Raising cattle isn’t easy, but these ranchers wouldn’t trade it for the world
Lisa Kinney Turrentine, 51, works full-time at a plastics plant in La Porte. But when Turrentine leaves work, she heads straight to her ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe. Her usual ranch attire is coveralls and a cap.
“My grandpa, Kiddo Tacquard, was born in this house in 1903 and died here in 1995,” said Turrentine, who pointed to a farmhouse, built in the 1800s. The site is part of a Mexican Land Grant settled by Asa Brigham in 1830. Tacquard’s grandfather, Joshua, bought 220 acres in 1860, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
Before I arrived, Turrentine, who has proud, calloused hands, had already unloaded 15 bags of feed, 14 bales of hay and fed cows — as well as 70 chickens and her Great Pyrenees, Toby.
As we took off on her off-road Polaris Ranger to explore the 134 acres she inherited from her grandfather, she pointed out another 46 acres she has since bought. She isn’t too concerned about the encroachment of development, because she doesn’t plan to ever sell and most of the land around her is owned by other ranchers, she said. But the FM 2004 area seems to be “creeping in,” she said.
The 50 cattle on her land are crossbreeds — Brahman, Braford and Charolais — Turrentine raises for meat and show. A day-old smoky gray heifer is nearby, ducks are in the pond and cow patties are abundant.
Turrentine has a lot of memories associated with her land and recalled how the women would fix home-cooked meals for the ranch hands when she was a child.
“My grandpa used to lease acreage down below this land,” she said. “All the women would come up here to our house, bring dishes and cook things like stew, potatoes, fresh vegetables, pears from the tree, dewberry pies — everything from scratch. We’d take the food down to the men, who drank tea and coffee out of tin cans.”
Aside from putting up with coyotes, skunks, possums, bobcats, snakes and wild hogs, it’s all part of ranch life. Turrentine is quick to acknowledge her neighbors, who lend a hand when she needs them, including pulling a calf when a heifer is having problems giving birth.
“If I ever retire, I’ll do this full-time,” she said. “It’s hard work, but I love it.”
– Sue Mayfield Geiger
‘Realization has taken over’
John Scales isn’t too worried about his six acres in Santa Fe, where he keeps 15 to 20 show steers, including 25 babies. But he does have some concerns about another 600 leased acres in Galveston County — 40 acres actually are in Brazoria County — where he keeps about 100 head of crossbred cattle.
“Realization has taken over,” Scales said. “There’s only a few parcels of land left in Galveston County where ranchers can ranch their cattle due to housing developments. Also, Highway 99, the Grand Parkway, is supposed to go right down the middle of my lease property.”
Because the Grand Parkway is a toll road, development likely won’t occur too quickly, Scales said. But once it does, he’ll have to find a place to move the cattle, leaning more toward Brazoria County, because there’s little ranchland left in Galveston County.
At 53, Scales is more at ease wearing his Scales Cattle Company ball cap and work boots as opposed to cowboy garb. Recently retired from American Fence & Supply, he spends the majority of his time overseeing the steers he has sold to students who are involved with 4-H and FFA Programs.
The students show up each day after school to care for their animals, which have a pretty cushy life. The animals are fed twice a day, rinsed off and brushed daily, and bathed with soap and water two to three times a week to prevent skin conditions. Their hooves get trimmed every eight weeks.
“The object is to make sure they are clean and happy,” Scales said.
Some of the caregivers get a little teary-eyed knowing the animals eventually will be harvested, he said.
The ultimate outcome with show steers is a product full of meat and a lot of muscle.
“After a student buys a steer from me, hopefully they will make a premium sale,” Scales said.
Does Scales get attached to the steers?
“Well, some of them have characteristics that grow on you, like Rowdy,” he said. “He had an attitude for a while, but he’s gained our trust and can be handled pretty well now, especially by the young girl who’s raising him.”
– Sue Mayfield Geiger
‘The Pied Piper’
Gilbert Gustafson, 71, greets me with a firm handshake and talks in a low, steady voice as he describes his love of ranching.
The 6-foot-tall Gustafson is wearing a black, beaver cowboy hat, jeans, long-sleeved shirt and size 15 well-worn, dusty brown boots.
It’s a mild, sunny day in Hitchcock, where he’s about to feed 150 Brangus cattle on 1,000 acres of leased pasture. The minute he appears, the cows bellow loudly, rubbing up against his truck — a white, beat-up, mud-caked, four-wheel drive Ford F-250 pulling a feed hopper loaded with 600 pounds of pellets.
