George Beggs III taught his sons, Ed Farmer Beggs and George Beggs IV, important lessons about managing a cattle and horse operation through good times and bad. Lessons that have proven invaluable as the brothers face on of Texas’ most devastating droughts.
Editor’s Note: Beggs Cattle Company-bred horses earned two National Ranch and Stock Horse Alliance national championships in 2019, in the novice amateur and the youth. While not a new horse program, the recognition validates the work George Beggs IV and Ed Farmer Beggs have put into their family ranch. Read about the Beggs’ operation here in this article from the February 2012 Western Horseman.
By Matt Brockman
Drought is a force of nature that strikes fear in the hearts of those who depend on the land for their livelihood—especially ranchers. Advancing slowly, its day-after-day, week-after-week progression is torturous as the rancher faces circumstances with only a guess as to the drought’s duration. If it persists, its quiet but deathly grip tightens until he must confront the consequences: culling herds and resting pastures.
With an impact that was more severe than that wrought by a normal Texas dry spell, the 2011 drought was anything but typical. Beggs Cattle Company, with four generations of ranching heritage, is no stranger to managing during a drought. Brothers Ed Farmer Beggs and George Beggs IV, who operate company ranches in North Central and West Texas, have experienced their share of tough years, but they agree the challenges they’ve faced recently are unforgettable.
A Time of Transformation
The year 2011 came in on a somber tone for the Beggs family. George Beggs III, who ran Beggs Cattle Company with a steady hand for 69 years, died in early January. Respected in Texas ranching and business circles, Beggs and his wife, Janie, raised their sons and two daughters on the ranch’s headquarters in Parker County, Texas, near Aledo.
The Beggs family has cattle and horses in their blood. George Beggs Sr. made his living in the livestock business after immigrating from Great Britain to Texas. His three sons, William Dickey, John Erin “Crowbar” and George Jr., ventured into ranching during the early 1920s, purchasing land in West Texas and near Fort Worth. When brothers, George Beggs III and Ed Farmer Beggs, took over the family ranching operations from their father and uncles in the 1940s, they adopted the name Beggs Cattle Company. They decided a new brand was in order and so began using the British Pound sign in honor of their grandfather.
After finishing college in 1980, George IV left the company headquarters for the ranch’s operations in West Texas. Anchored near Post, that operation is situated in King, Kent, Stonewall, Dickens, Garza and Cochran counties. Ed Farmer assumed management of the Parker County property and frequently tends to ranch business from a Fort Worth office. Sisters Janie Beggs and Judy Beggs Clement maintain ties to the company. Janie lives in Fort Worth. Judy lives in Dallas and is married to King Ranch Chairman Jamey Clement. Still vibrant at 85, Mrs. George Beggs III (Janie) recently moved to Fort Worth to be closer to friends and activities in town.
Quiet in his mannerisms and conservative in his business practices, George Beggs III maintained a disciplined ranching focus by balancing a sound infrastructure (livestock genetics and ranch improvements) with ensuring expenses didn’t jeopardize the company’s profit potential. His sons worked at his side, embracing his orderly ways while developing their individual styles and approaches to ranching.
“Dad would joke that he had one son that talked too much and another that didn’t talk enough, and he had one son who spent too much money and one that didn’t spend enough,” says Ed Farmer, the former son in both references.
Both men are quick to credit their father with teaching them things that, on the surface, seem simple, but are tried and tested ways for surviving in the ranching business.
“He always looked at things with a sharp pencil,” says George. “He always told me, ‘The best way to make money in ranching is by not spending money.’”
“I learned a bunch of lessons from him,” adds Ed Farmer. “Things like not borrowing money, not spending too much, don’t overstock your country. I’ve been lightly stocked here for a few years and, boy, it’s paying off now in this drought.”
Earth, Wind and Fire
By March, the drought of 2011 was beginning to command headlines in the region’s various livestock publications, and the stories were worrisome. Actually, the 2011 drought began in the fall of 2010 when a phenomenon called La Niña (an unusual cooling of waters in the equatorial Pacific) altered weather patterns in North America, allowing stubborn high-pressure systems to dominate the Texas atmosphere. The high pressure kept moisture and cold fronts at bay, and set 2011 up to be a warm, drier year. Low humidity and relentless spring winds also had ranchers losing sleep, bringing with them the greater, more immediate threat of range fires.
