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Exotic Hoofstock

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Arabian oryx antelope originally from the Arabian peninsula. Photo courtesy Gary Ploch, Patio Ranch.

Year-Round Hunting Means Extra Ranch Income
But Handling and Management Require Effort

By Chester Sanders

Published September 2010

The morning mist is clearing the rim-rock and the cold brisk wind in my face is hardly noticeable. Looking for a flash of color, sillhouete or any movement that would quiet my opening day jitters of this mule-deer season, I cant help but be awed as I take in the scenery below,

Auodad sheep from North Africa. Source: Wikipedia Commons under GPL.“Ka-Bloom, thud” the crack of a rifle and the distinctive sound of the bullet finding its target rings out to  my right about 300 yards. I quickly put my rifle up and scope my kill sector for any escaped quarry from the lucky devils to the right of me, anxiously awaiting any sign of  movement or sound that would allow me an opportunity for a shot. A few minutes later I pack up and head for the other hunters to see what they have downed,

”Hey that doesn’t look like any mule-deer I’ve ever seen,” I say.

“Its an aoudad,” my father yells out too me.

“A who-dad?” I yell back. An aoudad, it turns out is a big horn sheep from the barbary region of North Africa. It was introduced to the United States in the 1950s when some ranchers from New Mexico decided to augment their hunting wildlife with hopes of bringing in revenue for the state. They thrive in our dry climate and are very adaptable to most regions with rugged terrain and cliffs or rock outcrops.

Addax antelope, a native of north Africa and relatively endangered there. Photo courtesy Gary Ploch, Patio Ranch. There is no season on them in West Texas. In the northern Panhandle they have proliferated to the point where a season has been put on them so they can manage them. They are very competitive at feeders and could probably cause a rift in native eco-system if left unchecked.

This was my first experience with exotic game other than seeing them on ranches off the highway, or at a zoo. This poses another question, how many different types of exotics are there in Texas and where can they be found?

I visited with several exotic game ranchers in Central and West Texas to get their input on the welfare and state of exotic wildlife ranching in Texas—Gary Ploch, Ranch Manager of the Patio Ranch in Hunt; Terry Caffey of the Caffey Bar 6 Game Ranch in Eden; Dan Whiteley, head foreman of the Heart of the Lonestar Ranch at Eden; and Chase Akin who operates a successful exotic game ranch near Christoval and a helicopter wildlife capture business.

Barasingha male or “bull,” a species of deer native to India. Photo courtesy Gary Ploch, Patio Ranch. The Patio Ranch holds the distinguished honor of  being the first Exotic Game Ranch in Texas. Established in the 1930s by Richard Friedrich, a businessman in San Antonio. He served as President of the San Antonio Zoological Society, and had a keen interest in wildlife. He purchased several species of exotics from the San Antonio Zoo as they had surplus animals and after high fencing a part of his ranch, an industry that still thrives today was born. The ranch has changed hands many times and is currently owned and operated by the H.E Sturmberg family.

Gary Ploch, ranch manager, says Patio Ranch offers a different hunting experience.

Their hunts can range from one-day hunts to an extended hunting expedition with top chefs who will cook an exquisite meal, top of the line accommodations in the hunting lodge and experienced guides. Ploch says Patio Ranch emphasizes being good stewards of the land, treating the animals with respect and dignity and educating their visitors about the animals.

Two Nubian Ibex, natives of the Arabian peninsula and the Israel/Jordan region, flank a Markhor, a wild goat  from the northern Afghanistan/Pakistan area. Photo courtesy Gary Ploch, Patio Ranch. “We hope that generations to come will be able to enjoy the beauty, gracefulness and majesty of these animals,” he adds.

Patio Ranch is currently stocked with addax, aoudads, Arabian oryx, Barashinga deer, blackbuck antelope, eland, fallow deer and sika deer among other species.

The Patio Ranch raises and sells live exotics to other ranches to improve existing herds with quality animals. They can help start ranchers out with their first game-ranch.

The Caffey Bar 6 Game Ranch is located in Eden, Texas. Terry and his wife Bonnie have lived in Eden all their lives. They have been in the exotic game ranching business for 30 years or more. Together with their son, Dale Caffey, they bring 50 years of experience to the game.

A flying gemsbok prepares to “land” during a capture on the Akin Ranch south of Christoval, Texas. Photo by Gary Cutrer. Whether you’re looking to find out about exotic ranching or want to purchase wild livestock they can put you on the right track.Terry is currently serving as vice president of the Exotic Wildlife Association.

