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Texas Cowboy Wes O’Neal Named Working Cowboy Award Recipient

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Ranching Heritage Association will present award at National Golden Spur Award dinner October 15.

Wes O’Neal, a Texas cowboy who has worked on three of the largest and best-known ranches in the nation, will be the fourth recipient of the Ranching Heritage Association Working Cowboy Award during the 44th Annual National Golden Spur Award dinner at 6 p.m. Saturday, October 15 at the Overton Hotel in Lubbock.

“The Working Cowboy Award is designed to recognize an outstanding individual who makes his living primarily horseback caring for livestock on a daily basis,” said Jim Bret Campbell, director of the National Ranching Heritage Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. “Wes has spent nearly eight decades working for the W.T. Waggoner Estate, the JA Ranch and the Four Sixes Ranch.”

The Ranching Heritage Association (RHA), a nationwide non-profit membership organization supporting the programs of the center, sponsors the award on an annual basis to honor a working cowboy skilled in all aspects of ranch work and respected by the ranch crew and ranching community.

“Our Board of Directors believes it’s important to recognize those folks who brave all kinds of weather and conditions to ensure that work on a ranch gets done,” Campbell said, noting that award nominations for 88-year-old O’Neal described him as “the real deal” working cowboy who has served for decades as a role model for younger cowboys.

“Wes has left a lasting impression on all of us and left his mark at the Waggoner Estate and everywhere else he has been,” said A.B. (Buck) Wharton III, former owner of the W.T. Waggoner Estate. The Waggoner ranch grew to more than 520,000 acres spread over six Texas counties and was the nation’s largest ranch under one fence before being sold in 2016.

O’Neal worked at the W.T. Waggoner Estate for 58 uninterrupted years and served 12 years as Wagon Boss during his 17 years with the cattle operation. He spent 41 years with the Waggoner horse operation and 25 of those years as horse foreman directing the breeding of broodmares and stallions.

“His insight into breeding horses laid the groundwork for the W.T. Waggoner Estate being selected as having the best ranch horses in the country when it received the coveted American Quarter Horse Association Best Remuda Award in 1994,” Wharton said. “He traveled to Nashville to receive the award on behalf of the Waggoner Ranch.”

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Before O’Neal began working on the W.T. Waggoner Estate in 1957, he worked at the historic J.A. Ranch in the Texas Panhandle for seven years. Although his cowboy years have included three large ranches with thousands of cattle, cowboying began for him on small spreads breaking broncs when he was only 13 years old.

“I was born in Clarendon (Texas) on Nov. 30, 1933, right smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression,” O’Neal said. “There was no jobs and no money.” His father worked on the Mel B. Davis Ranch in the Panhandle but quit ranching for a higher paying job. Later when his father was sick and their house burned to the ground without the family saving anything, Wes and his brother Boots put up hay one summer pulling the machines with horse teams and then began breaking broncs for area ranchers.

“I tell everybody that I left school in the tenth grade because it was gettin’ in the way of my education,” Wes said, “but truly there wasn’t no money, Dad wasn’t workin’ and we had younger siblings at home. The RO Ranch was the first big bunch of horses we broke.”

Wes and Boots broke 20 broncs for the RO for $20 per head, pocketing $200 each (about $2,400 today). Then Wes went to work for two smaller ranches before joining Boots at the JA Ranch, which was established in 1875 as the first ranch in the Texas Panhandle. Wes eventually became Wagon Boss for the JA before working for the W.T. Waggoner Estate until it sold. Today he lives in Holliday, Texas, and day works for the Four Sixes Ranch near Guthrie, Texas.

“If you’re gonna cowboy,” Wes said, “you accept the fact that you ain’t gonna ever be rich and you’re gonna get injured from time to time, but the trade-off is worth it to me. You’re not punchin’ no eight- to-five-time clock, and you get to see some beautiful sunrises sittin’ on your horse. As Buster Welch says, ‘That’s the best seat in the house.’”

To register for the National Golden Spur Award dinner, call Vicki Quinn-Williams at 806-834-0469 or register online at raqnchingheritage.org/spur. Reservations are required by Thursday, October 6. Tickets are $95 for RHA members, $125 for non-members, $2,500 choice table for eight, and $5,000 prime table for eight.

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Farm & Ranch

Mammals and Avian Influenza

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By Barry Whitworth, DVM

At the writing of this article, High Path Avian Influenza (HPAI) H5N1 has been detected in more than 83 million domestic poultry in the United States. The outbreak includes commercial and backyard flocks.

Most people are aware that poultry may succumb to Avian Influenza but may not know that other animals can be infected with the virus. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a variety of mammals have been infected with Avian Influenza H5N1 in the U.S.

The list of more than 200 mammals includes bears, foxes, skunks, coyotes, etc. Even marine animals such as dolphins and seals have been found with the virus. Current Avian Influenza H5N1 infections in poultry, mammals, and livestock in the U.S. can be found at the Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza website at https://www.aphis.usda.gov/livestock-poultry-disease/avian/avian-influenza/hpai-detections.

Recently, ruminants have been diagnosed with Avian Influenza H5N1 in the U.S. The World Organization for Animal Health reported that neonatal goats displaying neurological clinical signs and death were positive for Avian Influenza.

To read more, pick up a copy of the May issue of NTFR magazine. To subscribe by mail, call 940-872-5922.

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Farm & Ranch

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

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By Rayford Pullen | [email protected]

When May arrives, we start thinking about weed control. With two years of drought under our belts, grass grazed short and hay stocks depleted, what we do now will influence our forage conditions for the entire year. With 75 percent of our annual warm season forages made by July 15 in North Texas, we need to get the grass growing while the sun shines.

Speaking of the sun shining, the biggest deterrent to growing lots of grass is restricted sunlight, and the biggest sun blockers we have are weeds.

Have you noticed weeds are normally just slightly taller than your grass and are probably blocking 90 percent of the sunlight from reaching the grass itself? So obviously, we need to improve conditions, so sunlight reaches the plants we want to grow.

With grass extremely short, more sunlight is hitting the soil surface now, which in turn results in more weed seed germinating. With the moisture we have received, we expect an abundance of weeds this year.

To read more, pick up a copy of the May issue of NTFR magazine. To subscribe by mail, call 940-872-5922.

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Farm & Ranch

Land Market Report: March Land Sales

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By Jared Groce

Rural land sales are continuing on a steady pace for early spring, with prices holding very strong with the sell-to-list price ratios remaining very high, even on properties that have been on the market for a longer than usual time period. The total number of transactions are picking up once again as the spring selling season kicks off, and the average acreage continues to decrease.

Larger acreage properties seem to be in higher demand than smaller properties currently, with many buyers simply parking cash in real estate to hedge against inflation. Interest rates seem to have settled down and most experts agree that rates will be reduced by the fed this year. Some lenders have programs in place that allow the buyer to reduce their rates without having to go through a full refinance ordeal.

To read more, pick up a copy of the May issue of NTFR magazine. To subscribe by mail, call 940-872-5922.

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