Henry Ortega, Jr.

Ortega Ranch

18 Ortega Jr, Henry photo1 Henery Ortega Junior.jpg

Henry Ortega Jr. was born and raised in Sweetwater, Texas. His interest in ranching began while riding with his dad to help deliver feed to local ranches.

 

After high school, Ortega attended Texas State Technical College (TSTC) and obtained a degree in automotive mechanics. In 1984, Henry married his wife Deanna and began teaching automotive technologies at TSTC.

 

In 1985, a Hispanic rancher asked Ortega if he would like to lease 100 acres and buy 13 cows and a bull. Ortega saw this as an opportunity to return to his childhood love for ranching.

 

“There were very few minorities in our county in the ’80s, and even fewer minority farmers and ranchers,” Ortega said. “There were a lot of people who supported me, and it seemed like God put the land in front of me without me having to search for it like others were.”

 

There weren’t many opportunities for Hispanics to run livestock on their own land, as long-term ranchers often passed land down to the next generation.

 

In 1989, a local rancher asked Ortega if he would be interested in purchasing some land close to where Ortega lived.

 

“At that time, I didn’t have the money, but the rancher offered to self-finance, which was such a gift from God,” explained Ortega. “Working in the automotive field for so long, I got to know the owner of the local NAPA store, and the owner asked me if I would like to lease his ranch.”

 

Ortega jumped on these opportunities while facing many struggles — dealing with drought and tanks going dry, hauling water, buying feed and hay, and selling some of his stock to keep the land healthy and to make ends meet.

 

“The Natural Resources Conservation Service became another resource that helped me take my ranching to the stewardship level and start thinking about longevity and conservation,” said Ortega. “Through the help of my local district conservationist, we were able to develop a conservation plan and get it implemented through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.”

 

The hardest challenge Ortega faced was his wife not understanding why he would put so much time and money into something he didn’t have to do. She saw his cattle as an expensive hobby. In 2017, the couple attended the Minority Landowner magazine annual meeting, which opened her eyes and changed her way of thinking. She finally understood the importance of ranching and why her husband enjoyed it so much.

 

Today, Ortega runs 75 cow-calf pairs and a bull on 1,520 acres of rangeland and 200 acres of cropland. His wife and father help him feed and work cattle. He believes that not everything you do in life is about the money, but instead the good it does for your soul.

 

Selected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service – Texas

Mandi M. Ligon, NRCS District Conservationist