A social and educational retreat at her lovely desert oasis was offered by Alice Ball Strunk to her classmates in the 2012-2013 class of HMI’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers: Women in Texas (aka Beginning Women Farmers or just BWF). Alice planned for great food, free time on the river, spring or land, and teaching tours of the ranch with legends Joe David Ross, Steve Nelle and John Karger.
Hudspeth River Ranch is not really new to Alice, she grew up going to the ranch as often as she could get away from her busy life in San Antonio. Her mother, Claudia Ball, well known in ranching circles as a dynamic force and early adopter of Holistic Management, inherited the ranch from her buddy and grandfather Claude Hudspeth. With Claudia’s passing in 2011, Alice now holds the reins with her husband, Billy Bob Strunk.
It was Alice’s idea to invite the younger generation in hopes some of the land loving and ranching lessons learned would inspire them to greater stewardship wherever they landed. About 50 people attended the 4-day event with about half being in the class and the other half being husbands, children and other friends.
Thursday was relaxed and simple with time on the river and a drive around the ranch. It was topped off with a fabulous goat dinner.
Friday featured neighbor and advisor, Joe David Ross DVM, his sister, our mentor, and soil scientist Betsy Ross and the rest of the group discussing fencing, cattle and sheep conformation, how to slow and catch water on the slopes with small rock dams, useful and dangerous plants, and other tips on a variety of topics. We were impressed with Billy Bob’s grassfed hamburgers.
Saturday we enjoyed a day with Steve Nelle, conservationist consultant, riparian specialist and primo reader of the land. We visited a couple of riparian areas where the spring-fed creeks joins the river. Steve taught us how a river works and the plants that help it flood in a constructive way rather than the destruction of losing soils and eroding banks. We also went to an upland area where we learned how to begin learning to read the land – learn about the plants that grow there – and learned a technique for estimating forage.
After lunch John Karger taught us much about birds of prey and how to mitigate losses we blame on these birds. John is Executive Director of Last Chance Forever, a bird of prey conservancy in San Antonio. His wife and beautiful assistant Dr. Melissa Hill helped him fly for our enjoyment a bay winged hawk, peregrine falcon and a hybred falcon. They even let us experience the birds flying onto our wrist.
Progress was made on next year’s BWF class as well, through a meeting of the trainer trainees with their instructor, coordinator and mentor (aka the 3 Peggys) and recruiting Claire’s friend Anne to apply for the 2013-2014 class. It was good to be gathering again, renewing the bond as we learned and played together.