Bill and Jane Travis have been developing the Simbrah cattle breed on their property in Athens, Texas, for decades.
The Travis’ concept for their ideal cow began more than 30 years ago. The couple was raising commercial cattle in East Texas. That’s when they began making a list of the attributes they wanted in a beef animal — heat-tolerant, hornless, and have black skin pigment and a blaze face.
From Dream to Reality
Jane and Bill hadn’t come across an animal fitting that description until they were at the State Fair of Texas in 1981, and saw a crossbreed of heat-tolerant Brahman-influenced cattle with larger framed Simmental cattle. Realizing that their vision could be more than a concept, the Travises started looking for Simmental-Brahman crossbred cattle. As fate would have it, they stumbled upon the newly developing Simbrah breed.
“We bought Simbrah cattle and started breeding our own, slowly switching our commercial cattle herd over to a registered herd,” Jane said. “We’ve been refining the traits over the years — productive traits, calving ease, fertility, disposition. We have been told that we can’t choose for all of them at once, but we’re proving it can be done.”
Developing the breed
A Harvard-educated engineer, Bill relies heavily on data to show him the state of his herd and give him a better understanding of what he and Jane are working toward. He said they began adding a focus on carcass traits 30 years ago, starting first with quality grades (marbling) and now also breeding for tenderness. Technological advances allow the couple to DNA-test their cattle for carcass-specific traits and use ultrasound imaging to reveal ribeye size and marbling. The couple also places a high priority on feed efficiency, using a system developed by their son to test for that trait.
“We tried to put it all together with productive efficiencies, color pattern and carcass traits,” Jane said. “It’s taken a long time to refine, and there is always room to improve, but we really have an animal we can stand behind now.”
The Ideal Property for Ideal Cattle
In addition to building their perfect herd, the Travises strive to be good stewards of the land and continually work to build the ideal piece of property. Over the years, Bill estimates that they have bought, improved and sold approximately 30 tracts of land, primarily in East Texas.
At the time of their first purchase, he saw land as an investment and wanted a place where the family could enjoy the outdoors. The property had hay meadows and fences, which the couple felt made it a “good place to learn the cattle business.” Then, they slowly began buying more acreage on which to expand their cattle operation. “We both love being outdoors and the cattle business,” Jane said. “It’s been fun and profitable.”
With financing support from Heritage Land Bank, the Travis’ current Pine Ridge Ranch in East Texas consists of two tracts that encompass 1,424 acres.
Partnership with Farm Credit
As loyal customers of the same commercial bank in Dallas for 45 years, Bill and Jane never thought they’d find themselves shopping for a new one. However, that’s just what the Texas couple had to do after they lost financing with their longtime lender because they had agriculture-related businesses.
“We had a stable business, we had assets, we had history, but the bank said, ‘we don’t want you at our bank anymore because you’re in agriculture,’” Jane said.
Luckily, as past Farm Credit customers, the Travises knew where to turn. “We couldn't be in business without Heritage Land Bank. They're financing about 40 percent of our capital,” said Bill.
“I would recommend Heritage Land Bank to everyone. They'd been so good to us, they meet our needs and they are wonderful folks to work with. They have everything we need,” said Jane.
A version of this story originally appeared in Landscapes Magazine.