Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

        BULL SHIPPING IN CENTRAL TEXAS


By Dub Ramsel  click on photo for a enlarged view
(These stories cover a period from early 1950's to the late eighties.  These stories have come from my memory with an occasional quote from some Williamson County residents.)


I began buying cattle on a commercial basis in the early 1960's after my feed lot business began losing money. I had inherited customers from Lee Karr, who had the first commercial feed lot in Texas as the result of a lawsuit he was limited to a thousand head in numbers at any time, so leased his lot to me.

Then after a couple of years these customers who happened to be packing houses in Dallas were offered free yardage by feed companies near Dallas if they bought their feed.

I tried feeding my own cattle for a couple of years, even put in a new yard on my ranch west of Georgetown . This venture also failed to bring in enough to support to my family in the manner they had become accustomed to.

I got word from a friend who lived in Maybank, Texas, who had been the head meat buyer for Dallas City Packing Company, that Vann Roach Cattle Company was expanding their buying into central Texas and was looking for a buyer for this area. Sonny Teague had been buying stocker calves for them as well as butcher calves for Dallas City.

Vann Roach Cattle Co was now moving from the Ft. Worth Stockyards to Saganaw, which was north of Ft. Worth. I went there and met with them and was hired. I had to sit in with a few of their buyers to get familiar with their orders and after three of these sessions, started out on my own. I made the Georgetown auction sale owned by Alvin Braun on Fridays. Then to Giddings on Tuesday, owned by Ed Tobias. On Mondays I went to Austin which was the capitol Livestock Auction, owned by Dock McIver and Harry Ellis, On Wednesday, I went to Caldwell or Taylor. Then on Saturdays I always ended up the week at the Lexington Livestock Auction owned and managed by Oscar Heller.

Bill Roach told me that I was going to have a lot of trouble at first with the competition, mostly from Eugene Schwertner who owned the Capitol Land and Cattle Co. He was so right, I endured more flack than can be imagined. But I hung in and after a month or so began getting the orders filled at the right prices. By harnessing me I made him pay more than he wanted to pay as Bill Roach predicted, things finally eased up where Eugene and his other buyers saw that I was not going away.

For the next nine years or so, I bought cattle for Vann Roach and gradually worked in packer orders for cattle that did not interfere with my stocker cattle orders. I first, bought some butcher calves for Dallas City Pack. This lasted until these packers converted to using heavy beef that was supplied to them dressed.

L& H Packing Co in San Antonio began giving me orders for butcher cows. I found out that buying butcher cattle took more skill than putting a load of calves together and keeping them uniform in the classes and weights.. there isn't much time to try to determine a lot of things, about five seconds. The animals come into the ring turn around a couple of time and are gone. The highest bidder owns the critter when it makes it's exit. Some sales go faster than others A buyer has to guess the weight and this is the easy part, then the dressing percentage and watching for defects such as cancer eyes and anything that might cause be inspectors to condemn the carcass.

In the spring of the year cattle yield is better because the tender grass will go through the animal before it reaches the scale. Pry feed tends to remain longer in the rumen in spite of the cho, using the cow gets during the selling process.

To test ones skill at buying packer cattle at the auctions, he needs to buy a few and send them to a reputable slaughter house and let them dress them and pay for the amount of yield etc. This can be expensive education, but the only way to get zeroed in. It could mean the difference of holding a buying job or getting shut off.

A lot of packers like for the buyers to send his cows in on the rail this works in favor of the packer. I do not trust packers enough to do it myself, but a lot of buyers do and seem to come out ok. It is better to buy them if you can stay close to the money, and if not pass on them. When the packers need the meat bad enough they will up the price of dressed meat.

Alvin Braun of Georgetown has been buying cattle since he was big enough to drive and hook up a trailer. He began buying in the country and hauling them to auctions to try to make a few dollars. He owned three different sales barns, one in Georgetown, one in Belton and one in Cameron. He's retired now, but there is no doubt in my mine that he knows more about buying and selling than any man still living in Central Texas.

Alvin had land he owned, and lots that he leased and bought a lot of the cattle that came into his sale barns. He would turn them out and wait for them to gain weight and in price and then sell them. He told me one time he had over five thousand head of cattle in the country. I have a lot of respect for this man not only as an operator but as a man of sterling character.

When I began buying cattle, the starter of the livestock, who was usually the owner, would not back up on his bid if none got in he would take it at his starting bid. Most of these men knew the market better than anyone, including the buyers and he would not start the next one, like he just caught, any cheaper.

Oscar Heller of Lexington caught a few head because the buyers were not getting in hoping he would lower the price. When He had caught a few, he stopped the auctioneer and told us that these cattle were not going to be any cheaper and if we wanted some we had better start bidding. He caught no more and everyone started filling their orders.

The Lexington sale was my last sale of the week and the runs were always big. A thousand head was average and sometimes it would be double that number. Oscar always greeted his sellers when they came in with one head or a hundred. This is a very good thing to do and a lot of auction operators fail to do this. The people like this add it makes them want to come back.

Being of the old South, Oscar had separate seats for his black buyers. 0ne day one of the black buyers sat in the seat with the white buyers. Oscar called for him to sit where he belonged. Then a white buyer named Jack Gabriel bellower out, hell, I told him to sit here where I could watch him. From then on Jack Ceasae as well as his brother Julius Ceasae sat with the whites. The Ceasae brothers were big operators and had a shipping business based in Hallotsville.

