Tall Tales and High Standards
I’ve always been a big fan of good stories – tales of great adventure and overcoming adversity. The type of stories with characters who throw out the rulebook and make one of their own.
Minnie Lou and daughter Mary Lou Bradley, along with Mary Lou’s husband James Henderson are those type of people. By creating their own standards of success for doing business, they changed the beef industry for the better.
When I turned down the dirt road that leads to Bradley 3 Ranch, I knew I was in for a good story. I didn’t realize I would hear jaw-dropping sagas including characters like Beyoncé or Bonnie and Clyde. All true, all almost unbelievable, all worthy of repeating, but the most moving stories were about those sitting right in front of me.
When people doubted that the rough Texas panhandle in the middle of a drought was a good place to start an Angus seedstock operation in the 1950’s, Minnie Lou proved them wrong. By being a ‘grass person first,’ shipping any cow that doesn’t produce a calf and breeding Angus genetics that have to work for the cattleman she built a legacy.
When most producers stayed close to the ranch, Minnie Lou spent hours in grocery stores, standing at the meat case and asking consumers questions — seeking to understand what they were truly looking for when shopping for beef. She then took those experiences to the board room where she became the first woman to Chair the American Angus Association board of directors.
“You can do what you want to do, if you want it bad enough,” Minnie Lou says. “You’re going to be challenged, you’re going to work hard and not everything is going to come together like you want it to. But I guarantee, if your heart is there and your head is there and you have integrity, are focused in one direction and if you are honest with yourself and everyone else — there is always a way.”
It’s a mindset she passed on to her daughter.
While others shrugged Natural beef off as a ‘consumer phase’ and said there was no way a small packer could survive, Mary Lou dug in her heels. At 25 years old she built her own packing plant and launched B3R Country Meats. She flew to New York to visit the meat packing district and elbowed her way into the market there. In 2004 it was her plant that became the first packer licensed to produce Certified Angus Beef ® Natural.
Value-added products were a risky line extension for Certified Angus Beef in the 1980s, but James knew they could work. He helped create the first Certified Angus Beef ® corned beef product before he joined B3R in the early ‘90s. Currently, he serves on the CAB board of directors and manages the Bradley cowherd.
A fierce determination to create what the market and consumers demand helped them create history — a history that’s deeply intertwined with our brand. From conception to consumption and everything in between, this family understands what it takes to make great beef.
“I’ve been around cattle my whole life and I always thought I understood it,” Minnie Lou says. “But until you see your own cattle hanging on a rail and see how they perform in a feedlot…it changes your perspective.”
I see in them what I’m sure is the same grit those who launched our brand in 1978 had and the vision that’s kept us going for 40 years. It just wouldn’t be right to have a 40th Anniversary celebratory campaign without including Bradley 3 Ranch. Their barn will go down in history as #10 on our tour.
The logo on the side of their barn is a mark of quality, but it’s also the beginning of a story. When someone points to the mural and asks “why?” each family member has their own tale to tell of what the symbol means to them and their role in making it mean something valuable to the consumer.
“The main thing I think has helped the Certified Angus Beef ® brand be successful all these years is setting their standards so high and living with them,” Minnie Lou says.
I would argue the same is true about her own success.
It’s said that the greatest legends are those rooted deeply in truth. They inspire us and create stories that span generations because the individuals and their feats are worth repeating. Over the generations, the details get fuzzy, but the core lessons remain. Not to disagree with the esteemed cattlewoman, but I think the real key to this brand’s success is Angus breeders who live stories like these. The kind that I’ll never tire of telling and that 40 years from now will be looked back on as catalysts for moving our industry forward in the quest for better beef.
Until next time,