Fayette County rancher’s efforts help the community and the environment

By Melissa Blair, USDA-NRCS public affairs specialist, Zone 3

For many hungry families in the area, the beef they received from the food bank or their church was a result of a Fayette County rancher’s big heart for charity and conservation. David Brooks, who owns the DDV Ranch, between La Grange and Schulenburg, with his wife, Darlene, and daughter, Victoria “Tori,” donated more than 23 head of cattle – more than 7,000 pounds of beef  – to feed needy families this summer and help with his conservation work on the ranch.

Left to right, Milton Koenning, Fayette SWCD and Glen Minzenmeyer, NRCS, present David Brooks, right, with a NRCS cooperative partnership sign for his conservation efforts on the DDV Ranch in Fayette County.

Brooks has been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) to improve the ranch through conservation planning since 2005, when he bought the original family land that his wife’s grandparents once owned.  He raises Longhorn cattle and hay on the 72 acres. Brooks who has lived in Houston since he was 5 has seen the city grow up around him and lose its rural area and so he was excited when the opportunity presented itself to start ranching, so the family splits their time between Houston and the ranch.

“The place was overgrown with weeds and needed a lot of work and for someone with background in economics and health care, I knew I would need some help to get the land back in shape,” said Brooks. “Working with NRCS staff they were able to share their knowledge, skills and tools with me, someone without an agricultural background, on how to take the land from where it was to where I wanted it.”

Just like other ranchers throughout Texas, Brooks was seeing the drought take its toll on available forage and water. So he visited with Glen Minzenmeyer with NRCS and Milton Koenning with the Fayette Soil and Water Conservation District to see what would be the best option for his land and cattle, with no end in sight for the drought.

“We had already worked with David to develop a conservation plan that included rotational grazing, cross-fencing, nutrient and pest management, along with a pond so he would have water for his different pastures,” said Minzemeyer. “With no end in sight for drought and to protect stunting future forage growth, we recommended decreasing his herd size.”

With hay prices skyrocketing and auction barns overloaded with cattle for sale, Brooks wasn’t for sure what to do at first when it was recommended he destock, so when Minzenmeyer recommended donating the cattle to food banks and church food pantries, Brooks jumped on it.

“The love of the land and my love of helping others made it the perfect solution,” said Brooks. “I have been active in helping people most of my life, from mission work in Cuba to serving on the mission board at church that helps in disaster response.”

Brooks was recently recognized for his volunteer work from AARP Services Inc. for his volunteer work in Houston and across Texas as the Central South District Coordinator for Disaster Response/Relief through The Texas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Brooks has provided training opportunities in disaster response, led response/relief efforts, and has participated as a member of the Texas Annual Conference Committee on Relief, a leadership group overseeing disaster response/reliefs efforts for United Methodists encompassing all of East Texas.

“My family and I have been blessed and so through this effort, I knew that I was not only going to help feed people who needed food, but it would also help my land and the environment by not continuing to overgraze, ” said Brooks. “Working with NRCS is like working with a good neighbor who is watching out for your best interests.”

Each summer the USDA-NRCS participates in the annual federal food drive called, “Feds Feeding Families” program and as a result of NRCS working with Brooks on the cattle donation, his 7,000 pounds of donated beef went toward the USDA’s goal of raising more than 1,791,393 pounds of food.

“At the beginning of the summer, USDA set a department-wide goal of contributing 500,000 pounds of food to the overall federal government goal of two million pounds,” said Salvador Salinas, NRCS state conservationist for Texas. “In the end, the generous donations of USDA employees and our customers such as Mr. Brooks and others throughout Texas and the US, helped USDA exceed their goal and the overall federal goal by raising a total of 5.97 million pounds of food.”

Brooks is a member of the Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Longhorn Breeders Association of America, and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

Brooks’ long term goals include acquiring more of his wife’s family land along Hwy 77 to make improvements and retiring one day to the family homestead.