Carl Gistinger was another old timer who never backed up on a bid. If anything he would raise his own bid if he didn't get any response from the buyers. He had places to go with most all classes of livestock. He was known as a friend of the farmer. He would help most anyone for that matter. He helped me a lot and I had A lot of respect for him. He was known as "Mr Carl". He started the cattle in Temple as well as Marlin, and I bought there for some time. 0ne day I had a low figure on the packer cows and did not expect to buy any that day. When I got there Mr Carl met me and said he sure was glad I came that day he had a big run on cows and did not have another cow buyer there. I then told him I did not have a very big stick and told him my figure for carcass met, but if I could buy them in that money to go ahead. His response was, you just sit down and bid one time and I will guarantee they will work for you, I took it that if it did not work for my packer he would make it up out of his pocket. I therefore did as he asked and ended up with over a hundred head. I really worried until I got the report on my cows. Believe it or not, they were exactly in the money. I was commended on being able to make them work for a change.

Before the Livestock Auctions came into being, most cattle were bought in the country from buyers who came around frequently. Sometimes they would be driven into towns where there was a railroad with scales for weighing the buyers would meet the sellers there with the cattle..

I am not sure when livestock auctions came alone but sometime in the late twenties or early thirties. They performed a service to both buyer and seller. the sales were usually within reach of all producers and on a regular basis. Several buyers would be on hand instead of just one. Every county in Texas has an auction for livestock and some counties have more than one..

There are still cattle traders who like to buy at one sale and take to another. I have my doubts that any of them ever get rich doing this. They have feed to buy gasoline for the truck and then pay a commission at the sale. Their cattle get a stale look and sometimes get sick. The buyers can spot them when they come in the ring and do not want to pass some stale cattle on to their customers.

Generally speaking, the quality of cattle has improved over the last thirty years. During my order buying years a lot of "Oakie" cattle went through the rings. These cattle were in demand, but at a lower price. V.R Cattle Co. had numbers for every size and grade. For instance, a 400 pound steer or bull calf was No.402. He could be any color or mix of colors. If he weighed 450 pounds he became No. 452 meaning that he weighed four hundred fifty pounds and of a NO.2 grade The customers who bought these calves expected them to be uniform in height and conformation..

The John Wayne Feed lot in Gilbert bought most of our No.2 “Oakies”. They did well in the hot country and graded along with the choice grades when slaughtered. Once the hide was removed one could not tell the difference. 

I am amused at the advertising I see along the highways where by some restaurant claims that they use only "Black Angus" beef. Unless they have a tag on every head that is slaughtered, I doubt that they are all black. If it makes more money for the Angus breeder then more power to them. A farmer needs all he can get. 

Most of our daily buys consisted of No.2 and No.3 grades. A no.4 had to be pretty rough and the No.5 grades were mostly pure bred Brahmas. Not many feeders wanted the humpy cattle with flappy dewlaps. Most of these calves went to the desert like Blyth California. they also had a market for them in Los Angeles. Fortunately, most of the full blood Brahmas were kept for breeding cross breeds or traded among the folks who raised cross bred cattle. 

I am not trying to down grade Brahma cattle, because when crossed with the English breeds or the exotics they produce an animal that very good carcass. The beef animal that is about a quarter Brahma brings the highest price on hoof or on the rail. 

Most of the cattle I see today in 2004 are what I would call good to choice. Very few plain cattle show up at the auction sales. More of them are crosses showing charolet and some show a lot of Red Angus, what few black Angus cattle I see are longer bodied than the old compact animal. I still have aversion for them since I had so many sent back to me as reject in the past.

When I was buying cattle on a regular basis I would pick up some to take home. These would be animals that I had no order for but looked like something worth the money. Since I kept a 32 ft. goose neck trailer and truck on hand and had a driver who could pick them up and drop them off at my lot near town at Georgetown.

I would then either take them to a pasture or sell them at my lot the next day. People would drive by to see what I had brought in, and many times, I would sell out before having to leave for another sale. This made more money than my daily commission in most cases.

After about ten years of this, I decided that It was not good for my health. I was gaining weight and in the wrong places I had breathed enough tobacco smoke to cause lung cancer. The dust was sometimes a problem also. Cattle stir up a lot of dust in handling. 

After a long sale, which may be late we were hungry and the barns would usually have a table set for the buyers with a variety of embellishments before eating a big steak. When a free steak is in front of me I find it hard to resist. This is why you see so many fat cow buyers, I suppose. 

I still get excited every time I see a livestock sale going on, even though I have been selling real estate for thirty years or so.  

I still buy cows to landscape land that I have bought for speculation. They also kept the taxes down and helped with the holding costs such as interest on notes payable. A few nice looking cattle helps in selling off tracts.

I learned this landscaping trick from an old cow man who had also gotten into selling land which he owned. I was buying cattle every day then. He called and gave me an order to buy him some big broad backed black cows. I did not ask him what he was doing with them but after delivering him the second load, I asked if he had a packing house. Anyone ought to know that cattlemen do not buy fat cows to turn out on pasture. S.J.Oliver was this mans name and he answered my question with a question. Dub, don't you know a damn thing about landscaping. I said no more just sent him cows when he called for them. With the high taxes on commercial land, it is a must to stock any tract of land of at least ten acres with cows or some kind of livestock or raise some crop on it. If land owners did not get this break, no one would be able to afford to own any.

I am an old man now, had my eighty third birthday on March 8. I don't buy many cows any more.

I just Keep a dozen on some land east of town. I could run more, but this way they stay fat and raise 600 pound calves at weaning. I never buy hay just keep a few bales on hand just in case. I also carry range cubes in my pickup allthe time and when I go to the pasture the cows always get a snack. I have no trouble penning them just drive in the lot and they follow. They always come to greet me when they see my truck and after the snack we have conversations and know if any are missing. I keep them dusted for flies. I don't name them or pet them, but I treat them like they like to be treated. The best part is that they do not hold a grudge against me when I send their babies off with the "bull shippers".


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