The search for a cattle breeder who successfully uses Braunvieh cross cattle in his commercial herd led the Braunvieh World to a beautiful ranch near McNeill, Miss. — Rocking T Bar Ranch.
An old Arabian proverb says “There are only three kinds of person in the world: the immovable, the movable and those that move.” From an early age, S. L. “Gene” Thompson, McNeill, Miss., is truly the latter — “one who moves.” Contemporary vernacular would characterize him as a “mover and a shaker.”
At an early age, Gene Thompson was not one to sit idle. He was born in Louisiana in 1925. As a young boy during the depression, Gene Thompson walked behind a plow pulled by a donkey. The family farm was typical of many small farms in the United States in those days. Gene's family had a few dairy cows, churned their own butter and grew their own vegetables.
It was at the “ripe old age” of eight that Gene Thompson started his first business. From the family barn, he loaded manure into a wagon and sold it to wealthy people in the vicinity. The business was so successful that he hired a man for $.50 a day to help him load the wagon. This was the first of many employees that Gene Thompson would employ through the years.
Even before he started his own business at the age of 8, Gene Thompson displayed business acumen. He was known in the area as both a horse and cow trader. As the years went by, others noticed his business successes. At the age of 13, his daddy accompanied him to the bank to sign a note for a business project. The banker insisted, however, that he, personally, would sign the note. With the money, Gene bought his own cows.
In his late teens, Gene married and moved to New Orleans. He obtained a job at Armour Packing Company. Not content to be an employee, Gene Thompson (and a partner) opened his first meat stall inside a French grocery store. In time, Gene owned his own grocery. He rented freezer space to store his meat and worked his way up until, in 1948, he was able to buy his first meat packing plant. This was a portion meat plant.
Gene Thompson's hard work paid off, and several years later he bought a slaughter plant in Thibodaux, La. In the early 1960's, this slaughter plant employed over 100 workers.
In the years between his purchase of the packing plant and the purchase of the slaughter plant, Gene had cattle in a partnership deal.
Eventually, he bought cattle himself, which were fed on 60-odd acres in Robert, La. The next acquisition was a 300-odd acre farm in Henryfield, La. The Thompsons leased the land they currently live on until they eventually bought the 1,017-acre ranch (they recently sold the 17 acres, which are across the railroad track). In the late 1980's, the family bought 800 more acres in Henryfield.
The meat plant in New Orleans was eventually moved to Slidell, La. This business mushroomed and is still going strong. There are currently three young men who manage the plant as a team. The slaughter plant was moved from Thibodaux to outside of Baton Rouge, and then to Franklinton, La. It has since been sold. In addition, an old time meat market the Thompsons purchased in Baton Rouge in the mid 1970's was given to a grandson. He sold it in 1995. The Thompsons still own the portion meat control plant. The beef is not slaughtered in the plant but, instead, the carcasses are bought.
The story of Gene Thompson's turn to the Braunvieh breed is an interesting one. For 28 years, he and his wife, Mary Alice, raised purebred Beefmaster cattle. Most of the current Beefmaster cattle go back to bulls or females that came from, or were owned, by Rocking T Bar Ranch. Gene Thompson was very active in the Beefmaster organization; he was a president and a former Breeder of the Year of BBU.
The Beefmaster cattle were, in many ways, ideal for cattlemen in the South — good in weaning weight, heat tolerance and maternal traits. But when Gene Thompson began to observe the results of carcass contests in the United States, he decided to change the direction of his program. One breed not only combined the ideal traits of the Beefmaster, but was also winning big in the carcass contests. That breed was Braunvieh.
After seeing the amazing results in carcass contests and traveling all across the U. S. to the best herds, Gene Thompson started buying the best, most functional Braunvieh cattle the breed had to offer at the time. He eventually dispersed his Beefmaster herd and began breeding fullblood Braunvieh cattle, as well as commercial cattle. Using his commercial herd, Thompson has also seen first-hand how well the Braunvieh-sired calves perform.
Both the steers and the heifers perform well in the feedlot as well as on the rail. Braunvieh-sired heifers kept as replacement females also worked admirably when put into production.
But to keep breeding original Braunviehs, Thompson knew that there was a limited genetic pool from which to choose. In 1995 at the Houston Livestock Show, Thomspson met Humberto Valverde, who had been breeding Braunvieh cattle for 39 years in Mexico. Since that first meeting Thompson has bought interest in almost all of Valverde's Braunvieh cattle and has imported some of the best cattle back to the United States.
Today, Rocking T Bar Ranch is home to over 150 head of fullblood Braunvieh. They also have 600 head of commercial cattle that are used to test their herd sires and recipients in their embryo program. Through embryo transfer, they have put together some of the elite females in the breed today, and to top that, most are outcrosses to the mainstream bloodlines in the U. S.
The last three years, Thompson has fed his Braunvieh-sired calves, both steers and heifers, at McLean Feedyards in McLean, Texas. These cattle were sold to B3R Country Meats near Childress, Texas. The premium paid per head for these Braunvieh-sired calves out of Brahman influenced cows averaged nearly $100 a head. They had an average back fat of .30 inches, a ribeye area of 13.9 square inches, an average quality grade of choice and an average yield grade of 1.77.
The house that the Thompsons reside in was originally a square blockhouse. The Thompsons decided to enlarge it for a weekend (ranch) house. They had lived in New Orleans but when the plant was moved to Slidell, La., they were the same distance from this house to the plant as they had been from New Orleans to the plant. Gene Thompson wanted to be near his cows so the move was made. The house in New Orleans was sold in 1993.
The work ethic continued. Gene would leave the house from 6:30 to 7:00 in the morning every day and return at 6:30 to 7:00 in the evening.
Other than eating his dinner, he was on the telephone until it was time to go to bed. Unfortunately, Mr. Thompson suffered a stroke, and thus his daily routine, by necessity, has had to change. He is still mentally alert and very interested in the meat business, as well as the registered and commercial cattle at Rocking T Bar Ranch.
Mary Alice remarked that her husband knew animals from the inside out and the outside in. Because of this knowledge, Gene Thompson has been successful in producing tender, juicy, flavorful beef that has worked for both the consumer and the producer. Mary Alice summed up her husband with these words; “he's quite a guy.” We agree.
(Reprinted with permission from The Braunvieh World, Summer 1999.)