By Larry Stalcup
The Davis Mountains of West Texas have been home to Robert E. “Bobby” McKnight Jr. all his life. Bobby is the seventh generation in his family to be involved in ranching, and his wife, Lynda, “the best partner a guy could ever have,” he says, also has generations of history with beef cattle production.
He has practical experience with day-to-day ranching, a deep understanding of the business and financial aspects of ranching, and a great appreciation for the history of ranching.
He is a strong supporter of a robust agricultural community in the U.S. and of strong trade relationships with diverse international partners.
This experience will serve McKnight well during his term as president of Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), the beef cattle association formed in 1877 to support the interests of ranchers through law enforcement, representation to policymakers, and education.
McKnight’s family has been active in ranching more than 150 years and started making their way west nearly 200 years ago.
“My grandmother’s side of the family was among 300 families who came to Texas with Stephen F. Austin in 1825. One of my ancestors was Amy White, a widow with 13 children,” McKnight says.
“My grandfather’s family, the McKnights, came here from Tennessee after the Civil War. The McKnight family migrated across West Texas and settled in Fort Davis. I’ve spent my whole life in the Davis Mountains.”
Their association with TSCRA can be traced by to the early 1900s. “We got involved early,” McKnight says. “I had a great-uncle who was on the Executive Committee in 1911. He was a progressive cattleman — experimenting with cattle performance and genetics even back then.” McKnight is the fourth generation of his family to be involved in the leadership of TSCRA.
McKnight Ranches raises registered Hereford and Angus cattle and runs a commercial cow-calf operation and stocker operation in West Texas. “The country around Fort Davis is a high-desert climate. It’s grama grass country, which really works for cattle when we get a little rain,” he says.
McKnight grew up on the ranch and learned much from his father. He studied business at Texas Christian University. After earning his degree, he returned to the ranch and began assuming more responsibilities.
He learned about the many services and programs TSCRA offered ranchers and began to increase his involvement with the association.
“I learned early on that one of the most important parts of being a TSCRA member is the opportunity to network with other ranchers who face many of the same situations we see at our ranch,” he says, encouraging all livestock producers to take advantage of the knowledge-sharing and fellowship TSCRA offers.
McKnight became a director in 1989 and has served on several TSCRA committees. He was elected second vice president in 2014, and then first vice president in 2016. At the 2018 Cattle Raisers Convention in Fort Worth, he accepted the president’s gavel from outgoing president Richard Thorpe, Winters.
Salute to TSCRA Services
Like other TSCRA members, McKnight appreciates the association’s many services. “We have a great insurance program that offers ranch families security in many areas of ranch operations and family affairs,” he says. “Our group policies stack up against those from any other livestock association.”
While the protections provided by TSCRA insurance are important, McKnight says the services by the association’s special rangers to help prevent cattle rustling and other ranch-related thefts are a major reason why so many producers become TSCRA members.
“That’s probably the backbone of our association,” he says. “TSCRA special rangers are certified peace officers who patrol all regions of Texas and Oklahoma. They are commissioned by the Texas Department of Public Safety or the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Some of our special rangers are dually commissioned and able to investigate agricultural theft cases in both states.
TSCRA special rangers investigate more than 1,000 cases of agricultural theft each year and recover approximately $5 million in assets for TSCRA members and non-members.
“They work directly with local and regional law enforcement agencies to collar cattle thieves and those who steal or damage other ranch property,” he says.
Special rangers also help protect ranchers from theft by pursuing white-collar criminals who commit agricultural fraud. “Falsified cattle purchases or sales can wreck a ranch’s finances just as easily as the theft of calves from a pasture,” McKnight points out. “It’s important for all of us to use common sense and take steps to ensure that all cattle transactions are verified and legal.”
His family has always made sure that every animal in the herd is branded, probably the most effective way of helping identify stolen or lost cattle. “Branding your cattle is essential,” he says. “Any type of tagging is good, but the most difficult form of cattle identification to alter is a fire- or freeze-brand.
“You hope you don’t have a theft, but branded cattle are the easiest to get back if they go missing. We’ve had a situation in which our cattle got out and were mixed with neighbor’s cattle. With our brand, we easily sorted them back into our pastures and pens.”
Cattle brands are registered with the County Clerk’s office of the county in which your cattle are run. There is no state-wide brand registry. Click here for more information on registering your brand.
The Cattle Raisers’ voice in Washington, D.C., and Austin
McKnight notes that when he looks back through family papers, he has noticed that not much has changed about the issues ranchers face when dealing with policymakers and regulatory agencies.
Government staffers and elected officials mean well, but often have little understanding of the stewardship work and environmental improvements ranchers carry out on their lands. With too many continued regulatory threats that can invade private property rights, McKnight says it’s vital that TSCRA maintain a strong legislative and public policy staff.
