Year Inducted: 2019
DENVER (July 31, 2019) – The Killam Duval County Ranch in South Texas has been selected as one of seven regional winners of the Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP). The award, announced during the 2019 Cattle Industry Summer Business Meeting on July 30, 2019, 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 San Antonio, Texas, in February 2020.
Established in 1991 by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to recognize outstanding land stewards in the cattle industry, ESAP is generously sponsored by Corteva Agriscience, McDonald’s, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Cattlemen’s Foundation.
“America’s cattle producers are the original stewards of the land. They rely on a healthy ecosystem, including land, air and water resources, for their livelihood and they understand better than anyone the benefits of caring for those resources,” said NCBA President Jennifer Houston. “The lands we manage as farmers and ranchers are only entrusted to us for a short time and farmers and ranchers across the nation are committed to passing those resources to the next generation in a manner which ensures their future success. This year’s ESAP nominees Award Program exemplify the greatness of our industry and they share the common goal of bettering our industry through outstanding stewardship practices.”
The Killam Duval County Ranch is owned by Killam Ranches Ltd. and encompasses 125,000 acres in South Texas between Laredo and Corpus Christi. The Killam family has been ranching in the South Texas area since 1920. In 2001, David Killam entrusted the management to David Kitner as the ranch manager. Kitner also manages the ranches in Kansas, Nebraska and Montana.
Since Kitner joined the ranch he has worked to transform what was once an overgrazed and brush covered landscape into a ranch that provides enough forage to support a profitable cow-calf and stocker operation. Aerial herbicide spraying has been a valuable tool to reduce the dense cover of mesquite trees and prickly pear cactus.
“All the work at the Duval County Ranch is the result of Kitner’s management and his expertise and he’s the guy that has implemented all this progress,” said Killam.
“We’re just trying to grow grass and forbs and improve the soil health by letting the grasses take over where it’s been dominated by brush and prickly pear,” said Kitner. “The brush encroachment is a never-ending problem and we attack it several different ways. We use chemicals, we use mechanical means and we use fire to try to control it.”
In addition to brush and weed control, water was a challenge for the ranch. Kitner created a plan to have reliable water sources and recycled water tanks from an oil field and put them in place to gravity feed. Then the ranch team worked to install over 300 miles of pipeline and more than 200 water troughs.
“The water development at the Duval County Ranch is a story of success,” said Jose Martinez, NRCS rangeland specialist. “Any animal anywhere on the ranch is no further than half a mile from water. That is hard to accomplish at a large-scale ranch. Having water distributed throughout the ranch is essential in any rotational grazing operation.”
Having accessible water across the ranch, the rotational grazing system at the Killam Duval County Ranch is working much better and it is improving their forage base. It also allows for pastures to rest for as much as a year. Both wildlife and cattle are thriving on the ranch. Even though there are no shortages of challenges ahead, Killam and Kitner are committed to being stewards of the land.
“We’re all in this together, trying to improve the environment and the habitat in the country,” said Killam. “I think it’s about looking at what we’ve done in the past, seeing how we’ve improved things, and saying let’s go do some more’.”