Disappearing Breed

Allison Hess

2014 - 2016

Texas, United States

Ryan Reznicek’s first two words were “tractor” and “cow.” He started riding a horse when he was three years old.

Everyday, Reznicek, now 24 years old, works alongside his father, Frank, the head rancher at the Kaechele Ranch.

The Kaechele Ranch was founded in 1899 by the grandfather of Frank’s wife, Bonnie. The 13,000-acre ranch in Southeast Texas is located along the San Bernard River where the Austin, Colorado, and Wharton County lines meet. It has withstood the turn of the 20th century, two world wars, a depression, and the ownership across three generations.

Rain. Scorching temperatures. The plume of dust left after driving cattle during months without rain. It does not matter. The father and son team scale through fields of the Texas prairie, just as the sun rises each morning, and often work well into the night.

“I think that most people in the United States take food for granted,” Frank said. “The heat is bad, but the cold is worse. We have to go out out there in the cold and the rain, pick up a little baby, clean it off, warm it up, and give it milk.”

Since its founding more than 115 years ago, things have changed on the ranch. Fields originally inhabited with a single breed of cattle are now populated with several. Branding is done with a squeeze-box instead of by hand.

However, the Rezniceks always work their cattle on the backs of unnamed horses, rather than all-terrain vehicles and other four-wheeled alternatives. Bonnie still brings them lunch nearly every afternoon. Windmills that have withstood decades still turn with each gust of wind that blusters across the vast grassland.

Even though things have changed subtly for the Rezniceks and their ranch, the same cannot be said for their outlying community. A new obstacle has surfaced for Frank and his family. The city of Houston is located just 45 miles east, and its metropolitan area rapidly grows in their direction each year.

Frank says that they receive calls from developers almost every week, inquiring about whether the family is looking to sell in the near future. He worries about the future of his ranch almost every day.

With the combination of creeping city limits and the amount of hired-labor work diminishing in the area, the future of their ranch looks uncertain.

“Labor has been a problem in the last ten years. Everyone works in the city now. Nobody works on the farms. When I’m gone, I don’t know how Ryan is going to work it [the ranch] by himself.”

The worry is that gravel roads will be replaced with cement ones. The worry is that the sense of genuine freedom that comes with being surrounding by stewards of the land will be replaced with tract housing and massive housing developments.

His fear is that his land, his life’s work and history, would be forgotten.

“I worry about it everyday, even though it’s not mine,” Frank said. “I just would really hate to see this ranch in houses. To me, that would be the worst thing.”

He and his ranch represent many farmers in the area who fear that their lifestyle may soon become a thing of the past.

“If each generation does their part in managing the ranch and their income, then I don’t think the next generation will have anything to worry about,” he said. “But it’s always the prior generation that needs to do their job and instill in the next generation what needs to be done. In that case, there would never be a need to sell.”

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