Taylor County’s 2019 Agriculture Family of the Year
By Wendy Kilmer
Photography by Beth Dukes
Mary Beth Farris grew up near Chicago and envisioned herself settling down somewhere around Cape Cod. Her husband, Danny, admits to experiencing culture shock when moving from the rolling, piney hills of Northern Louisiana to West Texas. But today both say they can’t imagine living anywhere else than their Tuscola ranch.
“You couldn’t pay me to move,” Danny said.
The feeling is mutual between Taylor County and the Farris family. In February, the Farrises were honored with the Agriculture Family of the Year award at the annual Farm and Ranch Expo.
“Nominees for the award are people respected by their peers, respected in their industry, have a long tenure, are committed to agriculture and give back to the industry,” said Jason Gibson, vice president of lending for Capital Farm Credit in Abilene.
Gibson has served on the selection committee for the award for 10 years and is the chair this year. The Texas A&M University Taylor County AgriLife agriculture committee has been giving out the award annually since 1995. Two years ago, the name changed from Farm Family of the Year to Agriculture Family of the Year to better represent the ranching community as well.
“The Farris’ story is neat,” Gibson said. “They’re really self made. They took a pretty big gamble going from managing a ranch to buying the herd. That takes a lot of guts. And Danny is about as genuine and nice a guy as you’ll find. When you think about what this award represents, they fit it to a T.”
The enormity of that gamble isn’t lost on the Farrises, and it wasn’t back in 1996 either. They’ve been ranching for 34 years now, but at that time, they had been here for 10 years, with Danny working as ranch manager for the Clark family of the Escoba Cattle Company.
After he completed his master’s degree at West Texas State (now West Texas A&M) University in Canyon, Danny and Mary Beth moved here to manage the registered Brangus herd owned by the Clark family. But a decade later, in 1996, owner Gail Clark Kaiser was ready to sell her cattle.
“We liked the community, we had started a family, and I had been here for 10 years and gotten the herd the way I wanted it,” Danny said. “I told her I wished I could buy them from her. She said ‘You’d be interested in buying them?’ I said, ‘Yes, but no bank would loan me that much money.’ She said ‘You don’t need a bank; I’ll finance it.’ It’s been a lot of hard work and determination since then, but we paid it off nine years ago. We still lease the land from Gail. It’s a pretty unique opportunity to be able to buy a herd you’ve been managing for 10 years.”
As they worked to pay off the loan, Mary Beth started working in the Jim Ned school district, first as an aide but then earned her teaching certificate and taught kindergarten and first grade. She retired two years ago, after 26 years with the district, allowing her to focus on marketing for Farris Ranching Company.
“Danny’s been patiently waiting for 20 years for me to come help him,” she said.
Farris Ranching Company primarily sells bulls to meat producers to breed to their cows to upgrade their calves. They sell about 100-120 bulls each year, both Brangus and UltraBlack. Their ranching operation has expanded from the original South Taylor County land to about 7,000 acres across four counties. They also farm about 700 acres of crops for the cattle.
Danny travels to their various parcels of land each week to replace hay and check on calves. “Luckily, Brangus are very hardy,” he said.
Farris Ranching has one full-time employee outside the family, but the family is an all-hands-on-deck type of operation. Their son Payton lives in Ovalo where he does leather working but is also on call to help at the ranch as needed.
The Farris’ daughter Katelyn Horner and her husband, Kolby, and four children are in the process of moving from New Braunfels back to Taylor County where she’ll work as livestock secretary for the Taylor County Expo Center. But she, too, is part of the family business, assisting as needed with marketing for the ranch.
That’s almost always been the case and isn’t likely to end with the next generation.
“Both kids have been showing our cattle since they were in fifth grade. We were walking them down that dirt road since they were old enough to walk,” Danny said. “Now Katelyn is a consultant on marketing. And, our two eight-year-old grandsons showed our cattle for the first time at the West Texas Fair and Rodeo this fall.”
Horner holds a degree in agriculture economics from Texas A&M, and she’s been involved in the industry even longer. In high school she served as state president for the Junior Brangus Breeders Association, on national board of that organization and president of the local Future Farmers Association. Her brother Payton served on the Junior Brangus state board in high school as well. And Horner began providing marketing direction for her parents even during college.
“She came home from college telling me we need to put our bulls on the internet,” Danny said. ‘I told her ‘the people who buy our bulls don’t use the internet.’ She said, ‘it’s still a good idea.’ Well, we were both right. It opened up a new market for us. We take video of bulls ready for sale, and we get calls from people coming to look based on the videos. Some even purchase directly having just seen photos and video online. And no one’s returned one yet.”
In 2015, the Farrises were named Breeder of the Year by the International Brangus Breeders Association, nominated and voted on by a board of directors. Only tricky part? Danny served as president of that board. So, the group staged a fake vote with Danny present but kept the real winner a secret from him.
“I had gotten wind about what was happening,” Mary Beth said. “But Danny had no idea. At the awards banquet, he was getting really nervous because the family he thought was receiving the award wasn’t there. He was afraid there would be no seats left for them! But finally, his friend went up there to present and started talking about him, and he realized what was going on.”
Their service to industry organizations is significant and
was one of the considerations in choosing Agriculture Family of the Year.
“If there’s a Brangus association, they’re on it,” Gibson said. “And not just on it, but chair or treasurer.”
Currently, Mary Beth is secretary of the International Brangus Auxiliary. Danny is on the board of the International Brangus Breeders Association. He’s also been on boards of regional divisions of the association.
Danny’s unique position as both owner and operator of a West Texas purebred ranch isn’t what he planned on when he first entered the world of agriculture. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Louisiana Tech with intent to run a commercial beef production operation.
But, on a whim, during his senior year at Louisiana Tech, he applied for a program at West Texas State that would allow him to enroll in a master’s degree program while living on a ranch and managing a herd. When he was selected for the opportunity, he moved to Canyon, Texas, and discovered he liked the challenge of being herdsman. He also met Mary Beth. Her sister attended school there, and Mary Beth had decided to join her. They married a year after meeting and soon took the plunge to move to Tuscola and manage the Escoba Cattle Company.
“We couldn’t have had a better opportunity than to raise our family in South Taylor County,” Danny said.
Despite their history in the community and the industry, the Agriculture Family of the Year award was unexpected, the Farrises said.
“I didn’t know we were in the running,” Danny said. “I got a phone call from my neighbor, Jeff Callaway, right after Christmas, He said ‘I have some good news. You’ve been named Agriculture Family of the Year.’ I said ‘Really? How did we get that?’
“It might have been the first time he was ever speechless,” Mary Beth said. “We are pretty low key. This scholarship banquet and award was a bigger deal than we thought! But it was fun. It was quite an honor.”