Always Improving the Land
Regenerative Ranching: A Family Tradition
Our family didn't start our ranch on the high plains of Texas. Our tradition of working with the land started in arid, high-altitude Taos, New Mexico.
My great great great grandfather and his brothers immigrated from Scotland and bought land outside of Taos, NM. They saw so many ranchers and farmers around them failing to adapt to their new home. The practices learned in water-plentiful Europe didn't work in New Mexico. My family chose slow improvement that worked with the land. They were in tune with the requirements of the fragile grassland. Care for the land extended to caring for wildlife. They innovated to keep water available for all wildlife and livestock.
My father took his family practices to the cattle-friendly climate of Texas.
Building the Soil
Healthy soil means less chemical intervention, varied grass, plentiful nutrients, and healthy animals. We use three main processes to support our soil: no till forage, plant cover with grasses, and soil testing.
No Till Forage
Nine years ago we added a variety of forage crops to work back into the soil and provide other nutrients for livestock. We added no till legumes, radishes, rye and other grasses into our pastures anytime when rain made it possible. This has improved our grassland without chemical fertilizers.
When we keep a certain amount of grass length above ground it keeps the roots healthy. And in our windy area, it catches sand and dirt that blows over the top from other farms and ranches.
We take soil samples to measure how our soil is fairing. This gives us insights that visual inspections don’t. Soil testing insures that we are improving—and if not—what we need to correct.
For Healthy Grazing
We put more cattle on smaller acreage. The cattle deposit manure, urine, and saliva completely across a small area. Rotational grazing is the best natural fertilizer. We move the cattle frequently, forcing them to eat everything, not just their favorite grasses. This promotes multi species grass growth, controls weeds, and fertilizes the land.
Plus, a varied diet makes for healthy, tasty, local grass fed beef!
Cotter Key Core Values
Do not ever overgraze land, it will ruin it.
Work hard, nothing is free—if it is, you probably don’t want it.
Use what you have, make it last, and take care of it.
Do not waste water, it is hard to come by.
Livestock comes first—not matter what. They rely on us to provide for them.
For Healthy Animals
Minimal Stress & Maximum Care
We love our animals.
From the time a calf is born on our land, we keep them with their mothers and have them regularly vaccinated. Their ear tag number is linked with their mom's. So, no matter where we move them, they are always reunited. We choose to band testicles at birth to make sure that there is as little pain and stress as possible.
Calves Stay with Moms
Our calves are only separated from their moms twice. At a month and half old we weigh them and give them EID tag carries their complete life history. At five months we freeze brand them. Our brand is registered in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. If one of our cows is in the wrong place, they will make it home. We choose freeze branding because it does not damage the hide, is less painful, and doesn't create an open wound. We tested this technique on ourselves to make sure it's actually minimally painful.
We are careful and conscious when we move cattle. We work with them daily, so they're used to us. We move our herds slowly and quietly—no yelling, no honking, no quick movements. Our cows trust us to move them to new pastures and sorting pens. Our cattle's good health is a direct result of our care and grazing.