The Beefmaster Story|
By Kathy Probandt, © 1978 (Reprinted with permission from the author.)
Beefmaster production takes a functional approach in the cattle industry; the breed was developed as a beef factory. The more efficiently the cattle produce more beef for less money, the better. All else is a lot of foolishness.
Beefmasters are the only recognized breed of cattle in existence that have been selected solely for beef-making characteristics. The cattle were not developed to be prima donnas, pets, freeloaders or pretty pictures in the livestock magazines. The goal was not to promote a pampered, syndicated, unproductive breed, but rather to produce a large quantity of good beef that required the least in cost, care, and attention.
The development of the Beefmaster was begun in the early 1930's by Tom Lasater. Some of the concepts he used to create the breed go back to the early 1900's. In those years some of the breeding and management policies behind the development of today's Beefmasters were begun by Edward C. Lasater, Tom's father. The resulting exceptionally hardy and meaty animal, produced at a realistically low cost and sold at a realistically high price, has gained acceptance throughout the beef-cattle states and is gaining approval abroad.
By the turn of the century, Edward C. Lasater had acquired ranch holdings amounting to about 400,000 acres near Falfurrias, Texas. On this land he ran approximately 20,000 head of Hereford and Shorthorn range cattle, the world's largest herd of Jerseys, and a registered Hereford herd. Lasater's experience with an internationally recognized dairy herd convinced him of the importance of heavy milk production in both dairy and beef cattle. His registered Herefords were selected for their red pigmentation around the eyes, long, heavy bodies, and good milk production. These inherent characteristics enabled Lasater's Hereford cows to raise a fat calf every year.
In 1908, Ed Lasater introduced the first Brahman cattle into South Texas and began using Brahman herd sires on his Hereford and Shorthorn range cattle. The Brahman sires were descendants of the first importation brought to the United States from India by Abel Pierce Borden in 1906. Ed Lasater bought his foundation Brahman sires in 1908 out of this Borden importation.
The best of the crosses between the Brahman sires and the Hereford and Shorthorn range cattle were bred back to the Brahman bulls until a predominantly Brahman herd was developed. The outstanding result of the two-way cross was the well known 1,000 herd of Shorthorn/Brahman cross cows known throughout South Texas as the Muertos Herd. 1
Edward C. Lasater died in 1930. His death, a sizeable indebtedness, and the beginning of the Depression spelled doom for the ranch. Although he possessed a considerable amount of equity, creditors moved in and gobbled everything up destroying a lifetime of work in the process. All that remained of the original herd were about 350 cows and a few herd sires in the Brahman herd and about 150 cows and a few herd sires in the registered Hereford herd. The Brahmans were owned by Laurence D. Miller, Tom Lasater's uncle, and the Herefords were owned by Tom's mother. Neither of the elder members wanted to assume the responsibilities of the herds so Tom returned from Princeton University on February 9, 1931, to manage the combined operations for $75.00 a month.
Tom Lasater took his mother's long-bodied, stretchy, red-eyed Herefords and his uncle's big, beefy, droopy-eared Brahmans and crossed them. He bred Hereford bulls to Brahman cows, and Brahman bulls to Hereford cows to produce Hereford/Brahman cattle. But Tom remembered his father's outstanding Muertos Herd, though it had long been sold, and he had high hopes of someday recreating this Shorthorn/Brahman cross.
In the fall of 1931, Tom persuaded his mother and his uncle to let him buy some Shorthorn bulls. It was during the Depression and the Lasater family had a limited amount of capital, so Tom could afford only two bulls. These Shorthorn sires were purchased from John Impson, a well-known Shorthorn breeder from Beeville, Texas. Tom bred the two bulls to the top Brahman cows which meant that he ended up with more Hereford/Brahman cross cattle than Shorthorn/Brahman cross cattle.
