It’s not out of character for agriculturalists to be in touch with the land. However, amongst this diverse population, you find agrarians who view its capabilities and longevity in unison, understanding the responsibility to sustain one of earth’s largest and highly coveted commodities. The Wuest family has been doing just this for more than 100 years near San Antonio, Texas.
The Love of the Land
Since 1883, the Wuest family property has been used primarily for ranchland and managed for the family’s cattle operation and later goat operation. Their property claims home to Natural Bridge Caverns and the cave system that Texans travel far and wide to experience.
“By being stewards of Natural Bridge Caverns, we became more conscientious of the relationship between the subsurface and the surface. By stewarding the cave system below, we also wanted to be good stewards of the land on the surface,” says Brad Wuest. “Our focus shifted from practices that were only for livestock, to practices that were also best for the habitat and wildlife who call the ranch home.”
The Wuest family incorporates a wildlife managing system on their ranch, administering supplemental feeding for deer and an additional wild turkey population.
“We’ve worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and participated in programs for successfully clearing Ashe Juniper to restore native grasses to the area,” says Wuest.
The roots of these native grasses are now growing as they did hundreds of years ago. These healthy grass systems in turn have been beneficial to both the quail and small mammal populations.
Along with work done with NRCS, the Wuests also incorporate a rotational grazing program amongst their cattle operation.
“We are mindful of stocking rates of cattle to make sure we run an appropriate amount of cattle for the land to support. We rotate cattle through pastureland and then let areas rest for about a year. This lets native grasses rebound and thrive.”
In addition to supporting the benefits of the ecosystem, the Wuests are also working with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to manage invasive species, including cowbird trapping and the management of the feral hog population.
The Cave System
The Wuest family’s heritage is in the ranching business but over the years, they have also developed into the nature tourism business. In 1960, Natural Bridge Caverns were discovered.
“There were four students from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio who were cave explorers. They were visiting nearby looking for caves, and they were told about the big sink hole on the Wuest Ranch. After getting directions to our property, they spoke to my grandmother who gave them permission to go exploring. She was running the ranch with my father and his sister.”
“My father showed them the sink hole. At that time only one room of the cave had been discovered. They then made the big discovery. It’s incredible, the risks my family took to build it up to be a very successful nature tourism tract in Texas. We have taken that legacy and built upon it by adding attractions and expanding,” says Wuest.
“The future is taking this incredible natural resource that we have the privilege of stewarding and remembering that’s where it all started.”
It’s all in the Family
The Wuest family came to Texas in 1845, as one of the founders of New Braunfels. Through a series of land acquisition over the last 100 years, the family now owns their current ranch property. Brad and his brother Travis are the 5th generation who have managed the ranch with their children on deck to be the 6th generation.
Over the past 20 years, Capital Farm Credit has been the initial relationship needed to acquire land for the Wuests.
“Capital Farm Credit is so willing to work with us. Y’all refinance when it makes sense, revalue and release collateral when it can be done. It has been so helpful for us. We really appreciate all that. We were able to close deals on original family property. Wonderful experience with our CFC relationship.”
When asked what the future looks like for the Wuest family, Brad says, “Each generation has a responsibility and an opportunity to carry on the family legacy and build upon what the previous generation did.”
“We do what we do because we have a passion for it. My parents instilled an appreciation and a love for this resource. We love this land that we live on. It has been such a blessing. We feel incredibly honored to carry on a family legacy. It is important to all of us that we continue to pass this on from generation to generation, doing everything we can to instill the love of this resource in our children the way our parents and grandparents did for us, so they will be ready and willing to take the reins.”
The Wuest Family was the recipient of the Lone Star Land Steward Award from Texas Parks & Wildlife in May 2022, for their conservation measures practiced on their ranch in their ecoregion.
More information on Natural Bridge Caverns can be found here.