Raising cattle is a family tradition for Nunley Brothers and today the large cow-calf operation continues to thrive across Texas.
Nunley Brothers run cattle on ranches spanning from South Texas, to the Texas Hill Country, over to the Trans Pecos area around Alpine, Texas and then on the South Plains, near Lubbock. This large cow-calf operation is headquartered at The Coyote, near Sabinal, Texas and 70 miles southwest of San Antonio. You'll find Santa Gertrudis genetics working at all locations for the brothers.
“We don't use the Santa Gertrudis cow because we love her or want to pet her -- we use her in our operation because she maximizes profit unlike any other. If there was something better we would use it,” explains co-owner, Richard Nunley.
The dark, cherry red, cattle have been part of the Nunley family operation since the early 1950's and brothers Richard and Bob are proud to continue using her and many of the practices and values learned from their grandfather, Red Nunley.
Red Nunley, a legendary Texas cattleman, started ranching in the Sabinal area about 70 years ago. He started with a small steer operation and built one of the largest cow-calf operations in the state and country. In the early 1950's, he formed a partnership with Dolph Briscoe, Sr. and at that time the Santa Gertrudis breed was introduced into the herd. This partnership continued with their grandfather and Dolph Briscoe, Jr. and then with Richard and Bob themselves into the late 1990's.
Today the brothers run the operation under Nunley Brothers, a partnership that was actually formed under the guidance of their father and grandfather in 1972, while they were just teenagers.
They are very humble when talking about their grandfather's many attributes and accomplishments, but are quick to give him and the Briscoe family credit for their own success and knowledge. They also attribute their determination to succeed in the beef business, in some of the toughest terrain there is, to the grit and can do attitude of their grandfather.
Upon graduating from college, their partnership continued as Bob gained an economics degree at Rice University and Richard received a business administration degree from SMU. They utilize the business principles learned at these universities on a daily basis at the ranch.
Each ranch has one common feature, the Santa Gertrudis cow. Hereford bulls are heavily utilized and have been purchased from performance oriented herds from Montana to Texas. They also utilize Angus bulls from the recognized Gardiner Angus Ranch in Ashland, Kansas and Red Angus bulls from R.A. Brown Ranch, Throckmorton, Texas. In addition, they also have one location where they breed Santa Gertrudis bulls to the females in order to raise their own replacements. They do not use any Santa Gertrudis bulls they raise, as they are looking for outside genetics.
They look for bulls with strong performance and EPD numbers and are very adamant that the bulls be structurally correct in order to handle the tough terrain of their ranch locations. In addition, scrotal circumference measurements and ultrasound data is also important when it comes to making bull selections.
All of the Santa Gertrudis bulls purchased in the last four years have been ultrasound and they have purchased bulls from Dan Wendt Ranches, Briggs Ranches, 2S Ranch, Armstrong Ranch, Winrock Ranch, Double TT Ranch and Navidad Ranch, to name a few. They have also purchased the high grading Hereford and Santa Gertrudis bulls at the San Antonio Livestock Exposition (SALE) Commercial Female and Bull Sales.
They also ultrasound all their replacement females and use this tool for breeding decisions.
The Nunley's are currently DNA testing for marbling and tenderness and are excited that so many Santa Gertrudis breeders are also testing for these traits.
“We find it encouraging that Santa Gertrudis breeders are choosing to genetically secure the breed by testing for these two very important marketing tools.”
They also learned innovation from their grandfather. Today, the 50 plus year old corrals he built, which were ahead of their time, are still used and are very efficient.
“The pens can efficiently sort and work large numbers of cattle with minimal man power. We have a sorting chute that can send cattle seven different ways and allows us to sort about 250 head an hour,” says Richard.
They have also incorporated some other new things along the way. They have, over the years, implemented irrigation, rotational grazing, preconditioning, and electronic identification devices (EID), as well as the ultrasound and DNA testing for marbling and tenderness.
Their ranches' carrying capacity ranges from one cow to 15 acres, up to one cow to 60 acres, so adding some of these practices along the way was considered a little unorthodox at the time.
With rotational grazing they have reduced the number of acres per unit. In addition they find it more convenient to work and harvest their cattle and to do so with less manpower. Plus, they now have one breeding season, even in the toughest environments.
With just one breeding season, they have found that the success of that starts with the heifer.
“All of our heifers are processed and palpated as virgins and called breeders and nonbreeders. Pelvic size is also evaluated in this palpation. We have seen tremendous improvements in our fertility and calving problems have been greatly reduced through this simple practice. Dr. John Taylor, our vet from Carrizo Springs, has been doing this for us for 14 years now,” says Bob.
In addition, all heifers are dehorned, bangs vaccinated and put into a rotational grazing program. First they are put on oats and continue with jiggs and klein grass. The heifers are bred during this process. No purebred Santa Gertrudis are sold as they are exclusively used as replacements.
The EID has allowed the ranch to improve their record keeping and the majority of the replacement cattle are fitted with a tag. Now all shots, weight, ultrasound, and breeding status is entered into the computer chute side.
Another innovative practice they believe in and utilize is the Beef Quality Assurance program (BQA).
“Someone has to take the responsibility, while practices like this are vital for the beef industry's survival, there comes a point where the producer must get rewarded for it. If the feeder and the packer want ‘quality assured' cattle then the producers who add the cost and resources to follow these outlined practices must be rewarded,” says Bob.
Another important aspect of their ranching philosophy has been active involvement in the decisions that affect their business. Bob is a past president of the Texas Beef Council, Independent Cattlemen's Association and has served as a director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Their steer calves are preconditioned like the heifers and are all sold through Superior Video's program.
“We have received great feed-back from buyers on how the cattle have fed and our cattle's reputation is our largest concern. They must work for the customer,” emphasizes the brothers.
The Nunley's have also incorporated the Star 5 source verification and marketing program. They were some of the first ranchers to incorporate Santa Gertrudis Breeders International's (SGBI) Star 5 program. This program documents the genetics in each female and provides a paper with the origin, breeding and performance information.
“Our grandfather raised purebred Santa Gertrudis, but we have always utilized the breed in crossbreeding. We feel the heterosis maximizes efficiency. The majority of our Star 5's are either Hereford x SG or Angus x SG,” says Bob.
They have over the past few years showcased and marketed their Star 5's at the SALE's Commercial Female and Bull Sale. This year they are hosting their own sale, Friday, September 26th at The Coyote. They will offer 500 head of Star 5 Santa Gertrudis heifers in lots of 5, 10 and 20 head.
“The heifers are all dehorned or polled and have been backgrounded through our rotational process for over a year. The majority of the offering will be red motley faced Star 5 Hereford x Santa Gertrudis bred to Gardiner Angus bulls. Then there will be around 100 black, Star 5 Angus x Santa Gertrudis bred to Angus bulls. We will also have a small set of open heifers,” explains Bob.
In addition, the sale will be broadcast live on Dish Network Channel 9409 and Direct TV 379 and will be managed by Superior Productions of Fort Worth, Texas.
The sale will also feature 12 yearling to three -year-old ranch horses from their breeding program. Bloodlines in the offering include Gay Bar King, Mr. San Peppy, and Peppy San Badger to name a few.
The Nunley's are looking forward to the sale and the opportunity to showcase the Santa Gertrudis cow and what she has provided to them and the beef industry.