The high quality of Four Sixes cattle is well known, and that reputation continues today making the ranch a front runner in the cattle industry.
For more than 150 years, the Four Sixes Ranch has focused on preservation and stewarding the land to accomplish quality beef cattle production.
With the fifth-generation of the Burnett family taking the reins in 2020, the ranch that is headquartered in Guthrie, Texas, remains devoted to a basic concept: use progressive cattle management practices while focusing on preserving genetics and tradition. The Four Sixes Ranch is leading the way by holding fast to tried and true traditions while embracing modern innovation and advancements. Annual branding events look like a page out of an Old West novel, except for the electronic identification and advanced record-keeping system that uses the latest technology to offer quality assurance to discerning consumers.
Established by Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett in 1870, the Four Sixes Ranch is a true working ranch with deep roots in the past and a vision for the future.
With more than a century of expertise, the ranch’s superior cattle breeding program relies on tried and true experience while improving with modern innovations.
When fully stocked, the Four Sixes Ranch maintains a breeding herd of about 6,000-7,000 Black Angus cattle.
Twenty years ago, Hereford cows dominated the herd, but after a hundred years of Hereford cattle, the ranch made the transition to Angus cattle to increase performance in the feedlots and ultimately provide higher quality meat going to the retail customers.
The cattle are divided among multiple herds that graze the same management unit throughout the year. Conservative stocking rates help to ensure that the pastures are not overgrazed and give the manager more options when Mother Nature throws a curveball. In the fall, calves are weaned and shipped to the Frisco Creek Ranch in Sherman in the Texas Panhandle to be backgrounded for 30-45 days; the lighter cattle will then be turned out on winter wheat pasture, while the heavier cattle will be sent to the feedlot. During the summer months the ranch purchases stocker cattle to graze at Dixon Creek.
To ensure a continuing legacy of excellence, the best of the best heifer calves are chosen to join the herd. The selection process involves several rounds of culling and ultimately, the cattle in the herd must produce to remain.
Each cow is expected to have a calf at her side in the spring and be in good flesh in the fall to stay in the herd. Those same criteria happen all the way through to adulthood in a cow. There are no second chances.
“We not only want a cow that is conformationally and genetically good but one that can get out and make a living,” said Joe Leathers, Four Sixes manager. “The third criteria is they have to perform in the feedlot. We fed our own cattle for years and years, all the way through, so we have a lot of data on how well our cattle perform. If we have a group of cattle that, as a whole, aren’t performing well in the feedlot then we need to adjust on the bull battery, but it has also got to happen on the females.”
Being progressive has kept the ranch in business for more than 150 years. Visionary leadership from generations of ranch owners and managers is never satisfied with the status quo but always looking to the future.
The cattle production focus is carcass performance and volume, “We work day in and day out trying to improve the genetics on our cattle to put more pounds of meat in the supermarket for the American consumer,” Leathers said. “The transition to Angus cattle decreased health issues and increased our gains in the feedlots by a tremendous amount.”
Black Angus bulls, either leased or owned, are turned out with the cows around the first of April, or roughly one month prior to branding. Generally, branding takes place April/May. Fall works occur around September/October.
The heifers calve out in February and March. This year, approximately 1,000 head of homegrown heifers calved at both the Guthrie and Dixon Greek locations.
For cattle handling practices and low-stress stockmanship, the ranch relies on talented cowboys working from horseback. In an effort to keep stress on the animals to a minimum, pens are situated in pastures to allow a natural flow and funneling effect to gathering cattle. Additionally, cattle are handled slowly and quietly. The pens and chute systems are designed with cattle behavior in mind. Weather plays a major role in when and how the cattle are processed too. For example, hot weather will delay working the cattle to avoid risk of stressing the calves.
The ranch is able to market their cattle to “Natural” and “NHTC” (Non Hormone Treated Cattle) programs due to their commitment to record keeping, humane handling, eIDs and top-tier herd health management. Cattle that get accepted into these types of programs are both age- and source-verified, which makes them eligible to ship overseas and to earn a premium.
The health of the animals is of utmost importance. The ranch does not cut corners with vaccinations and control of external and internal parasites. Because of the ranch’s attention to herd health there is less need for doctoring and the use of antibiotics. If, and when, cattle need to be treated with antibiotics, they receive an ear notch. Those marked individuals are disqualified from the All-Natural Program but are still qualified for the premium NHTC Program.
While the ranch holds to its traditions, the managers are early adopters of progressive herd management practices such as electronic identification and digital record keeping. When the cattle are vaccinated against brucellosis, an eID and hang down tag are placed to allow for accurate and specific record keeping. Cow records include information on her bred status, vaccination dates, birth records and progeny performance. From birth to the processing plant, eID allows true traceability in addition to helping with the bottom line and overall herd productivity.
Animal Welfare considerations are taken seriously in the production, care and handling of all livestock at the Four Sixes Ranch. Over the years, procedures for processing and handling cattle have improved greatly. Technology has played an integral role, for example cattle use to be placed in a chute to palpate, they progressed to a squeeze chute and now they have evolved to using a silencer hydraulic chute system. Cattle were pregnancy tested by rectal palpation, that transcended into a more cumbersome ultrasound technology and now it is performed with a more compact ultrasound transducer wand without palpation.
