Keep It Going
A West Texas rancher uses Herefords to make cattle that thrive on the Gulf Coast
By Katrina Huffstutler
Dust swirls over the road on the pecan tree-lined driveway to Clay Richardson’s place. Despite neighboring areas getting soaking rains the night before, Ozona didn’t get a drop. It’s dry here, but it always is, and pastures look surprisingly green considering only 2.5 inches of rain has fallen in the first five months of 2018.
It’s a stark contrast to the high humidity and salty air at most of his customers’ ranches, but the cattle don’t seem mind. His family has made a name for themselves raising F1s that not only handle the culture shock but thrive — and keep buyers coming back time and time again.
Clay and his wife, Andie, and their children, West, 6, and Sailor, 4, reside in the same house his grandmother, Rosalie Friend, grew up in, and where she first entered the cattle business as a grade schooler.
On her seventh birthday, in 1938, her grandfather gave her seven Hereford heifers.
“They were just down there in a pen below those Mesquite trees,” he says, pointing from the front porch of the ranch house. “She told me she woke up and saw them down there and was excited to learn they were hers.”
In 1954, she married Glen Richardson, a rancher who ran sheep, goats, and Hereford cows in Edwards County, and she took her own Herefords with her. In the 1970s, they bought a Brahman bull from J.D. Hudgins Inc., so they could start making F1 females.
With his grandfather and father gone, it’s just Clay left now to run the ranching operations. Like his grandmother, he also got a jump start thanks to a gift — 20 Hereford heifers from his grandfather upon graduating from Texas Christian University’s ranch management program in 2006, a degree he completed after receiving his bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from Texas A&M University in 2005.
He says that while the finance classes at Texas A&M have really come in handy as he’s running the business side of the ranch, his education at TCU was what really tied it together for him.
“I grew up working on this ranch,” he says. “And then I went to A&M and had all those business classes, and then at TCU ranch management I actually tied the cow to the spreadsheet.”
Rough country, tough cattle
“Those mirrors cost $800 to replace,” Clay says, pointing to the side mirrors on his Ford F350 as we bounce through some brush. “And that’s not even the factory ones from the dealership.”
It’s rough country out here, typical of West Texas, which translates to tough on a truck. It can be tough on cattle, too, but not if you are strategic about it.
“Our No. 1 challenge out here is rainfall, without a doubt,” Clay says. “So, you can’t stock too heavily. About 10 cows per section.”
He is also big on rotational grazing and takes a unique approach to it.
“Our favorite rotation is to take about six pastures and put all of our cattle in one bunch, you know, one pasture, in that rotation. And then we graze that pasture for about two months. And that’s it. That pasture then gets ten months of rest,” he says.
With usually only one good grass-growing period per year, it’s the best option.
“Our pastures get to rest almost all year,” Clay says. “And since the taller the grass, the deeper the roots, we’re able to grow better grasses and essentially drought-proof our ranches. And when we do get rain, it’s a lot more effective.”
He also uses Spanish goats to clean up after the cows, noting that they won’t eat the grass but will eat “everything else” — cedar, prickly pear, and other undesirables.
Clay says it was his dad who started the rotational grazing/goat system about 20 years ago, and he says it is really paying off.
“Our grass is coming along good,” he says. “It’s cool because if you’re going to rest a pasture for ten months, you can also look out in front of you and see that standing forage and so you know that you’re okay for almost a year. And you may still have to supplement, because it may be dry. But at least you know you have a standing forage.”
The pastures on Clay’s ranches are rocky, which means cattle must have good feet and legs. And since they are so spread out, he needs the kind of cows that will hustle — and that will calve with ease, too. And thanks to the extreme heat most summers bring, his cattle cannot get too big.
“This kind of heat can be hard on straight English cattle if they’re big,” he says. “But we have kept them moderate and found the kind that can do very well with it.”
Good pelvic area, rib capacity, udders, and pigment are also must-haves.
Quoting his grandfather, Clay says, “Our cattle aren’t super fancy, but they do good here.”
Their offspring do well in southeast Texas, too.
“We’re just trying to sell a front pasture F1 heifer,” Clay says. “Something that someone can really be proud of the way they look and handle.”
He says thanks to their docile Hereford mamas, they raise F1s with a really good demeanor.
“We just want these heifers to grow into gentle, productive cows that milk well and look good.”
Special sales, special memory
While most of their females are sold via private treaty, the ranch also participates in special sales held in conjunction with the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. It is something Glen started back in the 1980s and Clay has enjoyed carrying on the tradition.
“It’s been a fun thing to market those F1 heifers that way,” Clay says. “He had good luck in the shows and he won several years.”
But what came next was Glen’s favorite part. Often, FFA and 4-H kids would buy one of their pens of five and end up showing them in their county fairs as “pairs of three.”
“My grandfather loved that,” Clay says.
Glen passed away in the fall of 2016, and Clay took his last set of heifers to San Antonio and Houston in 2017. They won Houston, and a pen that sold in San Antonio ended up winning the Brazoria County Fair the next fall.
“That was such a cool thing for us,” Clay says.
Protecting a legacy
As a fifth-generation rancher, sustainability is everything to Clay.
“My biggest goal is to keep it going for the next few generations,” he says, adding that he hopes Herefords will always be a part of it.
“We’ve had Herefords for about 100 years,” he says. “And they’ve just always been a big part of our lives. But, really, this whole thing is about family and this way of life. My grandfather did it, and I’m just trying to keep it going.”
Keep It Going is excerpted from the June 2018 issue of The Cattleman magazine.