ALLEN ESSEX

Valley Morning Star via Associated Press

SAN PERLITA, Texas (AP) -- Jerry K. Taylor has learned a lot about life while sitting on a saddle riding the range and traveling over dirt roads in a pickup.

He's been working ranches for more than six decades. He began helping on his father's ranch near Coleman when he was about 5 years old.

"The first time I went out on the chuck wagon, I was 12 years old," Taylor said. "I cut my first wheat field out in Coleman County in 1959, when I was a sophomore at Texas A&M."

The 72-year-old has seen some tough times, particularly in his early years of ranching an area in Coleman County, about 50 miles southeast of Abilene.

"The coyotes, mountain lions and bobcats got so bad, they broke us," he said. "I went hunting me a job; it was that or starve."

His wife was teaching at the time, "and made about $300 a month and that's what we lived on."

But Taylor took what he learned from those hard years and built a successful career overseeing South Texas cattle ranches, which he's done for decades.

Now he's letting go of some of that workload.

He's retiring as general manager of the massive HP El Sauz Ranch in eastern Willacy County, the HP El Panal Ranch in Starr County and the Little Star Ranch.

Taylor, who has overseen the HP El Sauz Ranch for more than 30 years, will remain as an adviser to the three ranches, he said.

He and wife Ruth Ann have two daughters, Betsy and Jody, and five grandchildren. Betsy and Jody attended San Perlita High School and both graduated from Texas A&M University.

The Taylors will still have their own ranching, farming and business operations to oversee near Coleman.

"My family's almost all gone but I married a Coleman girl and she's still got some family there. We inherited land from both sides of the family and we bought land, enough to put a pretty nice place together," he said. "I've had a (ranching) partner since 1972. We operate quite a bit of leased land in Coleman County," he said of their farming and ranching operations.

Helen Pinnell owns HP El Sauz Ranch and HP El Panal Ranch in Starr County, which Taylor said she inherited from the Atwood branch of the King Ranch.

Capt. Richard King started putting a ranch together in about 1876. In 1935, the King Ranch was divided and the HP El Sauz Ranch is the southern portion, Taylor said.

Originally the area was a grant from the King of Spain, Taylor said.

"This is the San Juan de Carricitos land grant," he said. "In 1793, King Carlos III of Spain ceded this land to a fellow named Cavazos. But he didn't specify the acres, or hectares, or whatever they used, so they let Mr. Cavazos survey it himself and he came up with about 500,000 acres," Taylor said, chuckling. "If they had given him some more time, he would have got it all. It's the biggest land grant in Texas."

Over the past few weeks Taylor has been sorting through 30 years of documents and mementoes stored in his office at the El Sauz Ranch. The boxes contain a flood of memories of good years and tough times.

He earned a bachelor's degree in animal husbandry in 1962 from Texas A&M College and a master's in animal science in 1964 from Texas A&M University.

After wrecking his knees, first on the high school football field and later as a rodeo cowboy at A&M, he failed his Army physical exam twice because of his knees, so he couldn't go to the Vietnam War, Taylor said.

"I was in steer wrestlin' and that's pretty hard on the knees."

Now, after artificial hip surgery, he must use a cane and can't walk very far, he said. "But it will get better."

Although Taylor has his university degrees, he learned even more while riding the range.

"When I came here, they had Santa Gertrudis (cattle) and we kind of evolved them into Beefmasters," he said. "South Texas cross-bred cattle is what they are."

The cattle on the El Sauz Ranch are bred for scorching South Texas summers, he said. "Beefmaster has some Brahman influence in them and Brahman is a subtropical breed, from India."

Taylor was out at the Coleman ranch just recently.

"It's southeast of Abilene about 50 miles," he said. "We were out there this weekend and got a wonderful rain. It rained all day Saturday. . It's been a tough year," he said of the long Texas drought.

Today's South Texas rancher faces more difficulties than drought, he said. Ranchers must diversify, and avoid debt whenever possible, to survive, he said.

The high costs of motor fuel, propane gas, electricity, equipment, cattle feed, Texas-size pickup trucks that cost $40,000 each, all keep going up, as well as groceries, clothing and everything else, he said.

So, operating a hunting lease, having oil and gas operations and wildlife management is necessary for cash flow reasons, Taylor said.

Before taking charge at the HP El Sauz Ranch, Taylor was general manager of six South Texas ranches for the Paul F. Barnhart family for 12 years.

For several years, the HP El Sauz Ranch tried shrimp farming, but competition from Asia ended that endeavor, he said.

But Taylor is optimistic about the future of ranching.

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Information from: Valley Morning Star, http://www.valleystar.com

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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