For about four weeks in March and April, it seemed half of the ranch land in Texas was ablaze. Fires stretching from the picturesque Davis Mountains across West Texas to the Possum Kingdom Lake area west of Fort Worth taxed local volunteer departments and the Texas Forest Service. By April 17, more than 750,000 acres had been charred by wildfires. The fire presenting the most serious risk to Beggs Cattle Company was one raging on its neighbor to the south, the Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company. That blaze claimed more than 80,000 acres on the Pitchfork and eventually struck Beggs property near Girard. Aided by unrelenting southerly winds, at times the fires were uncontrollable in the rugged cedar break terrain of King and Dickens counties.
“When the wind is blowing, I don’t care if you’ve cut a 50-foot fireguard, the fire’s going to jump it,” says George. “When the embers hit those cedar trees, it’s like a little bomb goes off, and then the next tree explodes. The volunteer firefighters around here are wonderful. I have two friends who dropped everything with their water well business and they fought these grassfires around here for 14 days straight. We lost about 3,000 acres, so we had to build a little fence and move a few cows around, but otherwise we came out pretty good.”
Fires claimed a staggering 3.8 million acres of rangeland, making 2011 the worst year on record. While firefighting can be a drop-everything task, George and Ed Farmer had other matters needing attention. Besides staying ahead of the challenge to maintain adequate water and feed for livestock, one of the most important jobs was ensuring horses would be ready for the annual Return to the Remuda Sale scheduled for mid-September.
Producing Solid Ranch Horses
Sticking to a game plan built on fundamentals, Beggs Cattle Company has carved out a reputation for producing horses well-suited for everyday ranch work. Those fundamentals were put into place by George and Ed Farmer’s great uncle, John Erin “Crowbar” Beggs, in the 1920s. George Beggs III took the program over in the 1940s, making significant strides by enhancing genetics with bloodlines such as Hollywood Gold and Aledo Bar.
“Dad knew a good ranch operation needed a good horse program,” says Ed Farmer. “The pencil was just as sharp with the horses, but like with the cattle, he’d go and get good bulls, and he’d get good studs, too.”
While the emphasis has always been on raising horses primarily for ranch work, the ranch also had success in the show arena in the 1950s and ’60s. Local noted trainers Dick Sedig and Neal Jones showed Beggs Cattle Company horses, as did ranch employee Willard Stuard. The program Crowbar started in the 1920s and carried forward by the next two generations was awarded the American Quarter Horse Association’s Legacy Award in 2003 for continuously producing registered Quarter Horses for more than 50 years.
Staying true to producing a steady, all-around ranch horse has not only kept the Beggs Cattle Company cowboys well mounted, but it put the ranch in a great position to capitalize on the renewed interest in the horses demanded by stock and versatility horse enthusiasts. George and his father carefully developed a program to market solid, good-minded horses suited to the increasingly popular versatility and ranch horse events promoted by AQHA, American Stock Horse Association, Ranch Horse Association of America, Ranch Cutting Horse Association and others. Consequently, demand for the horses that Beggs Cattle Company strives to produce—the versatile and gentle animal bred and raised for everyday ranch work—continues to grow.
“AQHA really got behind the ranch horse deal, and it’s brought a lot of attention to the all-around using horse,” George says. “We have a lot of horses go out of state: Ohio, Florida, Arizona, Oklahoma and New Mexico. A lot of cowboys that day work within a 100-mile radius are riding our horses, and neighboring ranches that don’t raise horses buy our colts.”
To provide genetic depth and balance, Beggs stands four stallions. The most senior is Play Jimmy Too. A son of the legendary Freckles Playboy, the sorrel was an open semi-finalist in the National Cutting Horse Association’s Super Stakes and had sired several NCHA money winners before Beggs Cattle Company purchased him in 1998. Besides having Freckles Playboy as a sire, “Jimmy” is out of Jimmette Too, a daughter of Johnny Tivio and the dam of Docs Okie Quixote, an NCHA Triple Crown winner, claiming the Open Futurity, Derby and Super Stakes.
Beggs’s other veterans include Mr Haida Flo, a son of Haidas Little Pep, and Doctor Echo. Going back to Doc O’ Lena on his sire’s side and Gay Bar King on his dam’s, “Echo” is known to sire foals with great dispositions.