The Shorthorn/Brahman cross bulls, coming from the top Brahman cows, were superior to the Hereford/Brahman cross bulls. Tom used the outstanding Shorthorn/Brahman cross bulls on Hereford-Brahman cows. In the process of experimenting with various combinations of the three breeds at hand Lasater quickly discovered that the three-way cross was superior to any other combination.
As Tom explained, "As soon as the three-way cross calves hit the ground, a blind man could see they were far superior to either of the straight crosses, so we started producing more of the three-way, Shorthorn/Hereford/Brahman, cross." These cattle became the foundation of the Beefmaster breed.
The exact blood percentages of the Lasater Foundation Beefmaster herd are difficult to calculate. All breeding has been carried out under rough range conditions with multiple-sire herds. Lasater estimates that the breed carries a little less than one-half Brahman blood and the balance is about equally divided between Hereford and Shorthorn blood.
Tom Lasater describes his original multiple-sire breeding program as a cauldron of Shorthorn, Hereford, and Brahman genes that were dumped together to produce a foundation herd. After the original Beefmasters were developed from this genetic melting pot, the herd was closed in 1937. There has been no new blood introduced into the Foundation Lasater Beefmaster herd in 40 years. It is the oldest closed herd in the world.
Young Tom Lasater continued to work as a foreman on the home place until June 1, 1933, when he signed a note and mortgage to his mother and became the owner of the Lasater Hereford herd. At that time he also leased about 9,000 acres of his mother's land in Brooks County, Texas. A year later Tom signed another note which allowed him to purchase his uncle's Brahman herd and lease about 14,000 acres of his land.
It was not long before the Lasater Beefmasters began to gain notice on the San Antonio commercial market. As the reputation of the cattle increased, many well-known cattlemen became interested in buying the top end of Tom's market herd. Many of these prospective buyers visited the Lasater ranch.
Tom Lasater colorfully describes a typical visit from these cowmen. "These men would drive up to the ranch and say, 'Hey, I saw your calves on the San Antonio market and I'd like to see your cow herd.' So we would drive out in the brush... for two or three hours and maybe accidentally see a little bull calf running off through the brush... and they would say, 'How about saving that calf? I'd like to buy him.' "
The actual business transaction, according to Lasater, usually followed a similar procedure. "We were getting $35 - 40 for slaughter calves at that time so I would add on what I thought was a helluva premium, $15, and say 'fine, you can come back this fall and I'll sell you that calf for $55.' More and more of these cowboys kept coming down and asking me to save calves for them and that is what put me into the breeding cattle business."
Although Tom Lasater did not like to have buyers topping his herd, circumstances dictated otherwise. The profits from the sale of the market herd were needed to pay off the ranch debts. A good example of Lasater's dilemma, and eventual stance, regarding his cattle is related in the following account. In 1933, Maurice Cohen, a San Antonio packer-buyer, had contracted 50 of Tom's top heifer calves for June delivery. On the day of delivery, Cohen arrived at the Lasater Ranch accompanied by Richard King and Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. After the 50 top heifers had been cut out, Kleberg turned to Tom and said, "There are some calves that I wouldn't sell to any man at any price." Lasater answered, 'The difference between you and me, Mr. Kleberg, is that I'm paying off a mortgage. When I pay off this mortgage... nobody will ever top this herd again."
Tom Lasater kept his promise to Kleberg. In 1938, the notes concerning the purchase of the Miller Brahman herd and the Lasater Hereford herd were paid off in full, and nobody has since topped the Lasater Beefmaster herd.
Throughout the history of the Lasater Beefmasters, the major function of the cattle has been to produce beef. The best cattle produce the most beef of high quality at the lowest cost. The Beefmaster bloodline is valuable only because it continues to produce more beef for less money.
