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Drought prompts shift from row crops to cattle

Limited irrigation compounded by drought drives a Plains, Texas, couple to shift from row crop production to raising Angus-Akaushi cattle.

Laurie Martin, Freelancer

May 3, 2024

11 Slides

Drought, coupled with limited irrigation, has prompted a shift on Rustin and Kristin Knight’s farm near Plains, Texas. Over the last five years, the couple has transitioned from growing cotton and peanuts to raising Angus cattle and, most recently, introducing Wagyu genetics into the herd.

“We’ve had some really bad drought years recently,” Rustin said. “So those years, paired with the lowering water table, made me start looking into cattle.”

The couple, whose farm is called R&K Farms, had primarily produced row crops while also growing feed for a Terry County dairy. When the dairy closed, Rustin started talking to other farmers and ranchers about what it was like to run beef cattle in West Texas. 


“We did not make the decision to shift into cattle lightly,” Rustin said. “While my dad had owned a small herd while I was growing up, we knew it would be a learning process to get back into it. Plus, we would be doing it on a much larger scale. But I’m fortunate to know a lot of good people, and I’m not afraid to ask questions.”

Kristin said it was intimidating to think about making such a big change, but they didn’t see how focusing only on row crops was going to be sustainable in the long run. Rustin’s questions ultimately led to starting with a commercial Angus herd.

Then, three years ago, with hopes of strengthening their breeding program, they purchased their first Akaushi bull. According to the American Akaushi Association, Akaushi cattle is a Wagyu breed that are consistently known for its premium grade due to the meat’s distinct marbling and intense flavor.

Since introducing Wagyu genetics into their herd, they have consistently had low birth weight calves, a trait desirable for their first- and second-time bred cows.

“We calved out about 70 head last season and did not have to pull a single calf,” Rustin said, “That was unheard of for us, especially when we were exclusively breeding Angus bulls.”

As the record keeper, Kristin said she has noticed that the half-Angus, half-Akaushi cattle also seem to have stronger immune systems, requiring less doctoring in between the scheduled cattle workings.

Forage production

R&K Farms still grows crops, but forage has become the focus, planting mostly millet in the summer and barley in the winter.

“Forage crops that can also go to silage grow well with the amount of water we have,” Rustin said. “We are so dry, so we are just concentrating on what allows us to best manage our inputs.”


The couple plans to plant some pivots back into grass. They’re also considering experimenting with crops such as black-eyed peas that can be grazed if untimely weather prevents them from being harvested.

Rustin acknowledged it can be hard to make cattle work financially if you mainly lease land, but they are fortunate to be operating mostly on owned land, purchased by his father when he farmed.

Prime beef

The Knights sell their crossbred cattle to Flying M Beef, which feeds them out for 300 days before processing them for meat. Most recently, 90% of the Knight's beef graded prime.

The couple repurchases meat to stock their freezer. Both said they can tell a difference in taste and quality, especially in the meat that is considered “bottom” cuts.


“A good steak is a good steak, whether it is Angus or Wagyu,” Kristin said. “But I can really tell a difference in the ground beef, fajita meat, and even a chuck eye steak. I’m not going back to Angus after we finish what is in our freezer.”

From humorous tales of chasing loose cattle to watching a newborn calf stand on wobbly legs for the first time, the Knights are glad they took that leap of faith five years ago. They look forward to the future and seeing where their cattle operation takes them.

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