November 15, 2002
By Mike Barnett
Young Donnell Brown has a vision of where life will take him 10 years down the road. He wants the family business and his personal enterprise to be seen as a leader in the industry in producing superior purebred cattle.
"I see us being the Sam's Wholesale of the cattle industry," Donnell, 33, says: "High quality product in volume at reasonable prices."
It's been a goal of Donnell's ever since he came back to the family operation, R.A. Brown Ranch, after college. His dad, Rob Brown, gave him a choice.
"`Whenever you want to come back to the ranch, if that's something you have the desire to do, you can come back in two ways,'" Donnell recalls his dad saying. "`You can come back as an employee or you can come back and partner with the business, expand the family business so there's enough more profit potential to feed another family.'"
Donnell and his wife came back to Throckmorton County and worked as employees for five years, and then decided to invest in Red and Black Angus cattle as part of the family business.
Today Donnell and Kelli are part owners and general managers of the R.A. Brown Ranch seedstock division, overseeing 1,000 head of registered cows in eight breeds.
Donnell uses a number of genetic tools in his superior breeding cattle quest: "EPDs, artificial insemination, embryo transfer, DNA technology...all those tools help us produce and mass multiply the most superior bulls in the industry to sell to commercial cowmen in the form of breeding bulls as well as semen and females to go back into seedstock herds," Donnell says.
Donnell also started developing a new breed of cattlecalled the Hotlander compositein 1989, with the help of a college advisor and the Clay Center Animal Research Center in Nebraska.
"Over those 12, 13 years we produced about 1,000 head of these Hotlander composites, which are heat tolerant cattle that also produce an excellent carcass and are great in reproduction and growth," Donnell says. "We're working with these cattle a great deal internationally, selling semen and embryos to both South America and Australia."
The family operation is also striving to integrate their cattle business from conception to consumption, "from start to finish, from gate to the plate," he says. R.A. Brown Ranch not only markets semen, embryos and breeding bulls, but has a large commercial cattle operation. They buy stocker cattle for their wheat grazing division and are involved in two feedyards.
"And my father and I started Ranchers Renaissance, which is an alliance we started five years ago," he says. "It's now selling branded beef under the brand name, 'Cattlemen's Collection,' through Kroger stores."
Both Donnell and Kelli see opportunities for their sonsTucker, 9, and Lanham, 5in agriculture.
"We need young leaders in this industry," Donnell adds. "And we hope to provide for them an opportunity. I hope to be like my parents, provide an opportunity but never force them to do what we do. We want to give them the skills and training to fulfill the dreams and goals they have in their heart."
Kelli says she sees no better alternative to raising their sons than ranch life.
"In my mind and in Donnell's mind, there's no other place where our kids can learn more about birth, growth, maturity and even death in such a variety of ways, and we think it just gives them an education for life," she says.
A Nebraska native, Kelli's priority is to be wife and mother. But she is also responsible for keeping registration records and bookkeeping for the registered cattle.
Both see Farm Bureau as a tool to develop future leadership and bring young people into agriculture.
"The desire for Donnell and I is to help young people find a way to be involved in this industry that we love so much," Kelli says. "In my mind there's no other organization out there that's really trying to get out in the forefront and help get that done. We're excited to be a part of the organization."