Matt and Christy Brown treat their business associates|
with courtesy and their livestock with care!
By Scott Campbell, Publisher, © 2003
(Reprinted with permission from Ranch and Rural Living)
ELDORADO, TEXAS -- Matt and Christy Brown are setting a good example for other ranchers dealing in today's diversifying ranching industry. Not only do they keep up with developments and new technology, but they graciously open their doors to visitors and deal with others in a courteous, hospitable manner. Besides raising their three children -- Courtney, Lauren, and Wes, -- the Browns are successfully raising and marketing their Beefmaster cattle and meat goats.
Settled in the Central Texas town of Eldorado, the Browns are exactly where they want to be. Early in their marriage Matt and Christy decided they wanted to raise their family in a small community setting. Both were raised in ranching families. Although Matt lived in Houston as a boy, he spent a great deal of time with his great uncle, well-known ranchman Watt Reynolds Matthews of Albany, Texas, on Matthews' Lambshead Ranch. Christy was raised on a cattle ranch in New Mexico.
"I gained a great deal of my basic skills and knowledge from those early experiences at Lambshead Ranch," said Matt. "Each summer my grandmother, Sallie Reynolds Matthews Judd would load me up and take me to the ranch at Albany. I worked for Watt for years out on Lambshead. After graduating from Texas Tech I went to work for my cousin, Laurie Lasater (a well-known Beefmaster cattleman)." That job with Lasater is what brought the Browns to the Eldorado area in 1976. Matt worked with Lasater for about 10 years and then leased the T-Circle Ranch at Eldorado from some acquaintances in Houston.
After several years of leasing land and building up their own ranching business, Matt and Christy purchased a ranch and home north of Eldorado where they now live. Early-on they named their operation "Trueheart," which also serves as a prefix to their Beefmaster and goat businesses. The Trueheart name comes from Matt's father's side of the family.
"My father Jos. C. Brown and I are partners," Matt explained. "His great grandfather John Overton Trueheart served in one of the first Texas Ranger companies under the famous John Coffee "Jack" Hays in 1841. Then Dad's grandfather, Henry Martyn Trueheart of Galveston served with the 7th Virginia Cavalry Regiment under Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's Cavalry Division then later became a member of McNeill's Rangers who operated behind enemy lines in the Civil War on the Virginia-Maryland border.
Henry Martyn Trueheart, after the war, returned to Galveston and went into the real estate business and had a ranch just outside of Ft. Davis. The ranch house is still there and has become a bed and breakfast as well as a historical landmark. In the center of town there is a sign saying 'Trueheart House,' which is seven blocks from the court house. In Galveston his old office, the Trueheart-Adriance building is also a Texas historical landmark. A book of my Great Grandfathers and his brother Charles William Trueheart's letters to each other during the civil war was published in 1995 by the Texas A&M Press (edited by Edward B. Williams) and titled 'Rebel Brothers,The Civil War letters of the Truehearts'."
Much of the knowledge and skill for managing their operation, Matt explained, comes from experience and the study of Holistic Resource Management as applied to grazing livestock. Matt breaks his operation down into six areas of equal importance: Grazing and land and wildlife management; financial management; livestock handling; marketing; health; breeding and selection.
"These six areas have remained the points we try to concentrate on to change and improve our operations," he said. "We have added the word wildlife to the first area because it is now such an important part of resource management." Matt was inspired to raise Beefmasters through his association with Lasater and even more so after reading Lasater's book, "The Lasater Philosophy of Cattle Raising."
"I believe in the philosophy and the whole thought process behind that. When we went out on our own, we bought a small herd of purebred Beefmaster cattle and my dad and I run about 150 Beefmaster cows together. Every year we artificially inseminate our best 50 producing cows to the best bulls we can find in the breed."
A large part of what makes the Brown's program work, said Matt, is their involvement with the Central Texas Beefmaster Breeders - Beefmaster Beef "On" Forage Bull Sale. "Through that marketing program we have a ready market for our bulls," he said. "As soon as we wean our calves, those bulls go right on pasture with all the other bulls in the sale." Under the direction of Gary Frenzel, the program involves many prominent Beefmaster breeders besides Matt. The forage gain test measures the bull's ability to gain weight on forage. As the price of grain rises it is becoming more costly to utilize feedlots, so it is important to be able to raise your cattle strictly on forage. "Participating in the program gives us a better indication of the animal's ability to convert forage to beef," said Matt. Statistics are gathered periodically on each bull and values as well as ratios for Average Daily Gain (ADG) and Weight per Day of Age (WDA) are calculated based on these statistics. These numbers quantify the bull's performance and are provided prospective buyers at the sale each October.
Besides providing an outlet to sell his best bulls, Matt is also able to purchase other top bulls for his own herd through the Beefmaster Beef "On" Forage Bull Sale. Matt also sells 20-30 females every year, but most of the females he raises go back into the herd, other than those that don't produce. The Browns sell from 25-40 bulls every year, depending on the conditions. Although many advancements have been made in the ranching business even during the years Matt and Christy have been in business, Matt said it is important to maintain a focus on the basic selection guidelines -- the six essentials -- for the Beefmaster breed, developed by Tom Lasater.
"The new technologies and tools developed through the years have only strengthened our efforts to apply them to both our cattle and meat goats," said Matt.