“The thing about the Echo colts—he’s a Doctor Wood, which is Doc O’ Lena, but he’s out of a Gay Bar King mare,” says George. “They’re just good-minded and easy to start. You can start 10 of them and nine are going to be very easy to start, and you need that this day in time. People that ride our horses like them for that reason. They aren’t quite as athletic as the Haida Flos, but they’re good horses for their own reasons.”
While management of the horse program has principally been George’s responsibility for the past several years, his father played a large part in making decisions, especially when it came to purchasing stallions.
“I remember when we bought Haida Flo,” George says. “At the time we paid more for him than we had any other stallion. I took Dad to see him and told him what we paid, and it kind of floored him. The first thing he said was, ‘Man, he looks just like Crowbar,’ which was a stud he had by Aledo Bar that he named Crowbar Beggs after his uncle who started our program. A few days later, he called me into this office and said he wanted to talk to me about the new stud. I thought, ‘Boy, I’m gonna get it now.’ He said, ‘I think that stud will pay for himself in a couple or three years,’ and I breathed a big sigh of relief because I thought he was going to let me have it. Haida Flo’s done really well for us, but it kinda takes your breath away when you pay that much for a horse. It wasn’t really big money, but we were not going to find any better for any less.”
Expanding into the world of working cow horses, the newest addition to the Beggs Cattle Company stallion battery is CD Son Of Magnolia. ‘CD’ made a big splash in the working cow horse world in 2006 as the National Stock Horse Association Futurity open, intermediate open and limited open champion. He also was an open, intermediate open and limited open finalist in the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity. The stallion boasts strong cutting genetics, being a son of 1995 NCHA Horse of the Year CD Olena, who won the NCHA Futurity in 1994 and Derby in 1995. His first foals hit the ground in 2010 and George has high hopes for them.
“The CD colts will be athletic,” says George. “The only reason I came across him was because of his trainer, T.J. Good, who has done some work for me. T.J. knew his owners were ready to sell him and that’s the only reason I got a horse like him. It will take us a year or two to match the mares that are best suited to him, but I’m excited about the prospects.”
Bloodlines selected with years of careful consideration make up a broodmare band that anchors the Beggs program. They raise their mares, making breeding decisions all the more important.
“I look for a combination of things,” says George. “She needs to have a good head, big hip, good back and leg, and a good disposition. It’s hard to find all of that and, of course, bloodlines are important. You get as close as you can. With our broodmares, we have a range and we want some variety—color, size and everything. You gotta keep some color if you’re going to sell them to the public. We then try to pick the stud that will cross best with her.”
Slow and Steady Gets the Job Done
Taking time and giving Beggs foals the best start possible is a priority. After foals are branded with the distinctive British pound sign and weaned, Raymond Esparza, a 32-year ranch employee, is responsible for halter-breaking each one. Esparza spends countless hours gentling them, and by the time he’s finished, he’ll have spent more than a month doing nothing but gentling and halter-breaking the foals. They’re then turned out in two large pastures—one for the colts, another for fillies—where they learn to navigate the rugged terrain, and continue to grow and develop.
Unless they’re kept as broodmare prospects, fillies are sold as yearlings. Colts are later gelded and started under saddle. The retained fillies are also started under saddle to ensure they’ll ride well and will be gentle for handling once they go into the broodmare band.
Local horseman Jeff Williams starts most of the Beggs Cattle Company colts. Williams, who also starts colts for other noted ranches, including Haythorn Land and Cattle Company, and Matador Cattle Company, and for noted breeder Bill Smith, is appreciative of the time Esparza puts into the colts prior to saddling.
“When I get Raymond’s colts, there’s not anything left undone,” Williams says. “He’s a natural, and someone with the right personality and touch to get the Beggs colts off on the right foot.”
The Beggs cowboys have to put their time in starting colts, as well.
“I have about four guys and me when I’m fully staffed here,” George says. “A guy that works for me is going to be horseback about 80 percent of the time. He’s going to have no more than six horses in his string and a couple of broncs every year.”
Brandon Dewbreand Esparza are considered by George to be the most valuable players on the West Texas ranches. Ed Farmer keeps one full-time employee at the Parker County ranch and fills in with day workers when cow work needs to be done.
