Knowledge Breeds Success for Farris Ranching Company
From left are Kolby and Katelyn Horner with Kennedy, Mary Beth and Danny Farris, Payton Farris, and Mike Vorel, IBBA president. In front are Klaire and Kaleb Horner.
Knowing their cattle and knowing their customers has helped Farris Ranching Company create a long-lived ranching business.
By Maggie Malson; Photos by Farris Ranching Company
There’s a saying that life happens while we’re busy making other plans. Although Danny Farris didn’t realize it at the time, taking a position as manager of a seedstock Brangus herd would lead him to build a successful and sustainable operation that has spanned nearly 3 decades.
“Truthfully, I had no interest in a seedstock operation,” says Farris, who had geared all his education toward commercial beef production. He had an animal science degree from Louisiana Tech University and worked on his masters at West Texas State University (WTSU). After gaining experience managing the cow herd at WTSU, his goal was to lead a sizeable commercial operation, even considering moving out West.
However, Farris began managing the Escoba Cattle Company registered Brangus herd in 1985. He and his wife, Mary Beth, were young and just starting out. Soon their family would grow with the birth of a daughter, Katelyn, in 1988, and a son, Payton, in 1990.
“I took the job to tide us over and planned to stay just a couple years until I could move on,” he admits. But after 10 years, Farris had the opportunity to buy the Escoba herd and lease the ranch. In 1996, Farris Ranching Company was established.
While Farris says that he didn’t know a lot about the purebred business when he started, he did know what the commercial producer needed in a bull.
“That would be my angle to making this successful,” he says. “We really concentrated on producing sound, no-nonsense bulls for the commercial cattlemen in our area. To this day, that’s my philosophy.
“We’ve shown cattle and sold to purebred breeders, but our mainstay is our commercial customers who buy our bulls to go out and improve their calf crops.”
Farris grew up on a small farm in Louisiana and had been around cattle all his life but he wasn’t around Brangus until his college days.
“I was very impressed with the Brangus’ mothering ability, hardiness, and the growth potential the calves had,” he says. “They are a very good alternative to straight Angus because of their longevity, heat tolerance, and insect and disease resistance.”
The ranch is in Tuscola, on the northern edge of the Texas Hill Country, which is predominantly limestone rock and shortgrass. This makes for a tough environment.
“Our cattle are well-known for soundness,” he says. “We emphasize feet and legs, fertility and temperament.”
Farris says he has worked diligently on cattle temperament.
“We get that compliment regularly from any person who comes around our herd,” he explains. “They are pleasantly surprised that our cattle are very easy to handle. They’re not spooky and we’ve always handled our cattle in a respectful manner.
“Some of the temperament problems are genetic, but a lot of the problems are what the calf learns from its dam,” he adds. “If the cow is afraid, she’s naturally going to teach her calf to be afraid. That’s not a very good situation. A few issues still come up, but 95 percent of our cattle are very docile.”
Ultrablack, the Brangus-Angus Hybrid
To give his customers an alternative to the straight Brangus cattle, Farris began incorporating Angus genetics back into the herd 10 years ago to produce an Ultrablack animal, which is an Angus/Brangus hybrid. Ultrablack animals are registered composite animals with validated and documented lineage. The International Brangus Breeders Association (IBBA) created the Ultrablack and Ultrared program to take advantage of the strengths of the Brangus and Angus or Red Angus breeds.
“We’ve had a very good response from our customers utilizing these bulls in their herds,” Farris says. “There are a lot of eared cattle in this part of the world. A lot of guys were using straight Angus bulls to tone the ear down in their calves, but they weren’t getting the results they wanted because of the lack of Brahman influence in those bulls. They weren’t getting out and hustling to eat or getting the cows settled like they should.”
Farris purchased his first Angus bull from Hales Angus, out of Canyon, where his son Payton had been working while going to West Texas A&M. He had been tossing around the idea of incorporating Angus genetics for years, ever since the IBBA had offered the Ultrablack option.
“During our selection process, we’re finding moderately-framed Angus bulls, paying close attention to feet and legs, bone structure and foot size,” he says. “We’re using AI or buying bulls. We have a substantial amount of Ultrablack females in our herd now, probably 40 percent.”
In addition to docility, Farris has focused on mature cow size by breeding to moderately-framed bulls, to better fit the West Texas area.
“We’re constantly trying to measure performance in these animals,” he adds. “Because the Brangus is already a composite breed, it’s hard to account for what hybrid vigor is doing and what true genetic value is doing.”
Farris says he’s a proponent of expected progeny differences (EPDs) and uses them as a tool but says that more education is needed for how they truly work for producers.
“My No. 1 criteria is that you have to have a calf on the ground before you can measure anything,” he explains. “If you don’t have a cow that can get out, maintain her condition, rebreed and have a calf annually, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter what her numbers are. She’s got to give you something to measure at first.”
Cattle phenotype is important to Farris and his customers.
