England Cattle Company Continues Farming & Ranching Heritage
Mike England grew up on the Rio Grande, a “river rat,’’ as he put is, fishing as he pleased and hearing cantina music waft over from Rio Rico.
“It was like putting a radio to your ear,’’ he said of the music that would make its way across the river from the Mexican border community. “My brother and I would sit in our backyard and just listen to it.’’
England grew up south of Mercedes in an area he calls Las Pompas. The pumps of the irrigation districts that would draw water from the river and distribute it to farmers and cities. Canals and irrigation channels were everywhere in his youth – and so was fishing. He saw a business opportunity as a boy, trapping minnows in large jars and selling them as bait to fishing enthusiasts who flocked to the area on weekends.
“Great place to grow up,’’ England said. “I loved it.’’
The pull of the rural life has been with England all his life. He tried college, but knew where his real interests lay. He went into ranching and farming as a young man, working for years at Starr County ranches. England returned fulltime to the Mid-Valley in the 1980s to pursue his agricultural aspirations on a grander scale north of Mercedes.
Mike’s wife, Elizabeth “Cricket’’ Schwarz England, is a descendant of a pioneering Mercedes family that came to the city not long after its founding in the early 1900s. The Schwarz family’s origins are German, and lived in Anahuac in southeast Texas before arriving in the Mercedes area and establishing the community of Heidelberg.
The community lives on to this day on Mile 2 East Road. A sign by Expressway 77/83 not far from the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets points the way to the England Cattle Company. There you will find Mike England in his office – four miles from the expressway and less than that from Heidelberg on Mile 2 East – sitting in a converted 1920s-era barn with two active ranch dogs jumping around the premises.
The Mercedes-based company prides itself on the registered Brahman cattle it raises and sells throughout the country and the world. England’s company has 500 head of cattle and farms 5000 acres of cotton, corn, milo grain and sugar cane.
“We’ve grown just about a little bit of everything,’’ said England, who can also draw upon the years his farming operation grew a wide array of vegetable crops, “from pickles to peppers’’ is how he described it.
For a handful of months every year, England heads upstate to harvest cotton in the Uvalde area, in what he calls “custom harvesting.’’ Growers pay him to use his equipment and expertise to gather the crop and prepare it for market.
“The most rewarding thing for me is the friendships I’ve made and the many good people I’ve met,’’ he said of the custom harvesting work in other parts of Texas.
England went into farming with his father-in-law over 30 years ago and would expand operations and ambitions in setting up England Cattle Company in a part of the Valley where the Schwarz family first started farming over 100 years ago. Mike describes this swath of the Valley – from the expressway north down Mile 2 E to FM 491 and on to state Highway 186 near Raymondville – as one of last remaining areas in the region that is still agriculturally based.
It is a history and heritage England is intensely proud and working to continue with his son, Benton, who is a ranch manager in continuing a family lineage in agriculture.
“It’s not an easy life,’’ England said. “You need to be a person of faith because so many aspects of what you do depend on God above. We love it and we’re out here in a very unique area of the Valley.’’
- Ricardo D. Cavazos