Longtime Rancher: Niche a Necessity Nowadays

Don Davis's 1,800-acre Seco Valley Ranch is home to dozens of longhorns. He’s among the 14 percent of Texans working agriculture-related jobs – and he says the landscape of ranching isn't what it used to be.

"We were kind of warned that you needed to be in a niche market 15 years ago, whatever it was. That was way out on the horizon,” Davis said.  

Davis and his wife found their niche and a company was born.

When Bandera Grassland started selling beef in 2003, it was selling Texas Longhorn grass-fed beef, which was the niche of all niches. Some people were skeptical about the meat, but once they had their first taste, they were sold.

"That changed the whole operation of the ranch instead of just being a cow-calf operation,” Davis said.

Davis is also the vice president of the American Grassfed Association. He says niche market ranching is the future of the industry.

"The fact that we're getting so many fairly large, traditional cow-calf guys calling us wanting to know how to do what we're doing tells me there's a reason why they're wanting to join up with us," Davis said.

Like many ranches in the state, Seco Valley has had to adapt to more than just the changing economy.

"It's been brutal. It really has,” Davis said.

Years of unyielding drought forced Seco Valley and many other Texas ranches to lower cattle numbers just to survive. Texas Department of Agriculture numbers reflect the effects of drought on the state cattle herd. From 13.3 million cows in 2011, the herd dropped to last year's low of 11.1 million. This year, thanks to some rain, the herd is 11.8 million strong.

"We were able to survive much longer than other people,” Davis said.

Davis does more than just survive, having found a recipe for success in specialization.

"I never thought I would be walking in the back door of restaurants and handing them samples of grass-fed beef, but that's what I did,” he said. "I think we have a three- to four-month waiting list for our beef, so that's not a bad thing."

The Davis' herd of Texas Longhorns is part of the Cattleman's Texas Longhorn Registry. That list promotes research and preserves the breed.