This third-generation Texas rancher blends the old and new to keep the family business thriving.
On a rainy, muddy day, Missy Bonds isn’t too disappointed to be working in an office. Most days she would rather be horseback, but when foul weather blows in she has plenty to keep her busy.
Bonds helps manage her family’s ranch in Saginaw, Texas, and its cattle herds that are spread across 26 Texas counties, 13 states and Canada. Among her duties is coordinating a program that qualifies beef from cattle that are raised without growth hormones to be exported to the European Union.
“Maybe a third of our calves are placed in this program,” Bonds says. “Europe is a beef-eating country, and wants our beef.”
The daughter of Pete and Jo Bonds grew up in Saginaw, 15 miles north of Fort Worth. She has two sisters, Bonnie, who lives in Colorado, and April, who also works at the ranch. Like her father, Bonds completed the ranch management program at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. She is on the board of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, which her father previously served as president, and received the Mitzi Lucas Riley Award from the National Cowgirl Museum in 2013.
Although development has encroached on the ranch, and traffic noise sometimes drowns out the sound of livestock, Bonds remains determined to carry on the family’s ranching tradition.
I GOT MY UNDERGRADUATE degree in agricultural economics with a minor in finance and my master’s degree in ruminant nutrition at Texas Tech University, and then went through the TCU ranch management program. I told Daddy I’m overeducated and underpaid.
WHEN I WAS GROWING UP traffic was not near as bad as it is today, and I could be at three different malls in 30 minutes. I could also see the stars at night. There weren’t houses out here. You could trot your horse all across this place; it was 10 square miles.
WHEN OTHER PEOPLE were going to Cancun and South Padre Island or Red River for spring break, I was in Belcherville, Texas, branding calves.
I WAS 9 OR 10 when I halterbroke my first colt. He kicked me in the shin twice, in the arm once, and in the chest once. I finally was able to figure out how to out-manipulate him and get him to respect me.
MY MOM’S MARE bucked her off at a team penning. I was in high school at the time and thought I could ride anything. At that point I’d never been bucked off. Daddy told me to get on her to do a little attitude adjustment. I got on her and she did pitch, and she did thump my head in the dirt. The only thing it did was make me mad. I did wear her out, and she never bucked again after that day.
WE GATHER CATTLE horseback, and we move cattle horseback or with a feed truck. We still rope and drag calves to the fire when we’re branding. Horses are still our livelihood.
WE LIKE TO LOOK at everything at a return on equity. It’s not a profit per head; it’s how many times you can double your money. When we started doing that, as Daddy says, it was like throwing a snowball off of Mount Everest.
CHARLIE WAS A HORSE Daddy got out of the feedyard. He was a year younger than I am. Daddy used him as a ranch horse and rode him team penning, then I rode him team penning. I’d fall off, and he’d stop, look at me, and wait until I got myself almost back in the saddle, then take off and without me even signaling him, go back and pull out the same calf we were chasing.
I TOLD DADDY when I was 8 or 9 years old that when I grew up I wanted to be a rancher like him. He told me that was all well and good, but to get an education and go through the TCU ranch management program. It made me feel confident in things that I wasn’t sure if I knew, or didn’t know I knew. And it really emphasized running a ranch as a business and not a way of life.
I NEVER DO the same thing twice, except drive. I do a lot of driving. Last year I put 4,800 miles on my car in two weeks, shipping wheat pasture cattle.
IF YOU JUST say that come December 1, you’re going to buy a 400-pound Black Angus steer and then do nothing with that animal, then turn around and sell him and get whatever you can get in May, it’s not going to be profitable. But if you use futures, use forward contracting, build relationships with people, look into premium programs and think outside the box but manage your ranching entity as a business, you can be profitable. Most people think it’s a way of life and a tax write-off. It doesn’t have to be.
Article originally published in the May 2015 issue of Western Horseman.