Why This Texas Rancher Is Saying Hello to Goats, Orchards, and Campers

Emory Richey’s land in East Texas has been in his family since the 1960s. Though it has historically been a cattle ranch, Richey has turned part of the property into a successful Hipcamp campground called EcoRich, and he’s also focusing on additional sustainable — and fruitful — ventures: goats, sheep, and orchards.

Over the past seven years, Richey has turned his ranch into a “food forest,” testing out all types of trees to see which types will thrive best on his land. Among the hundreds of peach, pear, plum, pecan, walnut, and almond trees, pomegranates seem to be the top contender.

Richey was one of the first Texas landowners to list his property on Hipcamp as a site for campers to book. Starting with a single campsite, EcoRich is now home to five campsites, including Brookside Camp (which can host over 50 campers), a Glamping Tipi in an Orchard, and an Adobe Casita. We talked to Richey about why he’s diversifying the revenue he earns from his land as well as his favorite memories as a Hipcamp Host welcoming paying campers to his land.

Ancient Oaks, Emory’s first Hipcamp campsite, was profitable right away. (Photo by Matt MacDonald)

What makes the land special?

Hipcamp: Can you tell me about the history of your land and what makes it special?

Richey: I inherited it — it’s family land. My grandfather bought it back in the 1960s. It was settled in the 1850s. There was an old log cabin on it.

It’s always been a cattle ranch for at least the last half century or more. And now we’re transitioning more into the goats — we still have some cattle — but we’re also trying to figure out how to put orchards on it.

We’ve got a big test plot going where we’ve got all sorts of different things planted to try to figure out what really thrives and does well here. Right now it looks like pomegranates might be there in the top of the contending fruit.

The fruit trees have become a self-sustaining food forest

Hipcamp: What’s the best thing about having so many trees on your land?

Richey: We’ve got a food forest planted here. It’s an agriculture system where you hardly have to put any inputs in and the plant nitrogen fixers and the nutrient accumulators, and everything forms its own little ecosystem that just runs on its own. The only thing I really provide is water.

Trees are a longterm thing for sure, but I really love them. They’re beautiful. Plus, getting so much fresh fruit, we have more than we could ever eat. We always invite everybody over to share it. That’s another thing for campers on our land — if you come and stay in the campsites during the right time of year you can pick the excess fruit.

A camper enjoys picking blackberries from a tree on Richey’s Texas ranch and campground.(Photo by Shayna Frankenfield.)

“If I can do something I enjoy more than large-scale cattle ranching, and I’m making more money, why wouldn’t I do it?”

Hipcamp: What prompted the move away from a larger scale cattle operation?

Richey: A variety of things. Environmental, to diversify what we’re doing, also just money and profit. People think cattle is a profitable thing, and it’s really not. Plus you have to think about the lifestyle, too. It seems like I can do something that I would enjoy more and make more money doing it, so why wouldn’t I do it?

Hang out with farm animals, learn about trees, or float a private stretch of the river. (Photo by Shayna Frankenfield)

Diversifying from cattle to include goats, sheep, and campers

Hipcamp: You also have goats and sheep at EcoRich. Why’s that?

Richey: Cows have to be fed a whole lot during the winter, but for goats and sheep, I hardly feed them anything. Plus the market for those is much better. Cattle is an export market. We’re reliant upon exporting cattle into other countries and if you’re getting into any big trade issues then that market is really vulnerable.

For goats and sheep, in the US we currently have to import half of the goat that we consume and two-thirds of the sheep that we consume, so that market is internal, and it’s huge.

The biggest barrier for goats and sheep is that you have to increase the quality of your fencing. That’s a big upfront capital cost. A cow will be stopped by a five-strand barbed wire fence, maybe even three. For a goat, it takes nine to 10 strands.

Meeting goats while camping is seen as a plus by campers happy to pay to stay overnight on this Texas ranch. (Photo by Shayna Frankenfield.)

The goats and sheep eat the weeds and brush so it decreases the amount of herbicide and labor required

Hipcamp: What types of improvements have you seen on your land since moving away from cattle?

Richey: Another reason I went into goats is that they eat brush. Here, if we don’t control brush it will just completely take over. Historically, we’ve had to get bulldozers and push it all, which is expensive and it tears everything up, too. Or, you have to use poison which I don’t really want to do. I understand sometimes you have to use it, but I want to avoid it as much as possible and the goats are kind of like natural, fresh weed control.

Sheep are the same way. They eat more weeds than brush. So in your open fields where you have grasses, if weeds are coming in, sheep will actually go in and eat a lot of those weeds before they’ll even eat the grass so they don’t even compete with the cattle that much.

Basically, we’re going to be able to decrease the use of herbicides and decrease the amount of labor and expense that goes into controlling brush. Basically, we’re turning brush, which used to be an expense, into goats that we can sell. It’s definitely a win on that one.

And actually, that’s the way we used to do it back before all the new chemicals and new chemical companies came in. Goats and sheep used to be the way that you controlled brush. But now it’s become super easy to just pay a guy to come to spray everything.

Richey says he tries to meet 90-95 percent of his campers and take them on tours of his property if they’re interested. (Photo by Matthew Mac Donald)

Creating a campsite on your land can pay for itself in two weekends

Hipcamp: Over the years, you’ve added more and more campsites to your property. How has your campground grown over the years, and what’s your experience been like with Hipcamp?

Richey: I think I was one of the first sites on Hipcamp that was in Texas, and the experience has been good. It’s just such a small amount of any capital input in the very beginning. It pays for itself in, like, two weekends if you’re just putting in a picnic table and a little outhouse so I thought I’d add a few more.

Generally speaking, it’s pretty good for the amount of time put into it and then the amount of money you make. It’s a pretty good rate per hour of units of labor in.

Tipi in The Orchard campsite in Texas near Dinosaur Valley State Park. (Photo by Shayna Frankenfield)

Fun, memorable experiences with campers enjoying the land

Hipcamp: What’s been your most memorable experience with Hipcamp campers paying to stay on your land so far?

Richey: I had a group of Viking re-enactors come. There were 30 or 40 of them and they rented the site out to have a Viking battle out in the field. They all had shields and spears and swords and we’re all hitting each other and everything. That was pretty cool. They were all dressed up and drinking mead. It was legit.

Campers enjoy an afternoon at Brookside Camp on Richey’s land. (Photo by Shayna Frankenfield)

How to start earning extra money hosting campers on your land

Hipcamp partners with landowners (who become Hipcamp Hosts) to connect your property with folks who are looking for places to stay and camp outside to help you earn extra money. All you need to get started is a flat spot where someone can pitch a tent or park an RV, or a structure (such as a yurt, canvas tent, or tiny cabin) for them to spend the night in.

Want to earn extra income to help pay for property taxes, home expenses, and future dream projects? Learn more about becoming a Hipcamp Host. (Use the promo code JOURNAL and get an extra $100 when you host your first camper on your land.)

If you’re looking for more creative ideas for building structures and campsites to add to your land to enjoy and to help earn more income, check out The Top 7 Types of Campsites Generating Income on Hipcamp.

Julie is a journalist currently traveling the North American West.

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