November 3, 2006
Just ask Justin Dauer why he chose agriculture for his living and he's quick to respond.
"It's all I've ever wanted to do," Justin says. "It's what my dad's does and my granddad before him and my great-granddad before him."
From landing a degree in animal science at Oklahoma State to farming more than 1,600 acres and running 300-plus head of cattle, this 30-year-old is definitely doing his part to carry on the family tradition.
"I couldn't see him doing anything else," said wife, Barbi Dauer. "He's a very hard worker and very passionate about what he does. He loves it and it shows in everything he does."
Not that she's any stranger to the farm life. Barbi grew up in a fourth generation dairy family in New Mexico, a heritage she keeps alive with the dozen or so bottle calvesor as she calls them, the "college fund" that she keeps near the house and raises with the help of her 4-year-old son Jared and 5-year-old daughter Ashby.
"I couldn't do it without her," Justin says of his wife, who helps with everything from bookkeeping and record management to plowing the fields and moving equipment.
"She's a vital part of my operation and my life," he says.
Together they own about 40 acres northeast of Panhandle where the family home, a few working pens and the barns and equipment are kept. Justin and Barbi lease most of their land for their farm and ranching needs, growing everything from wheat and milo to cotton and bermudagrass. They split their cattle herd between a cow/calf operation and stocker calf operation.
Working all leased land requires that costs be closely monitored, Justin says, and a year like the last one makes watching the dollars and cents an ongoing affair.
"The whole state of Texas has been in a drought," he said. "We didn't have hardly any wheat production, (which meant) very little grazing for the wheat. We kept looking for the spring rains that never really came.
"Those were easily the biggest obstacles I've had to face this yearlack of rainfall and high inputs all around, particularly on the fuel side of things," he added. "But finally, we were blessed in late summer and were able to grow a little grass. Things are looking a lot brighter now."
Yet for all the uncertainties tied to farming and ranching, Justin and his family are working to eliminate some of the guessworkand cost.
They've gone to minimum and no-till planting, which means a lot less plowing than before. They use spray rigs to keep the weeds down, which helps conserve soil moisture while still cutting through the noxious weeds of the area. They use center pivots where they used to row water, another water saving measure. And they've added nozzle packages on some of the older pivots to make them even more water efficient.
While optimistic for the future of his business, Justin says the key to today's agriculture lies in continually becoming more efficient, something he's working to employ in his own operation.
The milo he grows not only produces a grain crop for harvest, but the stalks serve as a winter pasture for his cattle, preserving some of the native grasslands for later in the year. Wheat, likewise, serves as pasture for weaning as well as a grain crop. And the cottonrelatively new to the areacan serve as both a revenue generator when the lint is harvested and allow him to use the cottonseed for feedstuffs.
"It would be tough where I lease everything I have to just have a cow/calf operation and ship out everything when I weaned," Justin said. "Similarly, it would be tough to make a living with just the grain and row crops through the farm. Everything I do works hand in hand."
In the future, Justin says he hopes to build on his livestock operation. He's looking into planting alfalfa next year to build his hay production business, and eventually, he hopes to follow in the family tradition in raising purebred Herefords.
"Ideally, I'd like to go through markets that are not so heavily traded on the Board of Trade. That way you don't have to worry about other countries producing it cheaper. I want to take my operation and produce things that we can produce here more efficiently than anywhere else in the world," he says.
"It's a way of life," he says. "I wouldn't give anything for the chance to raise my family in this environment. I guess there's a lot of ways a guy could make a living and maybe not work quite as hard or face as many challenges. But to me, that's part of the funovercoming the challenges placed in front of you."
Justin Dauer hopes his cattle operations will help pave the way to purebred Hereford production so he can carry on the Dauer family tradition.
The Dauer family includes Justin, Ashby, Barbi and Jared.