By Gary Cutrer
Published August 2012
Longtime ag educator Gil Engdahl of San Angelo has been elected to lead Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association as president for the August 2012 through July 2013 year. Engdahl has served on the faculty of the Agriculture Department at Angelo State University since 1976 and served as head of the department from 1997 until June 2012.
During his tenure at ASU, he has seen the number of students with agriculture majors grow from a freshman class size of about 20 students in 1976 to around 190 freshmen entering school this academic year.
Engdahl brings his knowledge of sheep and goats and agriculture background to the job as president of TSGRA, along with his skill in the psychology of relating to people. His easy going nature has served him well as he has counseled and advised students over the years and worked with faculty members of ASU’s ag department as well as with ASU administrators and staff.
Son of the late Raymond and LoRea Engdahl, Gil was born and raised in Brady, Texas. The family soon moved to their stock farm between Brady and Melvin where Gil learned the ropes of the livestock business. The family always ran a few cows and 500 to 600 mostly Rambouillet ewes, Engdahl said, which kept him busy with the ‘ings — drenching, castrating, shearing, lambing, and so on.
“I don’t know how many sheep I’ve drenched or how many tails I’ve cut off or how many animals I’ve castrated over the years, but it would be a bunch,” he said.
That farming and ranching background and experience led Engdahl to attend Texas A&M University where he earned a bachelor’s of science degree in animal science in 1967 and then a master’s degree in animal science and animal production in 1970. The university at the time would encourage students to obtain a doctorate degree if they were planning to go into the extension service or work in research, Engdahl said, so he pursued a Ph.D. in ruminant nutrition and was awarded a doctorate degree in 1976.
From 1967 until 1976, he worked at A&M as a graduate assistant and as a research associate while completing his doctoral work. While at A&M Gil met and married his wife, Sue. They will celebrate their 44th wedding anniversary this month.
Gil and Sue have two grown children, daughter Alison and son Clay. Alison and husband Bryant Williams have given them three grandchildren.
Engdahl was hired by Angelo State to help build their sheep and goat program. He went to work for Dr. Leon Holland, who was the head of the agriculture department at the time. Holland had worked on developing ASU’s Management, Instruction and Research Center (MIR Center) and the ASU ranch. The MIR Center had been dedicated and opened just a year before Engdahl arrived.
Engdahl said Holland showed him the facility and the small flock of Rambouillets the university owned and said that in addition to helping design a sheep and goat curriculum, he would be improving the ASU sheep flock.
“I thought they were all right, a good place to start,” Engdahl said about the sheep. “Then Dr. Holland took me into a lab that was totally vacant. He said, ‘We’re going to make a nutrition lab out of this and you’re going to put it together.’” Engdahl said he looked at the big empty room and wondered how he was going to do that. “That was pretty much a shock,” he said. “The sheep and goat part didn’t bother me, but that. . . And we got it put together. We couldn’t do it all at once, we didn’t have enough money.”
In addition to planning the nutrition lab and buying and installing equipment, Engdahl worked on developing courses with emphasis on small ruminants, especially sheep and goats. He taught nutrition courses and sheep and goat science to undergraduates. And, he took on the task of coaching the wool judging and livestock judging teams for ASU. It was a busy career.
“I think I’d been here less than a year and they added a master’s program on top of the relatively recent undergrad program,” he said.
As the agriculture program grew at ASU and the sheep and goat curriculum progressed, word got around about the quality of the program and its graduates. More and more students began coming to ASU to study in the agriculture program.
“The numbers kept growing steadily. Then along about 1997 it really took off. Now we’re up to probably 400 student majors,” Engdahl said. “I’d like to say it’s because we have a good program. The more you do, the more your students are out there (in the work force), you gradually get more and more students aware of the program.”
Engdahl also credited the work of ASU recruiters who visit high schools to encourage top students to consider Angelo State as one of their options.
Back in the 1970s, when he started at ASU, a good majority of the ag majors came from an agriculture background, where the family owned and worked a farm or livestock ranching operation, Engdahl said.
