Zachery and Heather Ruble are slowly building their Highland Herd
The first look into the furry face of a Scottish Highland, and Zach and Heather Ruble were hooked.
Neither of them had grown up on the farm, but they were anxious to give the cattle business a go. The couple had long had a dream of “dabbling” in cattle, and now, 10 years later, Heather and Zach are quite pleased with their decision to dive in and plan to continue in the business.
Although they originally debated between another dual-purpose cattle, Dexter, the adaptability of Highlands to small acreage was key for Zach and Heather. They use a total of only 35 acres, owning a plot of 10 behind their house in the outskirts of Pleasant Hope, Mo., and renting the remaining acreage just down the road.
“We’ve really come to love them (Highlands); they’re easy keepers, and they do great in Missouri,” Heather explains.
Many people worry about the humidity and the cattle’s thick hair coat, but with a pond and a few shade trees, they do very well and prove to be hardy animals.
In addition, as each calf is weaned, Zach and Heather halter break the animal, eliminating future chaotic roundups. When sorting and loading time comes, each one is haltered and simply walked into the trailer. To move the cattle to the pasture down the road, “we halter them up and just walk them down the middle of the road,” Zach said.
In fact, because of the nature of their cattle, the Rubles own no heavy equipment at all, chutes included. This helps them keep the costs of their side business at a minimum.
“We like to keep our overhead fairly low,” Heather explained. “Since neither of us grew up on a farm, and we’re trying to accumulate property, cattle and equipment; it’s slow getting started.”
Zach and Heather keep things fairly simple, raising grass-fed and finished, registered Highlands through the Heartland Highland Association.
Their fall and winter calves make good 4-H projects, according to Zach, and each of their registered heifers will be sold for this or other purposes. The Rubles like to keep between 10 and 15 head on their small farm. Currently, there are nine head of Highlands on Ruble Ranch, including one bull and one commercial cow, Ugly Betty.
Each animal is affectionately named, typically after a news event that happened near the time of their birth. Vegas, for example, named in remembrance of the Las Vegas shooting, and Nova, after the super moon.
The main money maker with the Rubles’ cattle is processed beef. Each year, Zach and Heather haul between seven and 11 steers to the processor, and sell quarters, halves and whole beef and custom orders to local clients.
Both Zachery and Heather have careers outside of their hobby farm, which is how they rack up most of their clientele. Heather works as a civic engineer, and Zach is a teacher at Good Samaritan Boys Ranch outside of Bolivar, Mo.
“Our jobs are really a great marketing tool,” Heather said. Their cattle side business brings in the income to support the Rubles other hobby – show horses. Heather has been showing horses since she was 15, but in the last five years, she and Zach picked up showing reigning horses. Instead of keeping the horses on the farm, they are sent to Right Lead Ranch, a training facility in Rogersville, Mo., where the horses are trained and jockeyed by professionals.
“We’re really the owner of an athlete, and when the horse ends its career as an open, or on the professional level, we take it and show it as non-pros,” Heather said.
At the present time, Zach and Heather have a yearling nominated for the Derby who will be put into training once he reaches 2 years of age.
Having taught themselves everything they know about farming, Zach said one valuable lesson has been discovering their on the spot ingenuities, or as Heather puts it, becoming “MacGyvers.”
The couple laugh as they recall some such instances with a cantankerous bull they’ve since sold.
“When he broke the fence to the neighbor’s property, we figured out how to patch it real quick. You have to think outside the box in seconds, or stuff’s really gonna go wrong,” Zach said.
A fonder memory from Ruble Ranch is that of a house pet calf. Nova, born this past January, fell through the ice of the Ruble’s pond when she was 2 days old. Zach, noticing Nova wasn’t in the pasture, found her in the pond and pulled her out. Zach tried warming her in his coat, but the young calf was so cold she couldn’t stand. After veterinary treatment, little Nova earned herself a couple days’ stay in the house.
Heather and Zach enjoyed doting over her but soon had to scoot her back out into the wintery weather with mom, Kirsty. Nova has since grown in physique and good nature, a testament to personal care.
In the last 10 years, the Rubles have learned a lot about farm life. Perhaps the most important virtues, patience and prayer.
“It’s easy to find God everywhere in farming,” Zach and Heather agree.
Research, plan, set goals and stick to them, the Rubles advise to any other want-to-be-farmers.
“There’s nothing like seeing a new born calf, whether it’s a Highlander or commercial, or a new born foal – we’ve had three of those born out here in the barn – and it’s so special,” Zach said. “New life is great. You can’t compare yourself to other larger operations. We’re hobby farmers; we love it, and it’s fun.”