In 1967, a group of concerned ranchers with a vision for the future of the exotic wildlife industry, met to form an organization that later became the EWA. The EWA is now the oldest and most successful wildlife ranching organization in the United States. The association’s stated purpose is to preserve the rights of exotic wildlife owners and to promote the development and expansion of the exotic wildlife industry.

Terry was honored in 2005 when he was inducted to EWA’s Hall of Fame for his dedication and contributions to this industry. Through years of trial and error, failures and successes, Terry and Dale have learned the DOs and DON’Ts of the exotic game ranching business. They are there to help you if you’re thinking of starting a business of your own. They have compiled a list of questions you would want to answer before investing time and money into an exotics venture.:

  • How many animals can I put on the amount of land I have?
  • What types of animals do best in my region of the country?
  • What types of facilities do I need?
  • What types of materials can I use to build fencing and how high should it be?
  • What do I feed the animals?
  • Do I need to supplement animal nutrition based on my range land?
  • Do I need water tanks or can I use natural water shed for my animals?
  • Are certain grasses better than others for the species of animal that I am raising?
  • Can I continue to raise traditional livestock along with exotics on the same land?
  • Do I need to “doctor” exotic animals as with traditional livestock?
  • When I am ready to sell an animal, how do I catch it?

Before takeoff the copter is loaded with these packed nets that are shot from the air to capture an animal. Terry and Dale can help you answer these questions. They are specialists in every aspect of the business from production and sale of exotic stock to breeding and raising animals for hunting purposes to the harvesting and marketing of wild game livestock for meat sales.

You can visit their web-site address www.CaffeyBar6ExoticGameRanch.com for more information and contacts.  

One thing that distinguishes exotics from traditional livestock is the difficulty in handling the animals. Even though they are classified as normal livestock, you have to remember they’re still wild animals. There is some argument among exotic ranchers as to the best way to handle the animals. Just like cattle and sheep these animals occasionally need to be worked; at some point they have to be herded and penned. Some ranches have state of the art capture facilities and round up animals using 4-wheelers.This has proven too be fairly efficient, but time consuming, plus you have to have a sizeable crew available.

Pilot Dusty Whitaker and Chase Akin, along with two helpers, take off to find and net exotic antelope on the Akin Ranch. Another method is shoot the animal with a tranquilizer. There, you run the risk of injury, it’s time consuming, and there’s a limited number of animals you can work through in a day. A tried and true method is aerial round up and capture with nets.

If you don’t happen to own a helicopter you can always hire it done, which is what most ranchers do.

Chase Akin an exotic game rancher in Christoval, Texas, invited us to his ranch to view such an operation. Chase owns and operates a wildlife capture business  in addition to running an exotics ranch. He captures and supplies livestock to about 40 ranches throughout Texas.

In mid August we showed up to witness an aerial capture. We arrived about sun-up and after a brief introduction and explanation of what was about to take place, we saw and heard the helicopter coming in.

What seemed to be chaos and confusion was actually well planned and coordinated teamwork between pilot and ground crew. Soon the chopper took off in a whirl of dust and the ground crew went about necessary support tasks, readying the trailer for loading of animals, packing new nets into a short cannon apparatus that fires the nets from the copter and reeling out fuel hoses for the re-fueling of the helicopter on its return.

Soon we heard the wop-wop-wop- of the chopper, we looked up and saw some flying antelopes coming over the horizon. They reminded me of the “Flying Nun,” if you remember that TV series. Suspended from a sling apparutus beneath the helicopter were two bull addix, neatly trussed up with hog-ties and net.

The chopper descended effortlessly to the appropriate trailer met by ground crew who quickly delivered animals to safety, picked them up and onto the trailer, untied their feet and secured them, unharmed, into a trailer compartment.

An exotic antelope sails over the mesquite treetops. After refueling the “Flight of the Antelope” was again underway. After a few minutes the scenerio was repeated again with no injuries or mishaps.

I visited with Trapper Burkett from Fredericksburg, who provides the ground crew and all the equipment needed for the operation. He’s been working with Chase on animal captures for about a year.

“I’ve been in this business since I was 14 years old,” Trapper says. “My father Joe Burkett was one of the first guys to use this method of coordinated work with ground crew and pilots, and we’ve gotten it down to a science. I think of myself as a modern day cowboy—instead of horses we use helicopters and four-wheelers, and nets instead of lariats.”

Dan Whiteley, the foreman on the Heart of The Lonestar Ranch, was very instrumental in this story coming together. He put me in touch with the right people in the telling of this story. When asked what the future holds for this industry, each rancher we talked to had the same sentiments. Gary Plogh says it best, “Treat the animals with dignity and respect be good stewards of the land and these animals will be around for our grandchildren’s children.”


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