The Four Sixes participates in the Beef Quality Assurance program, which is a nationally coordinated, state implemented program that provides systematic information to U.S. beef producers and beef consumers of how common-sense husbandry techniques can be coupled with accepted scientific knowledge to raise cattle under optimum management and environmental conditions. BQA guidelines are designed to make certain all beef consumers can take pride in what they purchase – and can trust and have confidence in the entire beef industry.
Stories On The Range.
Red Steagall interviews the General Manager of 6666 Ranches, Joe Leathers. A look at how the ranch survived tough times and how multiple generations of dedicated employees have been an important factor in the success of the operation.
Behind the brand.
Joe Leathers is the general manager of the historic Four Sixes Ranch, his employer of more than two decades. An accomplished horseman and cattleman, Joe understands agriculture from the ground up. Reared as the son of a small rancher and cotton farmer, Joe spent his summers and free time after school in the fields of home developing a strong work ethic that remains with him to this day. After college, he pursued a career in ranching where he served the Moorhouse Ranch as wagon boss for several years. In 1999, he joined the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas, and in 2004 was relocated to the Dixon Creek Division in Panhandle, Texas, where he worked as foreman until 2008 when he moved back to Guthrie to take the reins as general manager.
Joe considers his greatest accomplishment to be his more than 40-year marriage to Louise Leathers and their family that includes four children and 11 grandchildren. Joe’s servant heart led him to volunteer in many capacities and organizations. Heavily involved in agricultural organizations, he serves as a director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, for which he has chaired numerous committees and serves as co-chair of the Producer’s Council for the Cattle Traceability Working Group. He also is a volunteer firefighter for the Guthrie Volunteer Fire Department.
Cattle Division Operations
Dixon Creek, located in Borger, Texas, is mostly a cow/calf operation, but was once used primarily as a backgrounding property for the Sixes’ weaned calves. The location still has some pivots and wheat ground, but for the most part it is used as a cow/calf set-up with some yearlings.
Frisco Creek in Gruver, Texas, is the most recent addition to the cattle division and is primarily used as a backgrounding operation. Once the calves are weaned, they are shipped to Frisco Creek to background and then will be sent to run on wheat pasture or to the feed lot. Additionally, this facility can handle outside cattle for backgrounding.
The Headquarters in Guthrie, Texas, is only used for cow/calf operations and horse operation.
The North Camp, which is also located at Guthrie, Texas, is a camp house north of headquarters by about six miles off the Childress highway. Traditionally, the cowboy that runs “North Camp” watches the pastures north of headquarters.
The South Camp is a camp house located south and west of the Guthrie headquarters.
Designates Four Sixes Ranch raised cattle.
The “L” brand, designate outside cattle purchased.
Designates the year the calf was born.
What industry experts are saying
Cattle industry leaders offer testimonials to the high quality of Four Sixes’ Black Angus stock and program.
“The 6666 Ranch has been a part of the history of the Gardiner Ranch for over a decade now. The late JJ Gibson first came to us in the late 1990s looking for good Black Angus bulls, and the Sixes is absolutely one of our best customers. They have purchased bulls based on their elite ranking, including calving ease, early growth and so on. Not only do Four Sixes cattle do well on the range, but they also perform with excellence in the feedyard, with genetics that carry them from ranch to rail, all the way to the consumer. The Four Sixes has been very diligent in purchasing the very best bulls available anywhere and using them to full advantage. It is a privilege to do business with such a great outfit.”Mark GardinerGardiner Angus, Ashland, Kansas
“We were proud to be a part of ‘history in the making’ when the first 6666-bred females ever made available by public auction were presented at our sale. The Burnett Ranches' 6666 legacy is well known to anyone who knows anything about ranching or horses. However, one of the best kept secrets in the west is the 6666 cowherd. Highly productive, range-adapted and ready to add to the bottom line of any operation. The quality and attention to detail on an operation of this size and scope are awe-inspiring.Kevin HaefnerExpress Ranches, Yukon, Oklahoma
Always looking for the next improvement, Sixes manager Joe Leathers came to us to pursue a heifer program with our Express Ranches. These cattle are as tough as they come, a product of over 100 years of hard work and genetic selection. Being raised in semi-arid, hard-grass country made them highly productive when we summered them at our New Mexico ranch near Cimarron. No frills and with genetics to burn helped achieve the performance and fertility unmatched to this point!”
“For nearly 20 years, I have been privileged to work with the 6666s and their Angus bull needs. From the beginning, there has always been concern for superior quality. I am proud to work with such a progressive team, always looking to better their product. Whether it be visual appraisal or data analysis, the 6666s has always opted for the best they could find. They have constantly and conscientiously selected for the functionality traits of calving ease, maternal influence, soundness and fleshing ability while also pursuing the profitable traits of growth and carcass merit. This disciplined approach has developed one of the real reputation herds in America. Realize that this cow herd earns its keep in the semi-arid, hard grass country of West Texas. Whether in their working clothes raising a calf or competing for grid premiums, this herd is genetically designed to show a profit, truly a testament to their years of diligence. Beyond the cattle and the data, what is most important to me is the people and integrity behind the ranch. The 6666s stands behind its brand and any critter that carries it. Like it should be.”Darrell StevensonStevenson Angus Ranch, Hobson, Montana