Heath Campbell never planned on being a farmer when he moved from West Texas to Denton County back in 1997 to work at an equestrian center.
It didn't take long, though, for him to get the itch to practice a bit of cattle ranching, something in his DNA from several generations back. His great, great grandfather founded the Matador Ranch in Motley County. But farming was a bit foreign.
Campbell leased acreage, bought some cattle and started a cow/calf operation, Wild H Cattle Company, in Denton and Collin Counties and grew the herd to 1,000 mama cows. He sold down to 600 because of drought the past two summers.
Now he's diversifying into grain farming, thanks to an experiment with wheat that began as a way to provide economical winter grazing.
Campbell leased some new land in the fall of 2005 and laid it out until April of 2006.
“The property has about 180 acres of native grassland, but it's not strong native grass,” he says. “It had a lot of weeds and mesquite.” The property also has 200 acres of farmland.
He sprayed the mesquite with Grazon and Remedy. “Cost was $22.80 for the material and $10 per acre for labor and management. The combination did a good job.”
He no-till planted Mega-Green Sudan in April and added 200 pounds of 32-0-0 and glyphosate.
“On June 6, 2006, I baled 2.08 tons of hay per acre and got another 0.75 tons in November. That was pretty good for a drought year,” Campbell says.
After the last cutting he wanted something to graze during the winter so he no-tilled a bearded, hard wheat. “I planted 80 acres, two bushels per acre.” He grazed the wheat until April. “It started raining so I pulled the cattle off.”
He consulted his County Extension agent, Eddie Baggs, to discuss management options for the wheat, which was responding well to adequate moisture. “I wondered about adding fertilizer and the cost. It was basically leftover grain (from other grazing areas he'd planted), so I had no big investment in it and I just planned to graze it. At the worst, I'd get a cover crop and at best I could graze it and get some economical gains on my cattle.”
He left off fertilizer and put 60 head of cattle in. “That included 30 head of 1100 pound heifers and 30 pairs (cows and calves),” he says.
Baggs was skeptical of raising wheat without additional fertilizer but thought the plot would make a good test. “I thought the results would deter him,” he says.
But Campbell had an opportunity to combine wheat for the first time in early June.
“He made a good crop considering the input,” Baggs says.
Campbell combined 75 of the 80 acres and averaged 29.4 bushels per acre. He figures the cost of the no-till planting was the biggest expense. “We added no fertilizer and no fungicides. We just seeded the land for grazing.”
He figures production costs totaled $177.92 per acre. Gains on the cattle plus returns from the harvested grain totaled $372.66 per acre. “The property paid off $194.74 per acre,” Campbell says.
He got that even with significant quality dockage on the grain, about 30 percent for sprout damage and moisture discounts.
Campbell says he made the grain on water. “We recorded 17.7 inches of rain in the area from April through December of 2006. From January through May of 2007, we had 24.9 inches.” Late planting (November 17) could have hurt early wheat growth.
He plans to lay the land out over the summer and plant wheat again in the fall.
He'll increase wheat acreage next year, following the success he had with the 2007 crop. “I've had about 1,000 acres of wheat, mostly for grazing.”
He'll keep some of his acreage in Sudan for hay. Spring and summer rains in North Texas have pushed Sudan growth. “We have some that's 7 feet tall, and it averages 5 feet. Next year, if I get enough hay to make me happy, I may plant 2,000 acres of wheat and combine all but 550. In some areas I may plant Sudan and then go back with wheat. I want to try that again. I have two options with wheat; I can combine it or bale it.”
He's hoping to cut a bit more grain. “I just bought a four-wheel drive combine.”
He says the wheat/Sudan combination gives him options for his cattle operation. “I can pre-condition calves in the spring if the market looks promising.”
Baggs says Campbell is an eager student. “He's one of the hardest workers I've seen in a long time and he did not have a farming background (just ranching), so he pays attention.”
He says Campbell followed instructions about aerating his land and taking soil samples to improve fertility. “It's refreshing to see someone put into practice what we recommend.”
“I've worked closely with Eddie,” Campbell says. “I don't know anything so I depend on my county agent.”
Baggs also recommends that Campbell extend testing to cattle nutrition. “We want to test forage feed value,” he says.
Campbell typically uses cake supplements. “But with better quality hay he may reduce that,” Baggs says. “He's in a fall calving cycle so he needs to maintain proper nutrition.”
Campbell believes in Emerald Green supplement, especially this year. “It helps prevent foot rot,” he says.
Grazing spring calves also helps Campbell spread marketing risks, Baggs says.
“It's all about risk and risk management. And risks change every year.”
“I'm also encouraging him to look at the biofuels industry,” Baggs says. “It's better to be on the cutting edge than the tail end.”
Campbell is considering branching out into custom harvest work to help pay for his combine.
For now, Campbell likes the advantages of cattle and grain. “Wheat has been a strong enterprise for me,” he says.