Keeping with tradition
A definite air of the Old West is apparent at the Circle Arrow Longhorn ranch at Harrisburg, NE. That’s exactly the way Roy and Judi Lyles designed it to be.
While they thoroughly enjoy the traditional western aspects of their ranch, their primary focus is raising high quality, healthy grass fed Longhorn beef. Their genetics trace back to some early Texas Longhorn herds.
The way Roy and Judi met and the trail they followed to develop their beef operation is every bit as colorful as the scenery found on their western Nebraska grasslands.
“Neither of us grew up on a cattle ranch, but we always had a strong interest in ranching,” Roy says. “I grew up about five miles from the Mexico border. My dad always told me I’d have to leave the country to find someone to marry me. It was my good fortune that the ‘someone,’ Judi, ended up coming to Texas.”
Judi’s father was a Canadian wheat farmer. Their Canada farm consisted of dryland wheat fields and Judi’s father took his family south every year once the wheat harvest was in. Judi attended high school with Roy and their mutual interests brought them together.
“I obtained a teaching degree and Roy studied animal science and range management at Sul Ross University,” Judi says. “We both have great respect for natural resources and believe it’s very important to be good stewards of the land. Those principles have guided us throughout our careers and in development of our ranch.”
Roy’s passion for livestock coupled with his experience on his family’s vegetable farm and as manager of a commercial vegetable farm led the Lyles to Scottsbluff, NE a few years ago. His desire to see land enriched and/or restored led him further, to a position with the Nebraska Conservation Service near Harrisburg.
“In some ways we don’t quite fit in here,” Roy says. “Longhorns are more common to Texas than Nebraska. But our life’s goal has been to develop a ranch. We lease part of our land and have purchased part of it. Some of it runs along the Platte River. Over a period of time we’ve been turning some of our land from crops to grass. We have a combination of native and introduced grasses. We do use some chemical weed control, but will eventually phase that out.”
The Lyles say Longhorns work well with a holistic management plan because they aren’t fussy about what they eat and work in harmony with grassland resources.
“They eat vegetation that European breeds pass by,” Roy says. “Their grazing practices control many invasive species.They’re also satisfied with tall grasses that other breeds don’t willingly browse.”
Other Longhorn characteristics the Lyles appreciate is the fact that their browsing habits don’t result in dirt paths along fencelines and across pastures.
“We don’t have to worry about trails in our pastures,” Judi says. “When the cattle go for water or come through the pasture they walk abreast. On occasion, if we call them in or we move them to a different paddock, our steer, Monkey, will lead them. He’s just like a pet dog. If we’re out in the pasture he’s likely to follow us around no matter what we’re doing. The cattle will follow him real easily. If he goes through a gate or down a path, they’ll trail behind him.”
Roy says he wasn’t familiar with Longhorns until he bought some of his own. His tendency to appreciate them stemmed mostly from his image of what an Old West cattle ranch should be.
“I’m very traditional,” Roy says. “I still like the high-crowned black cowboy hats that you used to see in the movies. When we started looking for cattle we went to YO Kerrville (TX). The owner, Charlie Schreiner, started the Longhorn Association years ago to help preserve the blood lines. That’s the kind of genetics we have in our herd.”
Longhorns experience few calving problems and Judi says the mothers are so protective they can hide calves in a manner that makes it nearly impossible to find them.
“We don’t touch our calves or ear tag any of them till they’re two or three days old,” Judi says. “The Longhorn wild instinct is to protect that calf those first hours. During those first few days, if the mothers come in for water, one of the herd, a babysitter, stays out in the pasture with the calves. If you do find a calf and the mother thinks you’re getting too close or spending too much time around it she’ll hide it so you can’t find it. They’re very good at that. It’s part of that pure bloodline. They still have that old west feel to them.”
The story of the Lyles’ Circle Arrow brand is well worth noting. The brand was given to them by a 92 year old woman whose father used the brand on what was once a huge ranch sprawling from western Nebraska into South Dakota and Wyoming.
“She was a Walker,” Roy says. “The brand her dad used dated back at least to the 1880s. She kind of adopted us and decided to deed the brand to us. We wish we had more history about it, but the most we know is that it was the Bay State Livestock Company.”
While the horns of their cattle can be intimidating to many visitors, Roy and Judi say they have never had reason to fear for their safety when they work around the cattle. They practice standard safety measures but believe Longhorns have garnered a tainted reputation that isn’t truly valid.
“If strangers come around the herd, they’re going to be more aggressive and protective,” Roy says. “They don’t respect men on a horse. That freaks them out. We work them on foot. We walk amongst them and our kids and grandkids do too. We’ve worked with them enough they trust us.”
Only one of the Lyles’ pastures was untouched and contains the native grasses that have grown there for decades. The rest of their grassland is a mix of early spring and late fall wheat grasses and some legumes.
“The past 10 years have been pretty dry here,” Roy says. “We’ve established the grasses we want for the most part, but we look forward to more lush pastures when the rains return.”
Direct sales accounts for most of the Lyles’ marketing. A nearby USDA processor packages all the meat. Word of mouth has built their sales network over the years.
“When people taste the meat and see how lean it is, compare how much fewer calories it has than other types of beef, they’re sold on it,” Judi says. “We’ve seen some people cut back a bit with the economic situation, but there’s still a strong market for our beef.”
The Lyles describe their meat as “very marbled yet lean and delicious.” The grass diet causes the meat to be higher in Omega 3s and they use no artificial hormones or antibiotics.
“We’re not certified organic, but we work very hard to ensure our practices are as close as possible to organic,” Roy says. “The meat is less than two percent fat and it’s loaded with vitamins and minerals. We’re having a great time raising our cattle and we provide a healthy, high quality product to customers. We live comfortably and naturally here on the ranch and our cattle do, too.”
for more information, visit the ranch online at http://www.circlearrowlonghorns.com
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