Ozarks Roots-Open Range To Computer Age
In eighty-two years of living and working on a farm, Ransy Cotter has seen ranching come from the days of running cattle on open range, to keeping farm records on computer spreadsheets. At this time he manages his 850 acres with help from Max, his son. Ransy and his wife Roxie live in the brick home he had built in 1968.
“When I was a kid, I remember how the cattlemen around here ran their cattle on open range. And, I remember the dry years of the 1930s,” he said. “Especially from '34 to '36, cattle wasn’t worth hardly anything. People didn’t have grass in the pastures or feed for their animals. The government bought farmers’ cattle, then killed and buried them. Dad sold calves for $4 to $12 apiece; cows brought up to $24. Eventually, the drought broke, farmers started sowing wheat for pastures, and gradually got back in the cattle business.”
From the Service to Calving Season
World War II took Ransy away from the family farm. He was in military service from 1944-46, then he came home and saved up enough money to lease some land from his grandfather and bought his first cattle herd. He recalled how 1947-55 were really good years. For years he plowed and farmed with horses, then bought his first tractor in 1952, a brand new, big 8N Ford. In 1956 the weather turned really dry again, and it was hard to hold on and make money on cattle. For several years he raised hogs and had a dairy herd – 50 registered Jersey cows – that kept him in business.
“With a tractor I could plow five acres a day, only two with horses. Until about 1956 I still had horses to work cattle with. I’ve been kicked and throwed,” he said. “Age put a stop to that.”
He talked about the first herds of registered Black Angus cattle in Baxter County, those, and Herefords, sold for a penny a pound more than other breeds. Cattle growers in the area have tried Simmentals, Charolais, Limousin, and Brahman cross, all together different than in the 1940s when the popular breed was Herefords. The dominate breed now is Angus, or cross-breeds of black cattle. Ransy has mixed breed cows, but his bulls are all Black Limousin, which give him black calves with relatively low birth weights, larger weaning weights and muscle mass. At this time he has 175 momma cows, some of them cow/calf pairs, and 9 bulls. He puts the bulls in the pastures with the cows Dec. 10 for fall calves, and May 10 for spring calves.
“It’s easier that way,” he said, “with just two calving seasons.”
The Farmer's Challenges Today
Ransy and others in the area are facing challenges to the cattle industry: dry weather, the cost of feed and fertilizer. Many cannot sell their cattle high enough to pay the cost of production. Most of his sales are at auction, but some of his bulls are sold by private treaty.
“Last year I put out fertilize twice, but this year I saved my money and bought hay,” he said. “As it turned out, I did the right thing, because it didn’t rain where we could grow anything. Grass did pretty good until July, when it got so dry and pastures burned up. I had 200 head, but I’ve sold some, and will sell more to cut down to about 160. I’ll try that a while, and I may have to cut down even more. There’s a lot of ups and downs in this business, but I love what I do. If I didn’t enjoy farming, I wouldn’t have kept at it all this time.”
To be successful, ranchers have learned to raise what buyers are looking for. Black Limousin are moderate framed bulls that are softer fleshing, deeper ribbed with more scrotal development and produce black calves – traits that are economically important to them. Feedlot operators have connected black hide to fleshing ability and marbling, and are willing to pay for the right product.
“I weaned 150 calves this past fall,” Ransy said, “and haven’t had one sick calf. So, looking at what I’ve accomplished, there’s still a lot about this business to be thankful for.”