“Our clientele wants a bull, starting at the feet and legs, that’s sound and free moving, has a good set of testicles, and square hip,” he says. “They need to have a straight back and some guts.”
Farris maintains that taking a well-rounded approach to making cattle breeding decisions, considering a combination of phenotype and genetics, has worked best.
“We do pay quite a bit of attention to marbling and ribeye, but we breed it on the other end,” he says. “You can lose a lot of look, substance of bone, gut, and fertility if you’re chasing carcass too hard. We cull the bottom end real hard and remove any outliers.”
This philosophy continues to work for Farris Ranching Co., evidenced by their many repeat buyers.
“We have had customers who have retained ownership on our cattle over the years and been really pleased with the kill results on the cattle,” Farris says. “Generally speaking, it’s been well above average. Makes you feel good to know they are satisfied with the product.
“The repeat buyers we get are large- to mid-size, no-nonsense type ranchers,” he adds. “They think our bulls have longevity. They get the cattle bred in a short amount of time.”
Year-round sale day
“My motto here and what you’ll see in our advertising is ‘Every day is sale day at Farris Ranching Co.,’” Farris explains. “We don’t try to have a one-day event. It’s a little nerve-wracking to put all your eggs in one basket and expect people to come.
“My philosophy is that if a guy comes in needing bulls, I’ll give him my best shot and he gets his best selection of what I have to offer at the time,” he says. “And if we can’t make a trade, I haven’t lost anything but a little bit of time. Whereas, if I put quite a bit of money into a sale day and it’s an off day, I could lose a lot of money in a hurry.”
In his experience, Farris has seen a lot of ranchers come in and out of the purebred cattle business.
“That’s why we’re willing and able to sell you a bull anytime you need one,” he adds.
Many of their sales are sight-unseen purchases.
“We have a customer in Florida I’ve been selling to for 5 years and I finally met him in August,” he explains. “I have another really good customer in the Texas Panhandle who never comes to pick his bulls. He tells me what his needs are.
“Customers call and have faith in me picking what they need,” Farris says. “We usually deliver them, if they’re within a couple hundred miles, with the understanding that if they don’t like them when they get there, they don’t own them. We’ve never had anyone turn anything back. That’s the way we do business.”
Using traditional advertising, as well as social media like Facebook, Farris reaches his main customer base and has found new customers online. He credits Katelyn, who was an ag marketing major at Texas A&M, with pushing him to use the Internet to sell cattle.
“I told her the people I sell bulls to don’t use the Internet, but she urged me to try it,” Farris says. “We both were right. The people I sell bulls to traditionally don’t use the Internet to buy cattle, but I have quite a few customers who do use the Internet and I would not have reached them otherwise.”
Mary Beth, who recently retired from teaching school for 26 years, maintains the family’s web presence. “We promote things going on in the Brangus breed and keep up with friends in the industry,” Farris says. “Shortly after we started the Facebook page, we received a message asking about bulls for sale. We have used it to sell more cattle.”
Longevity and legacy
Farris says having a conservative mindset and being resilient have helped his family stay in the cattle business.
“I refused to fail,” he says. “It hasn’t been all roses and we’ve gone through a lot of hard times, including being on the verge of dispersing due to a 3-year drought. I was spending money I didn’t have on feed, trying to hold this herd together.”
One unique aspect of the Farris herd is that the females are all home-raised. Prior to purchasing a customer’s herd in 2017, Farris hadn’t bought more than 15 outside cows in 30 years.
“Everything has been raised in this environment,” he explains. “I was very familiar with their capabilities on the female side. I knew the cattle I raised had the potential to do well in this part of the country. That helped us along. We pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps. I got to buy a herd I had managed for 10 years, then from that, we produced all our own females.”
Being an advocate of spending money wisely has also helped Farris.
“So many people invest a lot up front expecting a lot in the future and it doesn’t always work that way,” he says. “We’ve been pretty conservative. We know our limits. My goal is not to sell high-dollar animals, but to have a high percentage of marketable animals within our customers’ price range.”
Farris says his legacy is his family, Mary Beth, and Katelyn and Payton, who are grown with families of their own. Payton works full time with his folks now and has a custom leather business, while Katelyn is raising her young family.
He may have had other plans when starting out in the industry, but Danny Farris took what he knew and stayed true to it, producing purebred Brangus bulls to serve the commercial producers he knows best. He hopes he is remembered for giving everyone a fair deal in the cattle business.
“When I’m dealing with anyone, I want to give them the same consideration as I would the next guy,” he explains. “I treat people like I would want to be treated — honest and fair. That’s gotten me quite a way with my bull customers.
“I stand behind my product,” Farris concludes. “That’s why I feel more confident when a guy calls me up and tells me what he needs and lets me pick bulls out versus him driving up and picking through my cattle. I’ve known that calf since the day he hit the ground, plus I know his mom, and his mom’s mom, and probably his mom’s mom’s mom.”
Knowledge Breeds Success is excerpted from the April 2018 issue of The Cattleman magazine.