I'm a Drover: Leadership through unity

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With an eye toward industry unity and capitalizing on opportunities to strengthen state-national relationships among cattle industry organizations, as well as herd expansion potential, fifth-generation Texas cattleman Bob McCan is preparing to take the reins as president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) at the Cattle Industry Convention in February.

Bob McCan McFaddin Enterprises Texas McCan’s ascension to NCBA’s top volunteer-leader position did not happen overnight. Since the early 1990s, McCan has held leadership positions in state organizations and NCBA, as well as various conservation boards and advisory committees. “I was president of our state affiliate, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, about 10 years ago, as my grandfather and great uncle were in the past, so I had a history there and it was a natural progression for me. I grew up in the environment of advocacy work for the cattle industry.”

McCan and his wife Julie have two children, Robert August and Mary Isabel. They will be the sixth generation of the family to work on McFaddin Enterprises.

The McCan family ranching operation, McFaddin Enterprises, is comprised of three ranches located in Victoria, Refugio and Bee counties in southeast Texas. “We run a purebred commercial Braford cow-calf operation and have for many, many years. We sell Braford bulls, replacement heifers and feeder steers.” Also part of McFaddin Enterprises is a large recreational hunting enterprise on the properties managed by the McCan family.

McFaddin Enterprises currently consists of approximately 3,500 female cows, down from a high of about 5,000 females prior to droughts beginning in 2011. “We had to decrease numbers. We had to decrease stocking rates considerably. We have a protocol for what to do when we get into situations when we know we’re lacking moisture and when we know we’re losing range condition.”

McCan says they sold older, less-productive cattle and also moved a lot of cattle off the Enterprise operation to leased land to avoid a more significant sell-off . Moisture in 2012 and 2013 allowed McCan to bring many of the cattle back to the ranch. “We feel like we are kind of in a rebuilding stage right now, and hopefully Mother Nature will smile on us and keep sending some moisture so that we can continue to rebuild. I would hope that for the industry in general because I think across the nation we have that same issue.”

In addition to increased moisture, McCan says current domestic and international export markets are providing good incentive for herd expansion. “I think cattlemen across the country all have it in the back of their minds that we need to get this cattle herd back up to some sustainable numbers because if we don’t, if it continues to decrease, we don’t want our products to become so much of a luxury item that consumers, not only our domestic consumers but also some of our international consumers in markets we have worked so hard to open, are going to back away from it.”

Part of managing a successful ranching operation is managing the land and its resources. Almost 20 years ago, McCan says they implemented a grazing-rotation program at the ranch in Victoria County that has benefited not only the cattle operation but the wildlife operation as well through range condition improvement and wildlife habitat improvement. Since then, similar programs have been implemented on all McFaddin Enterprise properties. “I always say if you have a healthy ecosystem, you will have a productive ecosystem and environment. That’s what we strive for in our operation.”

As McCan prepares for his year of service, he is not naïve to the fact that there will be challenges he will face, including ongoing challenges from animal- rights activist organizations. But he says part of overcoming those challenges means working with like-minded agricultural organizations.

“The activists’ agenda is going to become more strident and better funded. We need to be as proactive as we can be and promote our industry, our lifestyle  and the best management practices thatcattlemen employ.”

McCan is the fifth generation in his family to operate McFaddin Enterprises in southeast Texas. His son Robert August, pictured with Bob, will be the sixth generation on the ranch. Recognizing that this task is bigger than the cattle industry alone, McCan says it will be crucial for NCBA to work with other agricultural  organizations and groups like the U.S.Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. “It’s so different from when I was going up. Chicken and pork were kind of bad words, but now we can sit down at the table, talk to those producers and work together on issues that affect us all. We are going to have to make sure we have good relationships going forward because they’re not only attacking the beef industry, they’re attacking agriculture in general.”

McCan will spend a significant portion of his term as president on the road, meeting with cattle industry organizations across the country and internationally. While this will create a challenge in managing the day-to-day operations at the ranch, it gives him a great sense of pride in and confidence about the industry as he meets with cattlemen and women across the country.

McCan says he is a big believer in continuing to improve relationships between state affiliates and NCBA, as well as between individual state beef councils and the Federation of State Beef Councils. “Cattlemen are some of the greatest folks on earth. We have a lot of issues in common and a lot of differences, but there are always commonalities that we can work on. I think the more connectivity we have in those state-national relationships, the stronger industry we are going to have and we’ll be able to overcome a lot of obstacles.” There will be travel. There will be speeches and media interviews.

There will be meetings and non-stop work to help promote and grow the U.S. beef cattle industry. But for McCan, one word, unity, sums up his top priority as NCBA president. “Unity is important for a lot of different reasons. We are going to have our differences in this industry. We just need to make sure we don’t obsess over those differences and that we can work those differences out within the industry.”


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