Preserving the brand begins with stewardship.
Care for the land and stewardship for the cattle has passed from one generation to the next. The ranch founded by Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett and known for its legendary American Quarter Horses and superior Black Angus cattle is now entrusted to his great-great granddaughter Anne “Windi” Phillips Grimes.
Responsible Management at the Four Sixes Ranch is not only a way of life, it’s the preservation of life. With a family history that dates to the ranch’s founding in the mid-1800s, there’s pride and heritage in everything we do especially when it comes to caring for the land and our animals.
Depending on the land to feed our herds of cattle and horses, means conservation isn’t a buzz word but a necessity at the Four Sixes Ranch.
Being good stewards of the land requires making tough decisions. While assessing the impact of a severe drought in 2011, managers were faced with difficult choices – leave the cattle to graze land that had supported Four Sixes cattle since 1870 and risk ecological damage that might takes decades to recover or protect the land and cattle by finding alternative grazing land. To protect the rangeland, preserve more than a century of genetics and save the livelihoods of dozens of families in the sparsely populated area of King County, the ranch mangers decided to incur the expense of relocating the entire cattle operation to other states until rainfall returned.
“Now that the area has received some beneficial rains, the cattle are coming back,” said ranch manager Joe Leathers. “It was the vision and goal of Mrs. Anne Marion, the late owner of the ranch, for the Four Sixes Ranch to return the land to the way it was back in the 1870s to a condition that is conducive to a thriving cattle herd and abundant wildlife.”
Those efforts are paying off, being recognized and receiving accolades.
In 2014, the Four Sixes Ranch received the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association Outstanding Rangeland Stewardship Award, and in 2015, the ranch was honored with the Region 4 Environmental Stewardship Program Award.
People that work at the Four Sixes Ranch often span generations and are a team that love the brand, the livestock, and the land. They are exceptionally talented men and women of character that follow the influence of the late Mrs. Anne Marion, who left an easy trail to adhere to– it’s marked with honesty, integrity, loyalty, dedication, conviction, and a practice of common decency and respect for your fellow human every day. Her influence lives on as she left an easy trail to follow
Operating on 260,000 acres of rangeland, the three ranches combined are divided into 119 pastures as well as 10,000 acres of grass and cultivated land dedicated to horse production. The Four Sixes Ranch is bigger in land mass than New York City, which encompasses approximately 205,000 acres. The ranch’s management units vary from a few hundred acres to nearly 16,000 acres of grassland and cultivation. Using a continuous grazing system reduces labor costs, and cattle are rotated in and out of various herds depending on age, quality and production. The ranch has 18 solar wells, 29 windmills, 10 submersibles and 66 tubs on waterline with pivots at Frisco Creek with improved grasses and at Dixon Creek where wheat is planted and grazed.
In the mid-1990s, a mechanical brush treatment program began the slow process of returning the land to its prior state and turning the clock back 100 years. While the tedious task of removing invading mesquite and redberry juniper has been going on for more than a quarter of a century, the ranch has reclaimed tens of thousands of acres of productive prairie by dedicating full-time operators and equipment to the task. The success is springing forth new resources and is appreciated by the grazing cattle – and their wild cohabitants.
In support of Mrs. Marion’s vision of ecological conservation and natural habitat, the Four Sixes implements practices that not only reflect good stewardship but also increase profitability. Brush management, livestock water development and prescribed burning are tools being used in combination with proper grazing management and maintaining a strong forage base through the most extreme conditions.
“When it was completely covered with brush, the ranch would run a cow-calf unit on 60 to 80 acres. Today, we can safely run a cow calf-unit, year-round, on 30 to 40 acres,” said Leathers. “We have improved the stocking rate tremendously.”
Reducing invasive plants resulted in more abundant forage and grass lands. In addition to improving grazing conditions, the brush removal was done with an eye toward wildlife and quail habitat, too.
“This is about as good a quail habitat as you are going to see in the country,” stated Brad Dabbert, who is a professor of quail ecology at Texas Tech University. “When individuals know what they are doing as far as actually managing grass when you are managing cattle, it’s good for both quail and cattle – you can see they coexist really well.”
Care of the animals on the Four Sixes Ranch is matched by the care given to the land. When fully stocked, the ranch runs 6,000-7,000 cows, all divisions combined. After receiving record rains in 2015, the land is greener than ever, and the cattle are back.
With the constant challenge of maintaining water, the Four Sixes built stock tanks to catch and store water for the cattle, and more than 120 miles of pipe line and solar pumps were installed to supply water troughs. But the brush removal provided an added benefit, too. With less competition from plants, natural springs are reappearing.
“The brush control has opened up springs that haven’t run in years and years because the brush, the mesquite, the salt cedars had saturated and soaked up so much water that it dried the springs up,” Leathers said. “We have made this country viable for the cattle and the wildlife as well. Any kind of natural wildlife that was here before, we have more than we had then, and they are thriving together.”
In 2010, the Four Sixes Ranch joined the Quail-Tech Alliance, a Texas Tech University-based research project dedicated to the education of biologists and landowners in the management of bobwhite and scaled quail. Despite extreme drought conditions in the recent past, whitetail deer and quail are found throughout the ranch in ample numbers. The grassland habitat that has been created by the brush removal is inviting to wildlife.
The sound management practices implemented on the Four Sixes land not only support a viable grazing program but also created an avenue to share knowledge and resources. Strong working relationships have been developed with research organizations, and numerous tour groups have been welcomed onto the ranch to provide teaching opportunities to showcase the results first-hand.