While they were not raised on farms, Cherryl and Toby Forte developed a high-quality Beefmaster herd
This is a tale of two worlds and two loves: history and Beefmaster cattle.
Cherryl and Toby Forte have two farm homes, with one in Mulberry, Ark., where they raise registered Beefmaster cattle, one of two breeds developed in the United States.
Cherryl and Toby were both raised as city folk, but with a deep love of the land. For Cherryl that meant spending some summers with her grandfather Irving Ewing, who had cattle ranches in both Texas and Oklahoma. Toby grew up in New Mexico riding his horse Calamity Jane from dusk to dawn.
“Like most little girls, I was crazy about horses, but my parents maintained we couldn’t afford one,” Cherryl said.
“Two weeks after I married, I bought my first horse. Then Toby and I raised Quarter Horses and Tennessee Walkers for years.”
The couple’s interests in cattle developed when their daughter Lisa was in 4-H. She would buy a day-old Jersey heifer, bottle feed it, train it and show it for two years. At one time she had as many as 13 show heifers.
A neighbor offered to breed their growing herd to his Beefmaster bull, and the Forte’s love affair with Beefmasters was on. They were immediately attracted to the Beefmaster breed because of disposition and feed efficiency. Through the years, the operation evolved into a registered Beefmaster seedstock herd with 125 females bred by AI or high-quality bulls.
Although they maintain they don’t breed show cattle, the Fortes have won numerous national shows, including Miss Beefmaster America, national grand champion bull and, in 2012, they had both the senior and intermediate champion bulls in the open show at the Houston Livestock Show. Their show record establishes the quality of their breeding program and serves as an advertising tool, as does the internet, where Cherryl posts numerous pictures of the stock, all of which are sold off the farm.
In the beginning, the couple used the Beefmaster upgrade program, a financially advantageous process where commercial cows are crossed with a registered Beefmaster bull. Those calves are then bred back to a registered Beefmaster bull. The third generation are registered as purebred, an inexpensive way to get into purebred cattle. Over the years the Forte’s also purchased tremendous foundation donors for their developing herd utilizing an embryo program for years to get their herd to the consistent and predictable quality they wanted.
“To promote the breed and my business, I find young people in 4-H and FFA and help them develop a program,” Cherryl said. “Some end up showing for me. I’ve found the best way to help adults seeking to start up a herd is by asking them what their financial goal for the herd is. I enjoy helping clients develop a profitable program, almost as much as working on my own.”
Some are looking for retirement income, some want to improve the quality of their commercial calves, and a few hope to raise breeding replacement stock. Many students hope their herds will help with college or build a down payment for a home. Defining the goal and aligning that goal with available finances helps the newcomers realistically and profitably make decisions.
“My goal is not to sell a single animal, but to make my buyers as successful as possible so they become repeat customers,” Cherryl explained.
To this end, Cherryl gives semen from her champion bulls with each cow or heifer a customer purchases from Wild Oaks Farm.
This practice helps the buyer produce a consistent product with proven genetics. She encourages new buyers to develop a specific product for a specific market, not just breed a cow and hope to sell the calf somewhere. She works with each buyer to learn to physically evaluate each animal and provides tips in managing their herd and, just as importantly, their records. Finally, when clients are building their programs based on hers, Cherryl often sends them customers if she doesn’t have what a prospective customer is looking for at that time.
Another aspect of her approach to the cattle business is to always be in touch with her own finances and to set annual goals for herself. In other words, she does exactly what she asks her buyers to do.
If the goal is to increase the sale amount of each calf by a set amount, what will it take to produce that better product? The change could be a different bull, better pasture, change in the calving season, re-evaluation of feed, hay, etc.
Decisions to be made need to be informed decisions. When they were running 240 cows and an active embryo program, the land made the most money running cattle and purchasing hay. Now, with unsettling hay availability over the last few years, the Fortes choose to again cut their own fields as a guaranteed supplement to available hay in the area. The cheapest feed is high-quality hay, and when necessary, Cherryl prefers to buy hay from local farmers where she can see the grass growing in the field.
Currently, Wild Oaks’ has a number of quality mature cattle for sale from the heart of the herd. Cherryl’s goal, for the next year or two, is to downsize their herd to around 70 mature females and 20 heifers, a more manageable number for running the cattle on one farm instead of the three currently used.
“None of this would be possible without the help of neighbor David Harris who is my right and my left hand,” Cherryl acknowledged. “He is with the herd every day and separates the weaning calves for 10 days then socializes them by touching and coddling them. They become very accustomed to being handled and touched which makes my cattle very workable. Genetics don’t do it all.”
An example of David’s soft-hearted but practical approach occurred with a cow who needed treatment. She had a nervous disposition when removed from the herd so David moved her to a corral for several days but brought another cow to be with her so she wouldn’t be stressed while she healed.
Both Cherryl and David agree that one of the best parts of raising cattle is never knowing what the day will bring. The unpredictably and flexibility of agricultural life suits them both just fine.