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Black and Beautiful … at Shallow Water Ranch

published: August 19th 2011
by: Sharla Ishmael

Bobby and Jeanne Thornhill sell only front-pasture quality cattle – and you can bet they’ll be black, blaze-faced and good looking

Some folks in the cattle business will sell you anything; some will only sell an animal if it’s good enough to put their brand on it for the world to see. The Thornhills of Rising Star, Texas, are the latter kind of cattle people. Having started their Simbrah herd 26 years ago with purchases here and there from some of the best in the business – R.A. Brown Ranch, Edmond Tom, Granada – they have prioritized quality over quantity.
“I could sell more bulls,” Thornhill admits, “But if I wouldn’t have them in front of my place, I won’t sell them. I cull pretty hard.”
That quality was re-warded this spring when two bulls from Shallow Water Ranch turned heads at the San Antonio All-Breed Bull Sale. A three-quarter bull and a purebred bull they consigned brought $3,600 and $2,700 and brought a lot of attention not just to the Thorn-hills, but also the Simbrah breed. 
Since 1992, Shallow Water Ranch has focused on breeding black Simbrah and recently they tested a bull which may be the first homozygous black, purebred Simbrah bull. How-ever, the American Sim-mental Association (which maintains the Simbrah registry), doesn’t have the records to know for sure. Either way, you can bet SWR Black Chief will generate a lot of interest with those genetics.
So why did this couple choose Simbrah for their herd as well as for their children (now grown) to show? Thornhill says the breed has the best of both worlds.
“My wife’s family raised Angus; I liked the eared cattle,” he explains. “They never seemed to get sick and the ticks never bothered them. I studied all the breeds and I really liked the milking ability I found with Simbrah. We went black because in our area that is preferred at the market and Jeanne likes the black cattle, too.
“What’s so good about Simbrah is that you get the meat, milk and gentle temperament from Simmental. Then you get the disease resistance, tough skin and mothering ability from the Brahman side.”
He also likes how the breed has evolved since they first started breeding Simbrah in 1985.
“We went from the big giants – 1,500- to 1,800-lb. cows – back down to today’s moderate frame size,” he explains. “Birth weights (in the breed) have really gone down and calving ease is very good. People started using EPDs and now it seems like in more of the bull sales, especially Simmental, they all have good EPDs now. 
I think the size of most Simbrah today is perfect for our area.”
The Thornhills want functional cows in their herd and emphasize maternal traits. When looking at a herd bull prospect, they even want to make sure his dam has a pretty udder and was a good milker. In short, they want a complete animal that has it all – performance, genetics and good looks.
“The type of cattle we raise are very docile and gentle,” Thornhill says. “We really breed for EPDs, milk, calving ease, birth weight and all of that … But we also want them to look good. We breed for deep-bodied Simbrah with plenty of bone and muscle, but not a lot of dewlap or sheath. We want them really tight, but still with some ear.”
Whether you’re in the market for a club calf, heifer or herd bull,  that is the kind of Simbrah you can find at Shallow Water.  That’s also the kind of Simbrah with which their kids had show ring success. Sons Taylor, 28, and Cooper, 26, and their daughter Kendall, 19, all achieved their goal of winning a trophy at the Houston Livestock Show. 
“It was a big deal for the kids,” Thornhill says with pride. “Each of them won their class and Kendall won a Reserve Division. We were real proud of them. We also sold several heifers and bulls through their involvement in showing cattle.”
For those who followed the Thornhill kids from back in the day, Taylor is now a John Deere mechanic; Cooper is a math teacher, coaches football and track and is the athletic director at Kopperl; and Kendall is a cheerleader and sophomore at Angelo State University.
The Thornhills plan to consign more good bulls to sales like the San Antonio All-Breed Sale in the future, but most of their cattle sell either locally or by word of mouth. In fact, their biggest draw may actually be that front pasture that he mentioned. If you happen to be driving down Hwy 183 between Brownwood and Rising Star, and you see people pulled off to the side of the road gawking at some black cattle with blaze faces, you’ll know that you’re at Shallow Water Ranch. 
“We catch people on the side of the road a lot, just looking at them,” he says with a smile in his warm drawl.

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