Breeding the Perfect Bull

A Texas cattleman used genetic science to breed his masterpiece – a near-perfect Red Angus bull. Then nature took its course

On the R.A. Brown Ranch, fifth-generation ranger Donnell Brown can't help thinking about the potential he had created through decades' worth of work. (Karen Kasmauski)
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Rob crossed a Hereford with a Brown Swiss and sure enough, he got cattle fully 100 pounds heavier at weaning, with the same hardiness as a Hereford. “Brilliant!” he thought. But the market did not quite agree. The cattle were not uniform in color, like the good old-fashioned amber Herefords. Some were brindle and some were gray. Coat color has nothing whatsoever to do with carcass quality, but even so, Rob’s cattle were discounted at auction because they looked funny.

So Rob got back to work. He mixed his Herefords with Simmental, a different Swiss breed, and that solved the color problem. To that hybrid he added Simbrah, a Simmental-Brahman mix, to create cattle with heat tolerance. He added Red Angus for marbling. He got a planeload of Senepol from the Virgin Islands to add a gentle demeanor. And by 1989 he had a hybrid called the Hotlander, which is still popular among some breeding connoisseurs.

By then Rob’s son, Donnell, was at Texas Tech, studying genetics. It’s the Throckmorton way, after you grow up cowboying and playing football for the Throckmorton High Greyhounds (2005 state six-man champions!).

When he came home with his degree in 1993, Donnell said, “Dad, it’s better to be on the leading edge than the bleeding edge.” His father may have been ahead of his time, Donnell thought. He was creating superior beef, absolutely, but not necessarily beef the marketplace understood. Donnell brought science back from Texas Tech, but he also brought marketing.

Never a place for subtleties, the market understood one thing: Angus. Over the past quarter-century, brilliant marketing by the American Angus Association has made the word “Angus” synonymous with “best steak in the world.” Specifically Black Angus, even though Red and Black Angus carcasses are indistinguishable without the hide. But the American Angus Association promoted black, and so in today’s market, solid black cattle, for reasons almost entirely psychological, bring top dollar.

“We have to create the meat that people want to buy!” was, and remains, Donnell’s main point. Rob agrees, of course, but on the other hand he has the soul of an inventor and can’t stop thinking of awesome new things to try. The father is the boy in this relationship. Donnell: buttoned-up, doing the right thing, selling it with a smile. Rob: trial and error and joy.

The R. A. Brown Ranch still offers its Hotlander composite, but Donnell directed the business toward an Angus focus, with a twist: become the premier Red Angus breeder, and have the genetics to prove it.

And he had those genetics in Revelation. He had them.

The vets worked on Revelation’s leg for a year and a half. Surgery and rehab, surgery and rehab, and more surgery. Finally, in August 2008, the vet shook his head no.

“OK, then,” Donnell said. “OK.”


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