Raising cattle is not for the faint of heart, and this is especially true in the harsh brush country of South Texas. There are years of extreme heat and drought, so only the toughest cattle and the toughest people can survive. Rancho Tres Hijos is tucked deep in the brush just outside of Tilden, Texas and this ranch has not only survived in years of extreme drought but has thrived under the ownership of Arthur “Bub” and Nancy Epley.
The Epleys have been raising Beefmaster cattle on Rancho Tres Hijos since 1996. Over the past twenty years of being in the Beefmaster business, the Epleys have become well known for their dedication to breeding solid, performance-based cattle, while also being large contributors to the Beefmaster breed and Beefmaster Educational Endowment Foundation (B.E.E.F.).
Bub Epley grew up in Magnolia, Ark., and he currently resides in Houston, Texas with his wife Nancy. When the couple is not in Houston with their grandchildren, they are found at the ranch with their cattle. After purchasing the ranch in 1995, the Epleys soon enlisted help from their close friend Jim Wells to get started in the cattle business.
“Jim suggested that we purchase Beefmasters, so we bought our first heifers from Fred Brauchle, one of the legends in the Beefmaster breed,” said Bub Epley.
During their first three years in the cattle business the Epleys were able to pick out the best heifers from Fred Brauchle’s herd. These cattle became the foundation of the Rancho Tres Hijos herd over twenty years ago and today the ranch is home to 100 Beefmaster cows spread out over 3,000 acres.
Since those early days of purchasing heifers until today, the Epleys have admired the numerous traits that Beefmaster cattle offer. However, the most important trait to Bub and Nancy is the docility and gentle nature of the cattle.
“They are very gentle and docile and easy to handle. They aren’t dangerous and that has made it very nice for my family to enjoy,” says Bub. “We also love the growth of the cattle.”
The gentle nature of the cattle in the pasture and in the chute made it an easy decision to start utilizing artificial insemination (A.I.) in breeding practices at the ranch. The Epleys have been using A.I., on their heifers and cows since 1998. They A.I. about 85-90% of their cows and then turn the cows out with one of their four clean up bulls.
“We think A.I., is the least expensive way to bring diversity and improve the quality of your herd,” says Bub. “We have been able to significantly alter and improve our EPDs through utilizing A.I.”.
The Epleys are always focused on success and implementing herd management practices that ensure profitable and production-oriented cows. The first step to that success is artificial insemination and the second step to success is collecting weights. Birth weights and weaning weights have been collected at Rancho Tres Hijos since the Epleys started in the cattle business.
“After a few years of hauling cattle to be weighed, we invested in a scale because it became a pain to haul the cattle every time we needed weights measured. I encourage everyone to purchase a cattle scale,” says Epley.
The use of A.I., and the collection of weights has enabled Rancho Tres Hijos to be a top performance Beefmaster breeder. According to Executive Vice President Bill Pendergrass, the Epleys have some of the strongest EPDs in the breed. These strong and accurate EPDs can be attributed to the Epleys’ dedication to collecting weights on all their cattle, as well as collecting ultrasound data. The third step in the Epley success began almost ten years ago when they began using ultrasound technology to measure ribeye area, rump fat, rib fat and percentage of intramuscular fat (marbling).
“Ultrasound confirms what your eyes see,” says Epley.
Epley uses ultrasound data along with EPD data to determine the performance of the cattle and decide which cattle to sell. The data not only helps with breeding decisions, but it also makes the cattle more marketable when selling to commercial cattlemen or other Beefmaster breeders.
“It is a great tool when deciding which animals to sell and which animals to keep for breeding.”
Mr. Epley is a firm believer that the more ultrasound measurements and more EPD data we have as a breed makes our cattle more marketable. “Hard data is hard to argue against,” says Epley.
The combination of artificial insemination, ultrasound data and weight collection has allowed the Epleys to develop an outstanding operation that is performance based, numbers based and quality based. This performance data that is collected on the Epley ranch is an important tool when also comes time to make culling decisions. The fourth step in the Epley success story is harsh culling practices.
“I cull 50% of my bulls and 10% of my heifers every year. We cull at weaning time and we cull at yearling time,” says Epley.
Every year the Epleys, along with the guidance of retired BBU field representative John Newborn, cull their cattle and they attribute a lot of their success to their harsh culling practices.
“We cull pretty hard to ensure we raise the best genetics.”
This combination of harsh culling, collecting weights, ultrasound scanning and utilizing artificial insemination has put Rancho Tres Hijos’ cattle at the top of the breed. While the cattle are at the top of the breed, the Epleys are also at the top with their involvement in the association. Bub Epley has served in various volunteer roles within Beefmaster Breeders United and is currently on the South Texas Beefmaster Breeders Association board of directors. Previous positions include Live Oak Beefmaster Breeders Association board member, BBU board member, chairman of the international committee for three years and a member of several different committees. The list is long for Epley involvement.
“Getting involved in BBU helps us learn and provides great opportunity to become friends with other Beefmaster breeders,” says Epley. “It is fun to get involved”.