Ryan, a fourth-generation farmer, cuts hay one warm, August evening. With the combination of creeping city limit signs and a diminishing pool of hired farmer hands in the area, the future of his family's ranch looks uncertain.
Frank, the Head Rancher of the Kaechele Ranch, and his son, Ryan, scale through the fields of the Texas prairie each morning as the sun rises above the horizon.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.
Frank and Ryan herd a cow into the barn in order to get vaccinated.
An Ankole-Watsui steer, also known as a Ankole Longhorn, restlessly stands in a pen under the main barn of the Kaechele Ranch during in the scorching summer heat.
With his father holding the gate, Ryan carries a calf in from a pasture early one morning. When he was a toddler, his first two words were "tractor" and "cow."
A calf anxiously paces across a pin in a local cattle auction. Frank has noticed a change in the area's cattle ranching culture over time, with increased use of electric cattle prods and machinery, among other things. The Texas cattle industry has become about quantity, he says. He tries to make his ranch still about quality, he says.
The daily weather forecast is irrelevant in their decision to work. Rain. Scorching temperatures. The plume of dust left after driving cattle during the dry months. It does not matter. They often work well into the night. "I think most people in the United States take food for granted," Frank said.
"The heat is bad, but the cold is worse," Frank said. "We have to go out there in the cold an rain, pick up a little baby, clean it up and give it milk."
Bonnie Reznicek brings lunch to her family nearly everyday. Her grandfather founded the ranch. As a child, she remembers coming home from school to go out to the barn to do her chores. She has spent her life living and and working on the ranch, just as her son now does the same.
Frank Reznicek, the head rancher at the Kaechele Ranch, and Dr. Carlos Bonnot assess the damage on a steer's hoof at the Wharton County Veterinary clinic in Wharton, Texas.
Ryan stares at cattle as they pass through the holding pen and return to the ranch's prairie land. Unlike his father, Ryan has spent almost his entire life on the ranch. His life and memories lie between each blade of grass, each hoof print in the ground.
"When I'm gone, I don't know how Ryan is going to work it [the ranch] by himself," Frank said. The worry is that cement roads will replace the seemingly endless gravel roads. The worry is that the connection with nature that comes with being stewards of the land will be replaced tract housing and massive housing developments. The worry is that his land, his life's work, and its history, will be forgotten.
Ryan Reznicek makes notes of cattle in the holding pen. When his dad retires, Ryan will most likely assume the role of Head Rancher.
"I worry about it every day, even though it's not mine," Frank said. "I would just hate to see what Bonnie's grandfather and dad, what they worked for all of their lives, turn out to be like Fulshear, Texas. I would just hate that. To me, that would be the worst thing."