One week after he got married and a couple of days after his honeymoon, Williamson County Agriculture Extension Agent Cooper Terrill spent a week in Brazoria County helping people and livestock in the aftermath of a historic flood that displaced thousands of animals and hundreds of people. But he never felt sorry for himself over the turn of events.
Terrill’s empathies were with the people and animals affected by the flood, which put much of the county’s residential and agricultural land under water. And in Brazoria County, he found fellow Extension agents with the same sensibilities. More than 20 Extension agents from South and Central Texas showed up to help the local agents bring order to the chaos and reunite animals and people.
“The first thing you noticed when you got there was how well organized everything was,” Terrill said. “It was a terrible situation, but the (Brazoria County) agents had things well under control.”
The Extension agents ran a livestock supply checkpoint where some people donated hay and feed and others came by and picked it up because their animals had nothing else to eat. A disaster veterinarian team from Texas A&M arrived to treat animals injured, sick or otherwise suffering from the effects of being in water for days with nothing to eat.
The agents dealt with cows, horses, pigs and goats, along with one Barbados sheep that wandered in. Local volunteers helped out with hundreds of suddenly homeless dogs and cats.
In some ways, Terrill, 31, has been preparing for the job he has now and the week he spent in Brazoria County his whole life. He grew up near Willow City outside of Fredericksburg. His family didn’t farm or ranch, but all the families around him did. Terrill came of age helping out on those ranches and learning about agriculture from the ground up. That he became an Extension agent isn’t much of a stretch.
The thing that drew Terrill in was the animals, and he had the desire that everybody who loves animals has — he wanted to help them.
“I was never happier than when I was in the field with the cows,” he said.
Before he was old enough to get paid, Terrill volunteered to help veterinarians in Gillespie County, and he grew up wanting to follow in their footsteps. He went to Texas A&M with hopes of becoming a veterinarian, but when that didn’t work out he studied microbiology and took animal science courses from Professor Ted Friend.
After graduating from A&M with a master’s degree in animal sciences, Terrill went to work designing feedlots and other livestock facilities and did some consulting on the side. So there he was, helping people and animals. The logical next step was to become an Extension agent.
His first job with Extension was in Falls County, where he handled 4-H and agriculture — everything except Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS). Ninety-eight percent of Falls County is agricultural land, and the people tend toward the agricultural as well.
Williamson County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, represents a different challenge for Terrill. Over the last five years, Williamson’s population ranks as the sixth-fastest growing in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county added 19,086 new people last year alone, and 85,901 residents from 2010 to July 1, 2015.
The rapid population growth, especially in the western part of the county, sometimes overwhelms the other end of the county, which is more rural and where farmers and livestock raisers still outnumber newcomers.
According to the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS), Williamson County farmers planted 84,800 acres of corn last year, 11,900 acres of cotton and 13,900 acres of sorghum, along with 31,000 acres of winter wheat. Williamson County is also home to 73,000 cattle, according to NASS.
“Agriculture is still more important to this county than a lot of people realize,” Terrill said. “I want to bring back the row crop tours and beef cattle programs. We’ll still have the pecan field days and horticulture programs, but I also want to make true agriculture more visible here.”