“A lot of the kids today just don’t have that background,” he added. “The backgrounds of the students we get are more along the lines of FFA and 4-H as opposed to being raised on a working farm or ranch. We just don’t have very large numbers of those types of students anymore.”
Surprisingly, a good number of ag freshmen attending ASU these days come from San Antonio and towns along the I35 corridor, which have vocational ag programs and strong FFA clubs. Although they are from the city, these students have a strong desire for an agriculture career and many of them choose ASU because of its ag program and the fact that it’s a smaller, more one on one with the professors.
ASU’s ag program offers students who were not raised on a farm or ranch quite a bit of hands-on agriculture experience, Engdahl said.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good, practical program, teaching all the aspects about sheep and goats in a way that those kids have a hands-on experience,” he said. “Sometimes educators don’t do that because they don’t have the facilities or because their class sizes are so large they’ve given up on the idea of trying to have labs, and I think that is a real shame.”
A vital part of that hands-on experience is the MIR Center and the university ranch. The MIR Center is located off U.S. Highway 87 North just outside of San Angelo. On 6,000 acres of land leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ASU raises small herds of cattle, sheep and goats. A fairly recent addition to the MIR Center is a full meats lab that allows meat science students to observe and participate in carcass evaluation and harvesting animals. The resulting meat cuts are packaged and sold to the public at the lab’s meat market.
“If you’re going to have a university that teaches sheep and goats they need to not just have Rambouillets,” he said. The ASU ranch has a breeding group of Angoras, about 50 Boer goats and Angoras, and they run more than 100 Rambouillets and 50 Suffolks. “Not as many as we once did, because of the drought,” Engdahl said. “Like everybody else we had to cut back.” They also have a collection of hair sheep.
Engdahl is proud of the quality of the ASU Rambouillet herd. Many ASU rams over the years have been entered and done well in the Sonora Ram Performance Test conducted by Texas AgriLife Research and Extension. And Engdahl and the other faculty members of the agriculture department have quite a few customers who buy rams at the ranch each year.
“It was a lot of fun building that up,” he said. “We started out with next to nothing and ended up with some pretty good Rambouillets, I think with help of many Texas Rambouillet breeders.”
Engdahl’s other accomplishments are evident on the walls and shelves of his office at Angelo State. Plaques and certificates celebrate his service to FFA and 4-H clubs, Angelo State’s Block and Bridle Club, which he helped start, and the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo. He’s also amassed an interesting collection of sheep—carved wooden sheep, ceramic sheep, bronze sheep and plastic sheep—that adorn his office.
Sheep and goats are an important part of his life, though he no longer owns livestock. Engdahl still has the family stock farm at Brady but he leases it out. For a couple of years after his dad had passed away, Gil had tried to continue raising cattle and sheep on the family place, but the operation conflicted with his hectic schedule at ASU—teaching, research, coaching judging teams, advising students—were too much of a drain on his energy.
“I woke up one night sliding sideways in a ditch,” he said, deadpan. He had gone to sleep while driving back to San Angelo from Brady. “I thought, ‘You know, I don’t think I’m going to do this anymore,’” Engdahl said. He decided to give up ranching for himself and concentrate on doing his job well at Angelo State.
Gil said his dad was a member of Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers and really liked the organization.
“It’s a great, great honor to even have been thought about being selected as an officer of sheep and goat raisers,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good people in Sheep and Goat Raisers. We’ve got the salt of the earth. They’re not afraid to get dirty.”
During his term as TSGRA president Gil said he hopes to continue working closely with producers and help them with any problems they may have, and to keep them informed about what’s going on. Front and center at the moment is congress’s work on the pending farm bill, he said. At presstime for this magazine it looked as though the Senate version of the farm bill would not have as drastic funding cuts as had been anticipated for entities such as Wildlife Services, he said. The question remains, Engdahl said, “What’s the government going to do and where are we going to end up?”