by Peggy Maddox
The Maddox family began practicing the principles of Holistic Management in 1986. The road that took us there is the same as for many others — “We aren’t making it in ranching. After 70 years of ranching, spanning four generations, we were nearly bankrupt.” We could see that the land was deteriorating, more bare ground and invasive species, and we knew that our stress level was only increasing.
Our ranching operation was located in Mitchell and Nolan Counties of West Texas. We ranched 22,000 acres of owned and leased property. The livestock was pastured using a light, continuous grazing management practice. Over the years, we had tried cow/calf, sheep, custom grazing, and winter wheat farming. We even summer grazed yearlings on what is now called the Valles Calderas Preserve at Los Alamos, New Mexico. If you were in the ranching or farming business in the 1970’s it was believed that the way to continue to make a profit was too get bigger—get more land—expand. Money was easy to borrow and so we fell right into that trap. You went to the bank and asked for a bigger loan, somehow never expecting to make a profit, but just get by one more year. And that’s the way we had been doing it. We just mortgaged more assets. Maybe it would rain more, or prices would go up. But by the late 1980’s we were heavily in debt.
Then Joe did a remarkable thing. He took me and our son, Dalton, with him to that course in Albuquerque. The course was 7 days long, and by the end of it we had gotten the message that our situation was our own fault. It wasn’t the weather, cattle, sheep, or wool prices, the government, the banks, or anything else. It was us and the way we managed and made decisions. We never were thinking for ourselves, just going with the flow or simply doing what we had always done. So we had gone to Albuquerque to learn how to double our stocking rate, but we learned a new decision making framework. We learned that we had to decide what we wanted—what was important to us—as a family and in our business. It was great that Joe took the family with him because we all were ready and felt like we knew how to change things.
After learning Holistic Management financial planning, we went to the bank and we asked them not to foreclose. We asked if they would let us just cash flow the next year, and because we had the financial plans that we had learned to put on paper, they agreed. We became proactive, not reactive. In the past, we were always reacting to a crisis. Debt was controlling our lives. We took back control when we began to look at things holistically and with an open mind to a world of ideas. We were not afraid of being creative anymore. We did not borrow any money that year and the bank did not foreclose.
Changes in the natural environment of our property were very rewarding. Before we never considered the work the dung beetles and microorganisms like earthworms were doing for us. We began to celebrate the signs of their work. And then one day, we found a new spring on the ranch or an old one that had been recharged. We knew we were trending toward the future resource base in our holistic goal.
And then the next big advancement the family made happened when Bud and Eunice Williams came to live at the ranch. Our second life-changing sign post. Low-stress livestock handler, Bud Williams, taught the Maddoxes his techniques for handling all kinds of livestock, managing for predators, plus shearing our sheep the Australian way. Handling the livestock became easier. The stocking rate increased from the recommended one animal unit per 30 acres to one to 13.5 acres. The ranching operation was supporting 30 rams, 900 ewes and lambs, 650 cows and calves, and 800 yearlings.
Over the next 12 years, we continued to improve our financial situation, our land, and our lives, just like we had written in our holistic goal. Dalton returned home and married Gretchen soon after. Their honeymoon was in Amarillo, Texas, for a course in Holistic Management. She told us, “I am a city girl, but I love the ranch and want a family raised in the country.”
Dalton and Joe worked the ranches together. Dalton added a hunting operation to the ranch enterprises. He was always thinking of new ways to bring in income. We changed our bottom line from debt to profit. I was always trying to cut expenses and we had some lively discussions at our planned team meetings. We increased our average gross income to $1400 per day. We cut our cost from $100 per head per year to $20 per head per year.
Each year, when it came time to do our financial planning, we tried to make it a special time, even getting away from the ranch for the planning. We always included more training as part of our wealth generating expense. Dalton used his knowledge, whether it came from his agriculture background or his ability to think “outside the box” to keep the ranch improving its bottom line. As part of our quality of life, we added a family vacation every two years as a must for us. We began that tradition in 1989 and have continued it every two years since.