The breeding and management program which the Lasater Ranch stringently follows is based on one of nature's oldest laws: the survival of the fittest. The Lasater concept of this natural law is intelligently applied through the selection for six essential characteristics which have been stressed in the development of the Beefmaster breed. The characteristics are: Disposition, Fertility, Weight, Conformation, Hardiness and Milk Production. They are all equally important traits, according to Lasater, who says, "You could develop any five of those six essentials to perfection and, without the one you left out, which ever one it is, that animal would have no value as a breeding animal. If we could lower our list from six to five, we could move forward much more rapidly, but no one has been able to come up with a sound suggestion for omitting one characteristic.'' 2
The importance of Disposition is obvious. Any rancher can improve his herd by selecting cattle with good dispositions. Gentle cattle are easier and cheaper to handle, make better gains, and bring better prices. Good dispositions pay off on the ranch and in the feedlot. Nervous, unruly cattle do not gain well and cause cowmen trouble and expense. High-strung, temperamental females have more difficulties breeding and calving. Beefmasters have been managed and selected for Disposition for over 40 years and they are gentle, intelligent, and responsive.
Lasater Beefmasters have always been raised under identical range conditions and any differences in the dispositions of the individuals is evident during the first days after the calves have been weaned. Any calf that is not docile and responsive is immediately culled.
Fertility, from an economic standpoint, is the most important trait to consider when selecting beef cattle. An unproductive animal is an expense to its owner, not an asset. Every Lasater female two years old or older must wean a good calf on schedule every year under natural range conditions, or she is immediately culled from the herd - no exceptions and no alibis. On the sire's side, fertility means the ability to settle the most cows in 90 days or less under natural conditions and in multiple-sire herds. In a multiple-sire program, the most capable bulls leave the most calves, the least capable leave the least; the infertile leave no progeny.
Weight is an important factor in the Lasater breeding program. The more an animal weighs at market time, the more profit he turns for the breeder. For over 40 years Beefmasters have been weighing more where it matters: on the hook and on the platter.
Conformation, in Beefmasters, means simply the carcass that will yield the most pounds of lean tender beef per pound of live weight. The more the pounds of the more desired cuts of beef the animal produces, the more the breeder and the packer makes.
Hardiness is the hallmark of the Beefmaster breed. Hardy cattle are animals with the ability to stay healthy and productive on the range under various climatic conditions with little assistance from man. Beefmasters have proven themselves under varied harsh conditions.
In selecting for Milk Production, the emphasis is placed on a cow's milking abilities. More milk means heavier calves at weaning. The Beefmaster cow must suckle her calf for eight months or longer and maintain her own body vigor under range conditions.
In order for an animal to qualify for the Lasater Beefmaster breeding herd, it must show promise of these six characteristics when it is a calf. If it does not it is immediately culled. To stay in the herd the animal must retain and transmit the characteristics of the six essentials to its progeny. Again, if the animal does not measure up, it is eliminated from the herd.
The "Six Beefmaster Essentials" represent a practical and profitable standard for use in efficient beef production. To disregard or overlook any one of the essentials is to risk the loss of maximum beef production. To concentrate on such non-essentials as the color of the hide merely complicates the breeding program without adding any real value to the animal.
Over 40 years ago Tom Lasater began developing the Beefmaster breed. Throughout those years, the Lasater Ranch has successfully introduced many programs that have increased the breed's popularity and acceptance throughout the United States and abroad. All of these programs have been important to the cattle industry and several of them are worth noting.
In 1936, the Lasater Ranch installed a new set of cattle scales and began systematic performance testing of its bull calves and yearlings. All individual performance testing was handled under range conditions with some supplemental feeding during the period from weaning until the yearling bulls went into service. The Lasater Ranch was the first ranch in America to begin systematic performance testing with scales.
The Lasater Ranch initiated the idea of selling breeding bulls by weight in 1941. The purpose of this policy was to convince the cattle industry of the importance of weight per day of age in a beef animal. A bull's ability to gain weight rapidly is passed on to its progeny.