“I’m just like the Pied Piper when I show up,” he said. “This feed hopper is the coolest thing I ever bought, because I used to have to dump sacks of feed by hand.”
After setting the flow gate on the feeder to dump out 8 pounds of feed every 15 feet, the race was on, as Gustafson honked his horn several times, attracting cattle in all directions.
The ride was bumpy, often precarious, over the rough terrain, as Gustafson drove in a wide circle. A clunking sound meant a load had been dumped.
“You can count the clunks and you know how many pounds of feed you put out,” he said.
Aside from the pellets, the cattle also graze on salt grass and lick the mineral supplements that have been scattered about.
Because Gustafson’s biggest parcel of leased land is in a high-risk flood zone, he’s not too worried about encroaching development, he said. But when a hurricane hits, it takes years for the grazing to recover after being inundated with salt water. It creates a large drop in normal carrying capacity, meaning you either have to move some cattle or sell, which is just an accepted fact salt grass country ranchers understand and are prepared to deal with, he said.
Gustafson also pastures another 50 head of Brangus cattle on 300 acres in Texas City. When not ranching, he oversees his industrial plumbing company, often stopping by Texas First Bank in Hitchcock to take care of business.
– Sue Mayfield Geiger
“Peace and tranquillity,” is the reason 67-year-old cattle rancher and coastal cowboy L.J. “Butch” Kelley gets up early each morning to tend to the three-generation family business known as the Cow House Cattle Co.
With its views of blazing sunrises and sunsets, the Hitchcock ranch has been on the same property since 1945 and was originally owned by Kelley’s uncle, Thomas Price.
Kelley’s father married into the family in the late 1930s and soon after went to work in the cattle business. Historically, parts of the area the Kelley family owned extended to Galveston, though some parts were “community pastures,” where many ranchers in the area shared the land for cattle grazing.
Kelley was born in Galveston and raised in a house that still sits on the Hitchcock land. As a child, he could sit on the roof of the horse barn with his brother, Rick, who he still works with today, and see all the way to Galveston, where he would watch his father round up the cattle.
Although the Kelley family had always been in the cattle business, Butch Kelley also raised hogs through the 1970s and early 1980s. By the mid-1980s Kelley was maintaining as many as 400 head of cattle on more than 100 acres of land. While he has never stopped working as a rancher, Kelley also worked for Superior Oil from 1968 to 1982 and for the past 10 years has worked as a forklift operator for WesternGeco in La Marque.
Today, Butch Kelley along with his brother, Rick, and nephew, Wayland Kelley, are raising about 130 head of cattle on several different properties in Texas City and Hitchcock, selling about 60 a year at livestock auctions. Kelley lives in Hitchcock, just down the road from the ranch, with his wife of 23 years, Tina, and doesn’t see quitting any time soon.
“I love it out here,” he said. “It’s hard work but I think doing this kind of work is why I can still do it at my age.”
– Zach Tate
From the front seat of his pickup, Raymond Doreck points with pride to his cattle. A black beauty of a cow moves toward his truck and rocks it. Doreck holds on as if he’s riding a mechanical bull.
A resident of Santa Fe, Doreck has found a way to thrive as a coastal cowboy.
“I’d love to just raise cattle full-time, but I enjoy my family business, which provides a better living,” he said.
When Doreck isn’t working at Doreck’s Meat Market in Santa Fe, you might find him on his ranch caring for his Charolais, Chianina and Maine-Anjou crossbred cattle, and teaching his children about livestock.
“We train our kids to raise champions,” Doreck said. “Showing cattle gives kids opportunities to learn about animals and science.”
Doreck’s son, Raymond, a freshman at Texas A&M University at College Station, agrees. Raising show cattle inspired him to pursue a degree in Animal Science and study cattle genetics.
Doreck’s 15-year-old daughter, Rachel, competes at county and major livestock shows.
“Every day, I wash, rinse and blow out my heifer’s hair,” Rachel said. “I enjoy working with my Dad, and I like to compete at livestock shows for money to help me go to medical school.”
Last year, the Grand Prize Heifer fetched about $3,000 for the winning exhibitor at the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo, said Paul Tibaldo, president of the yearly event at Jack Brooks Park in Hitchcock.
The fair also provides $50,000 in annual scholarships, Tibaldo said.
Rachel will be showing her heifer, Fancy, during the fair, which runs April 8-16.
Doreck is proud of his children’s competitive spirit, but some of the dearest moments in raising cattle is calving time, he said.
“My favorite time is when the cows have calves,” he said. “You know it’s coming. It’s kind of like a Christmas present.”
– Cathy C. Bertrand