Paul Barnhart Sr., 92, a successful oilman and real-estate investor from Houston, Texas, began buying land in southern Texas in the 1940s, and by the mid-1960s, he had five ranches.
"It was in his blood to have ranches," says Don Sronce, manager of Barnhart Ranch Co. "He said the only way he could ever get back into ranching is to go into a business that made him enough money that he could buy land on which to ranch."
Today, Barnhart's ranches have been divided among family members, including sons Paul Jr. and Irvin, and three main ranches still exist: the 10,000-acre Hebronville ranch, the 2,000-acre Highlands ranch, northeast of Houston, and the 15,000-acre ranch near Westhoff, where the Sronce family resides.
"This ranch is very well-watered, with spring-fed creeks flowing through all the pastures year-round," notes Matt Sronce. "Every pasture has a natural or manmade creek or lake."
The ranch also has varied terrain, from wetland to sandy spots to brushy creek bottoms. Its abundant supply of natural grass and water make it prime pastureland.
"Location, location, location. Mr. Barnhart was good about selecting locations for his ranches," says Don. "He flew all over the United States looking for ranchland to buy. He kept coming back to the same places. He always figured there would be rain on one of his ranches to grow grass to support his cattle."
Barnhart started raising Santa Gertrudis cattle, but discontinued that breed due to the hot climate. He then moved to raising Hereford and Braford cattle. In 1983, he bought his first Saler cattle to cross back on his Brahma bulls, producing a new cattle breed called Braler.
"They're tough as nails," Matt says. "They have a lot of longevity and are highly reproductive. The Brahma influence changed everything about the way they functioned in the heat; they're better adapted to this climate."
Although technology has changed the way the Sronces work cattle on Barnhart Ranch, one tradition remains. "We still work cattle horseback," says Matt.
Barnhart bought the ranch's original string of horses from a trader in South Texas. He bred the band of cold-blooded Quarter Horse mares to outside stallions for several years. Then, in the 1970s, he purchased a son of Mr San Peppy from Electra Waggoner Biggs of the Waggoner Ranch, as well as a Two Eyed Jack grandson, who sired most of the horses on the ranch today.
At one time, the ranch ran 89 head of horses, but today has 18 to 20.
"We're not using as many horses as we used to," says Matt. "Up until the late 1970s, horses were ridden everywhere on the ranch and each cowboy had six to seven horses in his string. Now we haul the horses in a trailer to the location of the day's works, and the horses just don't get the mileage. Plus, we don't have as many employees."
The ranch has seven steady hands: Don, his wife, Sharon, their son, Matt, his wife, Tammy, Antonio Zamoran, Jason Coronet and Allen Dennis. Without their dedicated employees, Don says his family wouldn't get to pursue their passion-mounted shooting, which showcases the ranch's mounts.
The next generations of Barnharts are dedicated to preserving the ranch and the integrity it represents.