At this time the Lasater Ranch also became convinced of the superiority of a multi-sire system of breeding as opposed to a single-sire system. Since then, all breeding done on the ranch has been carded out on a multi-sire basis. The Lasaters have continually worked to convert other breeders to the multi-sire system of breeding. They believe that it is a superior method of developing an improved strain of beef cattle.
During the first decade of their existence, Beefmasters proved themselves on the hot, dry, low-altitude brush country of South Texas. But Torn Lasater wanted to know how they would perform under different climatic and geographic conditions. On September 8, 1947, he established the first Beefmaster demonstration herd on the Walker White Ranch at Mason, Texas.3 The herd thrived under its new conditions, and as a result, successful experimental herds were established in other areas of the United States.
In 1948, Tom Lasater purchased 10,000 acres of rangeland at Matheson, Colorado. The following year a part of the Falfurrias Beefmaster herd was moved to this ranch. During subsequent years, Lasater bought additional acreage in Colorado. By 1956, the entire Lasater Beefmaster herd was consolidated on the Colorado ranch.
Tom Lasater patented the Beefmaster name in 1949 and also developed the Name Franchise Contract in order to control the unauthorized and indiscriminate use of the Beefmaster name. Under the franchise, each individual breeder agreed to use the name Beefmaster with his own prefix name. The prefix name became the sole property of the first breeder authorized to use it. Thus, there were "Lasater Beefmasters", "Casey Beefmasters", "Smith Beefmasters" and many more. The prefix name places the responsibility for the quality of each individual herd on each individual breeder.
In 1954, the Beefmaster was recognized as an American Breed by the United States Department of Agriculture. The Beefmaster, Santa Gertrudis, and Brangus are the three major cattle breeds that have been developed in America, and Beefmasters are the only three-way cross cattle recognized as an American Breed.
In 1964, Laurence M. Lasater, son of Tom and Mary Lasater, introduced the first Beefmaster herd into the state of Coahuila in Mexico. He started his endeavor with the 35 head of Beefmasters that his parents had given him and his wife as a wedding gift. By 1972, the Coahuila Beefmaster herd had developed into one of the largest and finest in existence, in 1974, the herd was sold to a top, United States educated, Mexican cattleman who is carrying on the herd in the tradition established by Laurence.
The Mexican cattlemen describe the Beefmasters as country cattle that are tough, and they have readily accepted the breed for the same reasons that it has been accepted elsewhere. Beefmasters are fantastically hardy, meaty animals that can flourish profitably under nearly every climatic and geographic condition, and they are disease and insect resistant. Many cattlemen in other foreign countries have recognized the outstanding characteristics of the Beefmaster breed, but international health laws have restricted the importation of livestock into many foreign nations. As a result of these health restrictions, frozen Beefmaster semen has been substituted and exported to the receptive foreign countries.
One of the greatest potential markets abroad, for the Beefmaster, is Southern Africa which has large areas of excellent grazing, and there is no language or cultural barrier to impair business transactions. More semen has been sold in one sale to Rhodesia than all accumulated semen sales in other countries.
The Australians have also shown a great deal of interest in establishing the Beefmaster breed in their country. Many Australians have visited the Lasater Ranch and Beefmaster semen has been going to Australia. As a result, half-breed herds have laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Beefmaster in Australia.
Other countries in Africa and Latin America have also shown an interest in the Beefmaster breed. Although the markets in these countries are receptive, the language, cultural, and political barriers have hindered business transactions.
If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, then the need of Tom Lasater to pay off a sizeable debt during the Depression dictated the development of the Beefmaster breed. The Beefmaster was developed through Tom's efforts to survive in the cattle business during a period of personal and national economic disaster. Lasater realized he had to have cattle that were profitable. No single breed qualified at that time, so he took the three most accessible breeds and crossed them. The result was the Beefmaster which has the best characteristics of each individual breed. After years of selective crossbreeding, careful experimentation, and ruthless culling, Tom Lasater developed an outstanding breed of cattle which has gained popularity and acceptance throughout the beef producing areas of the world.