“Brandon’s been with us about five years,” says George. “He’s real responsible and a manager type of guy. Brandon will lead the drive, help me cut the dries, and is a company type of man. It’s nice because he gets along with everybody and he’s even-keeled. And I can’t say enough about Raymond Esparza. If he ever leaves, I’m going with him.”
Weaning, Culling and Coping
By the time the Fourth of July came around, the 2011 drought was taking a major toll on the Beggs Cattle Company’s cattle operation. Not only was the lack of rainfall hurting the rangeland, but temperatures were exceeding 100 degrees daily and meteorologists had begun comparing the heat wave to that of 1980, when Texas set records for the hottest year in history—records that were eventually broken. Like so many other ranchers across Texas and surrounding states, Ed Farmer and George began adjusting to the drought’s relentless onslaught by weaning calves early, moving cattle to Parker County, and culling their herds.
“We had only 1.2 inches of rain since last October , and I was quickly running out of grass and water in West Texas,” George says. “We started weaning and selling calves in the summer, long before we normally do. Then things got worse, and we gathered our pastures here and culled all of our older cows—anything older than 8 years was sold. A few weeks went by and we knew we needed to cull some more, so we gathered all the pastures near Post and Girard, and we cut much deeper into our cows and sent them to a feed yard.”
Fifty percent of the Beggs Cattle Company’s cow herd had been culled by October 1, 2011. The benefit of being lightly stocked on the Aledo ranch has given the brothers some breathing room few of their peers enjoy. Because Ed Farmer had decent forage, he was able to receive a group of replacement heifers from the West Texas ranches. If his grass and water remain viable, the move should help lessen the cost of restocking their ranches once rains restore pastures. Also, he was able to wean and keep his calf crop for 30 days before selling them, thus avoiding a temporary dip in the market. Selling weaned calves also added more value than if he had been forced to ship them straight off their mothers.
George and Ed Farmer’s father’s sage advice about taking care of grass and water for stock helped the brothers cope with the 2011 drought.
“Water was his main thing because there never was enough,” Ed Farmer says. “He lived through so many droughts that’s all he could talk about was water. And, sure enough, my main thing here in Aledo is going to be having enough water to get us through the winter.”
With stock tanks drying quickly, Ed Farmer has been able to resurrect some old water wells by replacing ailing windmills with solar-powered submersible pumps for a fraction of the cost of repairing the windmills. New water troughs constructed from used heavy machinery tires are also being installed—inexpensively. While the Aledo ranch has skated by, due to smart moves by Ed Farmer and the good fortune of a little more rain than has been received elsewhere, things have not gone as well for George in West Texas.
“We’re getting by for now, but we won’t be able to continue for very long,” George says. “Our country in Cochran County got some rain, and we should be OK there until spring, but we may still need to cull deeper at Post and Girard.”
Fall Brings Hope
By the time autumn arrived, Beggs CattleCompany had significantly reduced the amount of livestock on its ranches. Besides a smaller cow herd, Beggs also sold 31 horses, including fillies, 2-year-old geldings and a few older geldings at the Return to the Remuda sale in September. Considering the state of the economy, George was pleased with the sale, held annually with four other ranches: Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company, Circle Bar Ranch, Four Sixes Ranch and Tongue River Ranch.
“The Return to the Remuda sale is special because we and the other ranches, we’re all neighbors,” he says. “We look forward to it, and the vast majority of the horses we sell each year go through this sale.”
For the first time in months, rain fell on much of Texas in October. Some locations received substantial rainfall, while others very little. The Aledo ranch was blessed with between one and five inches, while the West Texas ranches got nearly an inch, with more in certain spots. After the welcomed showers, George was encouraged.
“It’s still not too late to grow a little grass, hopefully some winter rye grass, and if we’re lucky we’ll get a little more rain or at least enough to get us through winter to see how spring turns out,” he says.
Ed Farmer was equally appreciative.
“It saved me for the rest of the year, especially if we get another two or three inches in the next few weeks,” he says.
George and Ed Farmer remain cautiously optimistic, even while weather forecasters continue to warn that the La Niña weather phenomenon that made 2011 the driest and hottest year in Texas history has again formed in the Pacific Ocean. The wise words of their father continue to ring true for the brothers and have been key to their survival thus far.
“It’s all due to him,” Ed Farmer says. “I’m sure he’d be saying, ‘We just need a little more rain.’”