Betsy Simmons made up her mind to become a rancher when she was just four years old shadowing her beloved maternal grandfather Price at his farm and feedlot. Born to Tom and Anne Simmons in Lubbock, Texas, Betsy was shy; however, she bloomed with the confidence her grandfather always placed in her. She tagged along when he did business as a banker and a Texaco gas man, learning about negotiations, and people. She first learned to drive a Ford tractor while helping to feed cattle, and the farm manager never hesitated to saddle up a horse for her to ride along. When in middle school, her grandfather leased the Slaughter Ranch near Morton, TX he allowed her to run all the cows and yearlings she could in exchange for keeping salt out for the cattle, riding fences, and checking windmills.
She attended Texas Tech University and by her second semester she had switched to the animal science department, adding Spanish and business to her studies. Betsy met Reeves Brown while attending classes when a matchmaking professor suggested they get to know each other.
Reeves grew up in Mathis, TX. his family raised Hereford cattle, and mentored by a grandfather he adored. Like Betsy, he never imagined a life outside of ranching. The couple married in Virginia in a small ceremony after Reeves graduated, simultaneous to his enlistment as an officer in the Army Quartermaster Corp in Fort Lee, VA. After moving to Reeve’s new post in Fort Sill, OK they found a place in the country big enough to bring their horses. Two years later, they moved back to Lubbock and leased her grandfather’s stock farm.
Their son Kelly was born in 1964, and soon thereafter, the hardworking couple purchased their first ranch near Austin in Cameron, TX. They cleared land, built fences and planted grass while building their herd up to 150 cows and farming 500 acres. Betsy notes that at times, they shared their house with snakes, scorpions and termites.
When a neighbor unexpectedly made the Browns an offer on their ranch, Betsy started to imagine ranching in somewhere away from the heat and humidity. She visited ranches far and wide—from Canada to Mexico. “Three months later I found ‘the’ ranch near Beulah, CO. It had good earth, very generous irrigation rights, and strong grasses.’
They purchased the 10,000 acre 3R Ranch in 1981 from the Hunt Bros. of Dallas, TX. The historic locatoin along the south St. Charles was originally a portion of the massive Nolan Land Grant, granted by the King of Spain. Further, U.S. Marshal Peter ‘Uncle Pete’ Dotson and his family lived in a log home on the property. Ultimately encased in a larger stucco home, the 140 year old log home was donated to the Beulah community and relocated adjacent to the Beulah School. Dotson Cabin researcher and author James Campbell notes, “Even before the cabin project began, Reeves and Betsy were encouraging the Dotson story when others were not even aware it was being researched.” In the early years they found considerable entertainment studying the abstracts of the ranch, and piecing together a remarkable history with 20 previous owners.
The Brown family loved the ranch from the beginning; they settled into their new landscape, which consisted of roughly 40% timber, and 60% prairie. Irrigation rights offered 26.2 second feet, and capable of irrigating up to 1,300 acres depending on the snow pack.
Betsy recalls, “I spent my youth planning to be a rancher. Education and free time and dollar investments were all directed to learning ranching.”
In 1985, Betsy learned about Holistic Resource Management through an article written in the New Mexico Stockman. Developed as an approach to help land managers, farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, and policymakers develop strategies for regenerating degraded landscapes, and livelihoods of the people. Utilizing a decision-making process that ensures that the actions taken are ecologically, socially and economically sound.
With consideration for the earth, water, plants, insects, animals, ranch staff, community and sunlight no stone is unturned while considering the relationship to each other, and the whole. The couple seriously pursued the coursework together in Albuquerque, NM after a fellow rancher offered to watch their place, and strongly suggested they both needed to understand the concepts, or it would never work.
It worked, eventually, Betsy became president of the Colorado Branch of Holistic Resource Management, and later chairman of the International Center for HRM, meeting people all over the U.S., Africa, Canada, and Australia.
“These classes changed the way we grazed our grass, the way we planned our finances, the way we handled our cattle, and slowly the way we interacted as a couple.” They were excited at the prospect of what they could do for the land, rather than just use it, they could improve it.
They learned to capitalized on each other strengths, “Reeves managed the irrigation, hay, winter feeding, fencing, and agricultural civic work. I managed the cows, the office, and oversaw the hunting and timbering.” They agree that making decisions together has generally resulted in better land management choices.
Betsy knew from an early age that it was not easy for a woman to be taken seriously in the male-dominated cattle industry, but she persisted at every turn. Today, she acknowledges that steps are being made with each new generation. Betsy’s advice? “Just jump in and totally be a part of the business from morning to night. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
One of the first changes they made was how they grazed their cattle. They implemented rotational grazing methods by sectioning the land into 100-acre parcels and moving the cattle every five days, mimicking the movement of wildlife. When moving the cattle from one section to the other, Betsy simply moves the mineral blocks to the new site. Creatures of habit, the cattle recognize the signs, and find their way to the tall grass without any fuss all on their own within a few hours.
After just a few years of incorporating their new field management methods, the Browns went from needing 16 acres per cow/year to feed a cow, to less than half that space at 7.6 acres per cow/per year. When the land had time to rest, the grama grass grew higher, and more species began to thrive including Side Oats Grama, Little Blue Stem, Big Blue Stem, Western Wheat Grass, and Indian Grass.
For the first 20 years of their tenure, they ran approximately 650 head; however, by the year 2000 they would be forced to reduce their herd size to 450 head to minimize the impact on the land due to the prolonged drought.
The Browns initially bred Beefmaster cows in Texas; when those cows came to Colorado they added Angus bulls, and now include Simmental and Gelbvieh genetics. A small herd of Limousine cattle came with the ranch.
It is interesting to note that the Browns have significantly reduced their calving time over the years—initially they calved from March to June, nowadays they start in mid-April and end in late May!
Mother Nature has prompted two siginificant drought events, and testing their resolve. In 2000, they moved their cattle off the ranch for the first time to a ranch in south central Oklahoma, and again in 2013 when the herd stayed in a feedlot in Swink. Betsy camped in an RV at the feedlot prepping the new site for the herd, while Reeves hauled them up load by load. Betsy recalls the temporary housing ‘lasted for six months, and oh how they hated it.”
When the state of Colorado passed legislation that encouraged conservation easements through tax credits the Browns considered their options. “It had always bothered Reeves and me that the next generation to own the ranch might break it up and sell it because it's a pretty area.” After an arduous and costly process, they received the tax credits and put the money into savings, a backup for unexpected events.
In addition, they have entered their water rights into conservation easement, so the water will never be separated from the land. Together the conservation easements preserve the original Colorado beauty, leaving the vistas and views uninterupted by encroaching development.
The Browns have been bestowed numerous awards over the years for their land management and conservation efforts, deserved recognition for the couple who considers the 3R Ranch their life’s work.
Reeves now focuses on erosion control with his beloved bull dozer, leaving day to day ranch management to Betsy, and their young partner, Chad Helvey. Their son Kelly lives part-time in Haines, AK and on his boat in Anacortes, WA; returning to the ranch during the spring and fall to help facilitate the turkey, deer and elk hunters.
At forty years and counting, the Brown’s tenure at the 3R Ranch is the longest of any other owner—a testament to their passion, commitment and love of the whole. v
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