They were matching up Beverly Baetge’s heifers Thursday at D Bar B Cattle Company, located on the historic McFarland Ranch just south of Aledo. They were trying to winnow an odd three from a pen of 13 so alike in color and body type that it was tough to make the call.

“She’s a little dark,” Baetge, who leases the land, said to ranch manager Karla Stailey, as she sized up the two-year-old tiger-striped Brafords zeroing in on the feed trough. “There’s one with horns.”

Uniformity is everything when it comes to winning an award in the prestigious invitational commercial heifer show and sale, set for Feb. 3 and 4 at the Fort Worth Stock Show.

Over the past 16 years D Bar B has topped the division at the invitational, earned reserve champion and taken several blue and red ribbons.

Most of those awards were received when the company was co-owned by Baetge and her longtime friend and business partner, Diane McFarland Cornwall, who died in July 2010.

Cornwall’s grandfather, Charles McFarland, was one of the founders of the Fort Worth Stock Show.

Like her grandfather, Cornwall strove to produce good cattle.

Her investment in the herd’s foundational genetics continues to pay off.

Last year the ranch broke a record at the sale last year, Stailey said, when a buyer forked over $3,000 a head.

Unlike show cattle, which are dandied up and trotted out single file, by a handler,  commercial heifers get no more than a trim job, a little “cowsmetology,” as Stailey and assistant ranch manager Kelly Beard put it, before they are evaluated as a pen of 10.

“It’s a little more casual, no vacuuming and blowing,” Stailey said. “You are judged completely on the quality of that set of cattle.”

The top ten headed for the upcoming show and sale are all F1 Golden Certified heifers. F1 signifies that the animals are the result of crossing two breeds, in this case, Polled Herefords, an English breed, and Brahmans, which originated in India.

“Golden Certified” labels the heifers as the offspring of registered parents.

Unlike many other entrants, D Bar B’s pen of 10 heifers were all raised on the ranch, sired by the same bull, Stailey said.

Each of the pens will be sold as a group to a single buyer and used to replace older cows in their herds.

“We get a lot of recognition from the show,” Baetge said, “a lot of business out of it. And we have met people who are knowledgeable and made a lot of friends.”

This year, the ranch will enter one of their better groups, Stailey said, but may get less for them because of the drought.

“The drought is worrisome; it affects all we do,” Stailey said. The ranch bought a lot of hay this year but didn’t sell off any cattle.

“They worked 20 years for these genetics. It’s hard to let a little drought make you sell the stuff you’ve worked for, especially when your niche is replacement heifers.”

“It will rain again,” she said. “They’re predicting a good market in the spring.”

Baetge and Cornwall, who met at a golf tournament in Texarkana in 1982, bought their first cow together in the late ‘80s, a polled Hereford named Victoria, which they added to a herd of about 20 that Cornwall already owned.

The company now owns 289 animals, including a Polled Hereford bull — descended from a Canadian champion — and three premium Gardiner Angus bulls from Kansas.

“We may breed more black cattle in the future,” Baetge said. “The Angus Association has done a wonderful job promoting this breed in restaurants and grocery stores.”

The McFarland Ranch, established in 1883, is certified by the Family Land Heritage Program for being maintained in continuous agricultural operation by the same family for 100 years.

D Bar B Cattle Co. takes great pride in that, Baetge said, and works to keep the land and native grass in good condition.

“One of our main objectives is to keep this land in ranchland,” Baetge said. “We use a rotational grazing system: 36 pastures, ranging from 5 to 90 acres. The cattle graze them for two to four days, depending on the time of year and the number of cattle.”

“It gives the grass some time to recover.”

For their efforts, Baetge and Cornwall received the Resident Conservation Rancher Award for Region V of the Soil and Water Conservation District of Texas in 2002.

Baetge, who will turn 80 in April, said that daily operations on the large ranch, one of the few remaining in Parker County, are in the capable hands of Stailey and Beard now.

These days, Baetge’s contributions lie in maintaining the herd’s comprehensive record system, which she enjoys, and, of course, paying the bills.

She pauses for a minute when asked for the secret to her company’s success, then credits Cornwall’s love of the land and her dedication to developing the herd’s genetics.

“I think it also has to do with our ability to keep on learning,” she said.

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