RANCHER SPOTLIGHT: SANDY OAKS FARM
What do you get when an Irish school teacher marries a rehabilitating war hero? You get a little spread south of San Antonio, Texas on the outskirts of a small, dusty town called Elmendorf. Sandy Oaks Farm was formed when my mother, Sylvanne Moore, and father, Larry G. Brooks, were married and moved out of the city to live their lives. Little did they know that at the end of that long, deep, sandy dirt road that besides starting a family, they’d be raising a whole bunch of dreams!
The ranch started with a couple of Hereford type cows named Laverne and Shirley. Ironically named after the ABC sitcom that aired from 1976-1983. I’ve seen the Polaroid’s of those old cows and I kinda think the name fits! I seem to recall early “conversations” that Laverne was always out, and she seemed to be my Mom’s cow when that happened. Don’t ask me about the bulls- I think in those early years, we went through several before a good one was found. And by a good one, I mean one that wouldn’t cause too much trouble when Dad was out working the oil rigs and the ranch was left to Mom. Our mother has always prided herself on the ability to coax up any cow, bull, or horse with a feed bucket. Trust me, it’s a bewildering sight to watch her load a frustrated Brahman bull who has put holes in the horses, the dogs, the truck, the trailer, and my brother and I- then with just a shake of a little bucket, he’s loaded and ready to go. It’s like she’s the Yoda of the ranch!
From those meager beginnings, the ranch blossomed as a couple of red-headed boys entered the world and life became a little more rambunctious. The “Top-Hand” would also tell you that when those boys entered the picture is when her hair went from red to gray. I personally feel it’s genetics. I mean, have you ever seen a Jedi instructor that wasn’t gray haired? Again, think about it! Yoda and Obi-One were pretty gray. I doubt it was her sons who caused any of that.
When I started showing 4-H is when we switched from the commercial Herefords to Brahman cattle and that’s what formed the foundation of our current herd. My brother was raised into showing Brahman cattle, too. Together our old show cattle turned into a great little cow-calf operation. Today, we raise Brahman and F-1 commercial cattle. We love to run Hereford bulls on our Brahman cows and it makes for what we call the “queens of cow country”. Those F-1’s bring a premium in a harsh environment of heat, drought, insects, and cactus. The Hereford and Brahman influence make for an awesome cow. The cows inherit from the Hereford side a little more docility, and mothering ability (although it’s hard to beat a Brahman for mothering ability), milk production is higher, and they make a product that isn’t penalized for having long ears, or an extra-large hump, plus they can handle the heat and insects that South Texas is known for. All those attributes combine to add to the bottom dollar. In a market of high fuel costs, shrinking labor resources (Andrew and I aren’t always around), drought, disease, and uncertainty- well, a smart producer has to add value where they can. So, that’s what we do. We add value with the Hereford influence on our calves and sell the steers as stockers and the heifers are sold as replacement heifers for other operations. We’ve toyed with the idea of retaining ownership and adding more value through feeders, but it’s hard to justify given the always changing environment and the intensive capital budget we work with. That’s just fancy talk for not enough return on investment to justify keeping them any longer than weaning. However, we do maintain a good vaccination program and try to background our calves somewhat before sending them down the line which adds some value and is just plain good sense. Again though, it just depends on the resources at hand, and the current state of the environment.
That’s a takeaway we would love for others to understand! Ultimately, the majority of farmers and ranchers are good stewards of the land. We understand that it’s not cool to waste water, or practice activities that are detrimental to the health of our pastures. If we don’t take care of the land, then the land won’t be there to take care of us. Throw in an exponentially growing world population, and we are always going to be challenged with doing more with less. Thank goodness, those Hereford influenced F-1 calves do well on short grass and pear burning at times! Maybe there won’t be a need for burning cactus this summer because as of writing this we’ve been blessed with about six inches of rain this week.
If we had any other pearls of wisdom to leave with someone who wasn’t raised on a farm it would be to look around. Seriously, just because you hear something on the news you should not always be so quick to believe it. Nowdays, in the hi-speed world of instant news and everyone has an opinion (including this writer), we challenge you to really do your due diligence before just accepting what the media seems to be pushing. Pay attention to what’s going on and look for useful information before just going with what all the cool kids are doing. I think that is a lesson that seems to get a little farther lost with each generation not raised around agriculture.
Looking towards the future is where those dreams come in to play. Our father passed away several years ago and today the ranch is run by my brother Andrew, myself, and our mother. Recently, we’ve added a pretty good hand as Andrew married a heck of a great girl named Leanne. At times, it’s an all hands on deck work environment and we each pull together to get the work completed. Those times make for some great bonding experiences and I personally wouldn’t trade them for anything.
We are committed to raising quality beef, and those will continue to be influenced by those loveable white face Herefords. We don’t see ourselves going away from our current F-1’s anytime soon as they are best suited for the climate of our end of the country, and they do well with the resources we have. Time will tell what the future holds and we learned a long time ago to never say never!
In addition to our cattle, we also raise some pretty great little cow ponies. We, Andrew and I, grew up competing in several performance events, and we still compete in a few ranch-sorting’s, team penning’s, and wild rodeos. Our mother has never quite caught the horse bug like her sons, but she is fast approaching retirement and a new hobby is always fun. There’s hope yet, just as long as she doesn’t show us up with her horse skills…..but if you knew the Top-Hand like we do then you know she’ll be great at whatever she tries her hand at.
That’s pretty much us. Thanks for letting us share a little bit about who we are and what we do. We’ll save the wild cow tales for the next time we meet up, and it’s Andrew’s turn to buy the coffee when you see him. If you’re searching for a Hereford breeder, then get in touch with the association at www.Hereford.org. There’s a lot of great members out there, and it is a breed you definitely can’t go wrong with!