home ranch is approximately 12,000 acres,” said Jimmy, “and we lease another 200,000 acres from landlords that we have leased from for 35 years, some of them 20 years, and the University Lands that we’ve had 10 or 12 years now. Our goal is to make the leased land as good as our deeded land.”
To restore rangeland on the headquarters ranch, Jimmy grubbed mesquite on 4,000 acres, sprayed prickly pear on 570 acres, and reseeded 3,300 acres back to native grasses. On the leased land, Jimmy grubbed and sprayed 21,900 acres of mesquite, sprayed prickly pear on 2,000 acres, and seeded 6,900 acres to native grasses.
To manage grazing and improve grazing distribution, Jimmy built 20 miles of fence, drilled seven new wells, equipped 18 wells with solar pumps, and installed nine miles of pipeline to provide water sources. He seeded working pens with bermudagrass to reduce erosion and dust when working cattle, and he monitors range conditions continuously to determine moves in rotational grazing.
“Jimmy and his family are great to work with,” said Eddy Spurgin, a district conservationist for NRCS. “I started working with him through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program in 1997. And we’ve worked with Jimmy on numerous projects from brush management to livestock water development to cross fencing and grazing management.”
“The desire to leave the land better than they found it is a common trait among cattle raisers,” says Dave Owens, beef marketing specialist with sponsor Dow AgroSciences. “You certainly see that in action in the Sterling family. They’re making a real, on-the-ground difference in protecting and improving the environment.”
The Sterling family plans to begin maintaining a conservative stocking rate to prevent having to manipulate herds through drought.
Jimmy said: “A good drought management plan doesn’t start after the drought has started. It’s something that needs to be thought out in detail long before the rain stops falling.”
In 2016, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and Texas Section for Range Management recognized Jimmy and Theresa Sterling and Sterling Cattle Company, as the 2016 Outstanding Rangeland Steward.
The Sterlings continue to manage invasive species, reseed native grasses to push range trend towards climax vegetation, improve the quality of beef produced on their West Texas ranches, and pass on the heritage of land stewardship to their children and grandchildren.