Rich history, strong future at Tom Brothers Ranch
published: August 22nd 2014
by: Merridee Wells
There’s a TV commercial currently running featuring the distinctive, deep voice of Sam Elliot talking about some of Texas’ “firsts”….the first U.S. battleship aptly named The Texas; the nation’s first domed stadium was located in the Lone Star State ; and the first word spoken on the moon was “Houston”….so with our bigger is better attitude and pride in our state, it’s not surprising that one of Texas’s oldest ranching entities is also home to several “firsts” of their own.
Tom Brothers Ranch, a formidable south Texas operation located in Camp-bellton, can trace its roots to 1857, and is proud to claim Ellen Campbell Tom as family matriarch and attributes the ranch’s growth and success to the widow of Charles Tom, the ranch’s founder. Ellen Tom continued to operate the thriving ranch after her husband’s untimely death. The mother of five was a savvy businesswoman. Not only did their cattle operation thrive but she would continue to purchase land and grow the Tom Ranch holdings until her death, making her not only one of the state’s first female ranch managers, but undoubtedly one of the most successful as well.
Time brought many hardships and changes to this operation. Several more generations of Toms would fight tick fever, drought, and the Great Depression, but always each generation brought change with it.
John “Lytle” Tom Jr., great-grandson of C.T. Tom, Ellen’s son, returned to the ranch after college with the idea to turn the operation, which was primarily a Hereford-based crossbred herd, into a registered Angus operation. One of the first beef herds in the U.S. to utilize A.I., Lytle Tom Jr. introduced this concept to the ranch in 1963 in his quest to “breed a better steak”. He was also one of the first in the state to serve on the Beef Improvement Federation’s Sire Evaluation Commit-tee, which helped develop EPDs (Expected Progeny Differences) for the beef industry.
Lytle Tom’s interest in improving his beef herd through data collection and research prompted the ranch to host many gain tests, experiments, and research trials, with special concentration on estrus synchronization. Embryo transfer was experimentally used in 1981 as a means to propagate superior genetics.
With the introduction of Angus cattle in 1961, the ranch concentrated their efforts on raising the breed however true to the Tom’s “experimental” nature. They also introduced a few continental breeds, crossing them with Angus in an effort to find the next best beef animal.
Fast forward four decades to 2000, when the 600 head Angus herd that contained 37 years of continuous A.I. breeding was dispersed. The remaining cowherd that was left was SimAngus, Simbrah, and Angus born from the re-tained recipients. Because of continued drought and the loss of both Lytle Tom Jr., and Lytle Tom III, the cowherd was managed commercially until Philip Tom and his niece, Ellen, the fifth and sixth generation of Toms came home to the ranch.
Today, with Ellen and Philip’s return to the ranch, these two Aggies, both with backgrounds in the Junior Simmental/Simbrah Asso-ciation have committed their efforts to developing Simbrah, SimAngus, and SimAngus HT (heat tolerant) cattle to fit the commercial demands of south Texas and the Gulf Coast regions.
“While Philip and I both were active with the junior breed association, showing heifers and competing in leadership events,” ex-plained Ellen Tom, “we don’t sell any show heifers. I am still involved in the state junior organization as an advisor, and I continue to support other youth events helping to develop leadership contests that have application to the beef business. I think it’s very important that the next generation, whether they stay involved in agriculture or not, be advocates for the industry.”
“Our focus here on the ranch since its inception is the development of superior beef genetics for the commercial industry,” she explained. “We are committed to improving genetics through performance testing and utilizing all the available tools, collecting data from birth to carcass ultrasound and using genomic testing to identify and advance our program. Not only do we want to identify the superior performers and propagate those genetics, but we also need to identify the bottom end and cull those low performers from the herd. “
“We emphasize convenience traits, such as solid color patterns, be it red or black, and docile dispositions in our Simbrah and SimAngus herds. We also want polled cattle. There is no reason for our commercial customers to have to dehorn,” she continued.
We operate very much like our commercial customers, with big pastures or traps, some with poor access and lots of brush, so we have to have to have docile, low maintenance cows that will calve unassisted and wean a heavy calf. “
“Our Simbrah are our most problem free herd,” she explained, “and our customers tell us calf survivability is excellent. The cows are easy calvers, stay in production longer, and the Simbrah progeny on test perform comparatively to our SimAngus. So we think we are on the right track producing a heat tolerant breed with superior performance.”
Tom indicated that in visiting with their customers and other area cattlemen, their black Sim-brah cattle are offering long-time Brangus bull buyers an alternative.
“Whether it’s because they need to branch out genetically or other reasons, cattlemen that have been traditionally buying Brangus bulls are now interested in our black Simbrah,” she said.
While the ranch has not reached the cowherd numbers of the Angus years, they are holding at 200 females, with one-third of them Simbrah. A 100% fall calving herd, they utilize estrus synchronization and A.I., embryo transfer, and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to grow their numbers. However, drought conditions continue to plague the area and keep the operation from making large jumps in cow numbers.”
“We don’t want to put undue pressure on our pastures, plus we want to be able to build with quality, not numbers,” explained Ellen. “Our customers have cut back on numbers due to drought and so the demand is not as strong. What they are interested in is quality and we provide the performance data on each animal so they are able to make informed buying decisions,” she indicated.
From the very beginning the Tom Brothers operation has been about innovation. They are not interested in the status quo. Instead, this family that started with Ellen Camp-bell Tom and her husband, Charles, and continues to operate under the guidance of Ellen Tom and her uncle, Philip Tom to remain a strong, viable ranch entity. Who knows what other “firsts” this operation might enjoy as they move into another era!