“We are fortunate to have such a dedicated staff in Austin to monitor issues through the Texas Legislature, as well as the issues we see in the Halls of Congress and through regulatory agencies in Washington, D.C.,” he says. “The TSCRA staff and members of our policy committees join other state and national cattle groups to oppose proposals and regulations that are unworkable out on the land, and to create positive change to protect ranchers’ ability to produce beef for a world of consumers.”
Tax relief has always been a goal of TSCRA. “We have been very active in promoting a repeal of the estate tax,” McKnight says. “We realize this will likely always be a fight. There will always be forces that want to maintain and increase state and federal taxes. The TSCRA legislative arm will be ready to oppose unfair policies that infringe on our rights and ability to conduct business.”
International trade is always an important issue. McKnight and other TSCRA officers help carry beef’s message to U.S. trade negotiators. “Growth of our industry depends on trade. Only 4 percent of the world’s beef consumers live in the U.S., meaning 96 percent of the consumers of our product are outside our borders,” he says. “Ranchers, cattle feeders and others in the industry are up to the task of providing the high-quality source of protein that is now being sought in other countries.
“We believe our message has been received by people in Washington, that fair and workable agreements are vital to our industry and all of agriculture,” he says.
TSCRA staff and volunteers work with other agriculture groups to inform and educate the public about the value of beef in a balanced diet, about the environmental benefits of ranching, and about the industry-directed Beef Quality Assurance program that educates ranchers in the best practices for managing the health and well-being of their cattle.
“For decades, activist groups have criticized animal agriculture and have made false claims against us. I encourage the owners of any species of livestock to take it upon themselves to become an activist on behalf of agriculture. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn as much as you can about your segment of agriculture, and the value of agriculture to our country. Then be prepared to share your story with those who don’t understand what you produce or why you do it.”
National and Texas beef checkoffs are working
One of the most useful tools for telling the positive story of beef has been the beef checkoff.
“There’s no denying the beef checkoff is working well,” McKnight explains. “The numbers don’t lie. We receive numerous benefits from what the checkoff systems provide through beef research and market development. The national checkoff is beneficial for everyone in the cattle business.”
New cuts of meat and numerous new uses and recipes for beef come from checkoff-supported research conducted by scientists, dieticians, and chefs. “Also, a lot of our beef exports are the result of checkoff dollars helping drive research and promotion of U.S. beef in markets all over the world,” he says.
He points out, however, that the $1 per head checkoff approved by cattle producers and feeders in the 1980s doesn’t go nearly as far today. “Additional checkoff dollars are needed through state checkoffs like ours in Texas,” he says. “Our checkoff enables us to develop programs to reach key consumer groups, such as millennials, who are now the nation’s largest age group. Social media campaigns supported by the checkoff help us communicate more easily with these and all other consumer groups.
“Again, we must all make a point to inform others of how agriculture works and how farmers and ranchers are among the most dedicated stewards of the soil,” McKnight says. He relays his own experience as a member of the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank El Paso District.
“It was a great experience being on the Fed’s El Paso district board,” McKnight said. “It was certainly educational. They are a diverse group, people from all types of businesses and organizations.”
He explains that the Federal Reserve has 2 main areas of interest — price stability and full employment. “It was an honor to represent agriculture on the board. Agriculture jobs produce the food that helps to keep our country secure. Agriculture provides 1 in 6 jobs in Texas. We definitely bring something to the table as far as employment is concerned. Being able to shine a light on how food and fiber are produced helps in any situation.”
Leadership and volunteerism
McKnight has worked closely with Past-President Pete Bonds, Immediate Past-President Richard Thorpe III, Hughes Abell, now first vice-president, and Arthur Uhl, second vice president, the committee chairs and members, the board of directors and the TSCRA staff
“It’s an honor to work with all of these leaders. They represent a diverse set of skills that TSCRA needs. We are very lucky to have these types of people who are willing to volunteer their time to serve as leaders in TSCRA.”
This type of leadership illustrates the power of strong volunteerism in keeping TSCRA a successful association. “Membership involvement has kept our association at the forefront of national cattle groups,” he says. “I encourage more members to get involved in the TSCRA committees.”
Those committees are Agriculture Research and Education; Cattle Health and Well-being; Law Enforcement; Marketing and Transportation; Natural Resources and Wildlife; and Property Rights and Tax.
“Many of our members have expertise in one or more of these areas,” McKnight says, “and all of us are impacted by actions that involve these committees.
“It’s important for all of us to get together with TSCRA’s great staff in Fort Worth and Austin to explore and engage in programs that can enhance our ranching way of life. TSCRA’s Ranch Gathering programs enable us to network with other association members and discuss any number of issues and TSCRA services.
“TSCRA is our vehicle to help drive our industry in the right direction. We’re all fortunate to have such an association, one that has been helping cattle producers more than 140 years.”