By Madeleine Bezner
From the Great Plains to the Gulf Coastal Plains of Texas, region diversity confirms that ranchers’ roles and unique management philosophies will always have a place in preserving Texas lands.
The San Pedro Ranch, located 30 miles southwest of Carrizo Springs, Texas, has been making the most of nature’s bounty by practicing holistic management practices since its establishment in 1932. Owners Joseph Fitzsimons, his sister, Pamela Fitzsimons Howard, and the ranch’s general manager, Dr. Chase Currie, continue this practice today.
Over the years, the San Pedro Ranch has evolved into the quintessence of land, cattle, and wildlife integration. “We work to manage the wildlife, cattle, and plant community as one unit, or holistically,” Dr. Currie said. “We use cattle as a tool to manage the vegetation and increase plant diversity; therefore, benefiting the wildlife.”
Conservation and Land Stewardship
The ranch’s philosophy is that working diligently to maximize native habitat in an ecological approach will ultimately benefit the livestock and wildlife. “Land stewardship and conservation are the foundation of our management philosophy,” Dr. Currie said.
“The land doesn’t know your intentions, the law, or regulations; it just knows the results of your actions, so if those practices move the land towards a stable, native plant community, then that is progress for the land and the wildlife,” Fitzsimons said.
The property sits on the edge of the Tamaulipan and Chihuahuan biotic provinces on top of an ancient sea bed along the Rio Grande River. This land is made up of five different soil orders, 23 ecological sites (many of which support transitional species of both provinces), and has been inhabited over time by four distinct cultural groups.
In December 2009, the ranch was placed under a conservation easement with Texas Agricultural Land Trust to ensure that the ranch remained an important ecological site and riparian corridor for all wildlife species. “We are very pleased with our relationship with the Texas Agricultural Land Trust,” Fitzsimons said.
Considering the multitude of natural resources that span the ranch, admirable land stewardship and conservation practices are in place. There is no doubt the employees at San Pedro Ranch are committed to the principles of holistic resource management and land stewardship. “Some employees have dedicated their life to the ranch, working here for over 35 years. Antonio Gallegos has worked on the ranch since 1980, and is, truly the backbone here at San Pedro,” Dr. Currie said.
Fitzsimons’ involvement with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department began at an early age. “I actually got started with Parks and Wildlife when I was 17, and I worked as an intern in the wildlife division,” Fitzsimons said. More recently, he served as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioner.
“I credit our successes to the work of people like our manager Chase Currie and our former managers, Mike McMurry and Daniel Boone,” Fitzsimons said. “Of course, I’ve benefited from all the advice from my friends at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.”
Howard said over the years the ranch has enjoyed cultivating partnerships with organizations like Holistic Resource Management, USDA, Soil Conservation Service, US Fish and Wildlife, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers, Beefmaster Breeders United, and National Cattlemen’s Association.
The Fitzsimons and Howard family’s land stewardship efforts have not gone unrecognized. In 2016, the ranch was awarded the Lone Star Land Steward Award for the South Texas Region, preceded by the Harvey Weil Sportsman Conservationists of the Year in 2015. In 2007 the San Pedro Ranch received the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Environmental Stewardship Award for Region IV and in 2005, the Outstanding Rangeland Stewardship Award.
Above all, the San Pedro Ranch uses its cattle as a land planning tool to move its grass succession forward. “We have seen this symbiotic relationship between livestock, the land, and the grass actually heal areas damaged by erosion or overgrazing,” Howard said. “It all comes down to the timing of the grazing and management of the herd on the land.”
Fitzsimons said in 1992 the ranch chose to incorporate the Beefmaster breed for its adaptability and reliability in the rough South Texas environment. “We believe in matching our cattle to our environment,” Fitzsimons said. “And the Beefmaster breed has fit the bill for us.”
The driving force behind the San Pedro Ranch is said to be its Beefmaster herd. From a land management tool to a quality food source for the world, the cattle contribute to the ranch in various ways. On the ranch, you will find 285 gentle Beefmaster cows and 14 herd sires.
“The Fitzsimons and Howards have worked very hard over the past 15 years to develop a herd of Beefmasters that require very little input and have a great disposition,” Dr. Currie said. “We have a 60-day breeding season in December and January and calve in September and October.” The herd sires on the ranch are San Pedro, Lasater Foundation Beefmasters, L Bar, and Frenzel bloodlines.
Recently, the ranch has narrowed its focus to the growth of their herd. “At this point, most of our heifer calves are retained as replacements as we are trying to build our herd to 350 to 400 females,” Dr. Currie said. “We breed our replacements each year at 13 to 14 months of age.”
Caring for the cattle is not taken lightly at the San Pedro Ranch. The San Pedro team values its time spent with the cattle on a daily basis. Dr. Currie said they move the cattle 50 to 60 times a year throughout the ranch, so the cattle have to be very gentle in order for them to easily gather the larger pastures.
Demand is important to profitability in the cattle industry; therefore, the ranch markets cattle through its website, Instagram page, and word of mouth. Dr. Currie said, “San Pedro Ranch partners with Lorenzo Lasater on our bull calves, which are sold in the spring and fall Isa Beefmaster Sales.”
Additionally, the ranch employs Ranch House Designs to oversee its marketing-related efforts, including a website the agency recently created. Joseph Fitzsimons said Ranch House Designs maintains the ranch’s user-friendly website, which helps with its exposure. “It shocks me how many people tell me they’ve seen our website and all the compliments we get on it,” he said.
Hunting on the Ranch
Nestled in the heart of the South Texas brush country, the ranch is home to white-tailed deer, Northern bobwhite and scaled quail, Rio Grande wild turkeys, collared peccaries (javelina), and a myriad of other wildlife species. Hunting plays a role in maintaining the wildlife, while contributing to the ranch’s holistic management beliefs.
San Pedro Ranch’s native habitat presents a platform for hunting wildlife, seasonally. Dr. Currie said approximately half of the land is leased for hunting purposes. “We have been very fortunate to have long term lessees, who are invested in our management philosophies,” he said. The ranch offers a limited number of white-tailed deer hunts each year. Particularly, the ranch hosts Wounded Warrior and youth hunts.
Family and the Future
Fitzsimons said family is a significant part of the operation and everyone contributes in their own way. “My grandfather and then my father operated the ranch,” Fitzsimons said. “I am the third generation, and now emerging is the fourth generation consisting of my children, nieces and nephews.”
The San Pedro Ranch was originally part of the Spanish Land Grant of 1812 before the Fitzsimons family purchased the property. Fitzsimons said the country was in the depths of the Depression and a number of ranches were for sale, so his grandfather, Hugh Fitzsimons Sr., bought the San Pedro in 1932. Joseph’s father, Hugh Fitzsimons Jr., recognized the importance of implementing a holistic approach in 1975.
The future at San Pedro Ranch remains bright as the ranch continues to convert sun, soil, water, plant, and livestock resources into a valuable food source. Fitzsimons said the ranch will always operate holistically. “It’s really been a great benefit for the family and for the ranch, and it’ll stay that way forever,” he said.