The six essentials are: 1. Disposition -- wild or nervous animals are culled. Emphasis is placed on animals that are gentle and easy to handle. 2. Fertility -- Animals that fail to breed in a short period of time and raise offspring are culled. 3. Weight -- All replacements are selected for heavy weaning weight and further selection of yearling weights are considered. 4. Conformation -- Selection for heavy muscling and good structure are emphasized. 5. Hardiness -- Only animals that require a minimum of supplemental feeding or other inputs are kept for replacements or stud. 6. Milk Production -- All replacement animals are selected for good milking ability but they cannot have large sagging udders or large teats.
"In the cattle industry, we've lost a lot of market share to other red meats -- particularly pork and chicken," Matt said. "It's been very difficult. We've been fighting an uphill battle. I believe the housewife wants a tender juicy (consistent) product and we have not been able to give her that. There is some new technology coming that will help us. I don't think we've been getting accurate assessments of the nutritional value of beef. I think we've got a lot of vegetarians that have criticized beef and it's not accurate. There have been recalls of hamburger meat and the media has blown that up out of proportion and we're losing markets because of those kinds of incidents."
Brown's Goat Business "Our ranching business started as a stocker operation -- steers, heifers, lambs and a few hair goats," Matt said. "We began looking at the Spanish meat goat market (in about 1989-90). The meat goat business looked good on paper so we decided to get into that. We felt we could apply the same management philosophy we use with our cattle to our goat operation."
Part of the reason goats looked favorable to Matt was they would not compete with the cattle. "We bought 500 nannies in 1990 (through Odus Wittenburg of San Angelo) and that was our entry into the meat goat business," Matt said. "Then we went to Jim Willingham at Uvalde and bought 12 (Spanish) bucks, breeding them to those nannies. We sold that first kid crop to a buyer in California and hit a real good lick on those." The Californian found out about the Browns through a mutual acquaintance and had contacted them.
"We started shipping goats out there to him and he was pretty pleased," Matt recalled. That was all the incentive Matt needed to get deeper into the goat business. "We started applying the same management philosophy to our goats that we do to our Beefmasters," Matt said. "Through culling -- anything that didn't breed or raise a kid we got rid of -- and we started buying Jim Willingham nannies. We bought 300 or so from Jim over the years and incorporated them into our herd, and we also used Jim Willingham bucks. That was the basis for our genetics. We also used some Robert Kensing billies as well."
In 1993-94, the Boer interest kicked in. "That created just a tremendous demand for our Spanish nannies," Matt said. "We had good sales during those early years. We bought our first Boer goats as frozen embryos from New Zealand. That's how we got started with Boers. Now we have probably more percentage and full-blood Boers than Spanish. The Boers added a lot of meat to our goats and we like their disposition." In 1995 the Browns bought some more frozen embryos from Australia.
"We applied the same philosophy that we use with our cattle to our goats and it has worked out very well," Matt said. "I don't feel the goats compete with cattle or sheep as much as the sheep and cattle compete against each other, so it's a good fit."
Based on what Matt has seen around the U.S. and especially in his area, he believes the goat business is long-term. The problem now, he said, is there is not enough production to supply the markets -- especially the east and west coast markets. "There can be some markets developed right here at home if we promote goat meat properly," Matt said. "There can be a huge market just for the everyday housewife, especially if she knows the nutritional value of goat. Not only is it good to eat, but it's good for you."
Some large retail grocery outlets already offer a variety of cooked meats such as beef briskets and Matt believes offering goat meat in a cooked (ready to serve) form might be a good idea. "Now with Ranchers Lamb (at San Angelo) building a new fabrication facility some of the better carcasses could be fabricated and sold as retail cuts as well," he said. "Most of the goat meat currently is being sold to the ethnic market. I know some of the San Antonio, Houston and Dallas restaurants sell goat meat and that's the way we need to introduce the public to it, but there is a lot of potential out there for the product and it's here to stay."
Matt said the industry is just in its infancy and more breeders are needed to produce more volume year-round. Because of numerous changes in the ranching business in recent years, Matt believes the meat goat business offers much to traditional ranch operations looking to diversify. "There are many traditional sheep people who have sold sheep numbers down and diversified with goats because they realize the value in the goat market and the sheep market has been declining. It has been a tough uphill battle for the sheep people. Goats are not quite as much work, the income can be more because often you have a higher percentage kid crop and you can do as well or better than you can with lamb considering the higher volume. So I think we're seeing a gradual shift of just sheep to a larger mix of sheep and goats or goats and cattle." The Browns have customers in California, Georgia, Mexico, the Caribbean and about every state surrounding Texas. "We get calls practically every day about goats," Matt said.
The Brown children have also been very active in goat showing. "It's something we do as a family and we all enjoy it," he said. "And we've met a number of families who feel the same way about it. It's good for the kids because it gives them some responsibility and our children have learned a lot about goats." Matt has served as a director of the Junior Meat Goat Show Circuit (JMGSC), an organization which involves youth who show goats. The circuit utilizes a point system. The jackpots around the state are sanctioned with the circuit. The more the participants at a particular jackpot, the more points the youngster will receive based on winnings. At the end of the year, at a convention during the San Angelo Stock Show, prizes are awarded to the top point winners. "It's a good thing for the kids -- it gives them something to work toward and gives some meaning to the show goat circuit," he said. Matt said the circuit presently involves over 300 junior members and is almost to the point of needing a full-time employee to handle it. "Goat showing is growing by leaps and bounds and the show goat market is a good added incentive for breeders who are able to sell show animals," he said.
The Browns are happy to assist other producers in procurement of large or small numbers of breeding stock, slaughter goats or show prospects and they welcome visitors.