The Means family first ventured into West Texas with a small herd of cattle in the early 1880s. They were greeted by a tribe of Comanches who offered an interesting trade – they would spare their lives if the Means would hand over their cattle.
“Easiest decision I ever made,” said great-grandfather Means who handed over the herd as requested and immediately went back to get some more animals.
Today the place is known as the Means Ranch Company, Ltd., a family owned cattle operation near Van Horn in the western corner of Texas. It’s now in the hands of Jackie and Jon Means, fourth generation ranchers, and there is a fifth generation waiting in the wings. “We have three children; two girls and a boy,’ said Jackie. “Our oldest daughter graduated from Texas Christian eight years ago and moved to New York City.
“Our son graduated from the University of Texas in 2006 and the Texas Tech School of Law in 2010. He practices law in Midland. He loves the life here and will probably take over management sometime in the future. Our youngest daughter will graduate from TCU this spring.
“Because we’re so far away from town – about 40 miles - all three had to get up early for a long trip to school. It taught them how to work hard and get things done. For high school, they went to boarding school and that experience taught them to be adaptable.”
Jackie grew up as a doctor’s daughter in a city three hours away from the ranch. It was after returning home with a degree in economics from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts that she first met her future husband. “It was Jon’s cowboy charm and blue eyes that first attracted me,” she said.
“My first visit to the ranch can best be described as a ‘soft landing,’” she said. “Jon was delayed in town so I spent several hours getting to know his mother. She was a gracious lady who served cookies in a silver basket and poured lemonade until he arrived.”
His mom’s graciousness and Jon’s cowboy charm must have done the trick; three children and three decades later, Jackie is still at home on the ranch. “I think it’s the magnificent views and the sense of autonomy that I love the most about being here. I was a city girl and we could rely on other people to help. Out on the ranch though, we have to be self sufficient in ways that would surprise city dwellers today.”
As she begins her second year on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB), she remains a strong advocate of what CBB does, especially in these tough times. “We usually run about 1,200-1,500 mother cows but this terrible drought has forced us to cut back to about 450,” she said. “We’ve moved a few to our ranch in New Mexico and sold the rest.
“Jon and I have been big supporters of the CBB’s activities from the start. We worked on the first effort to get the checkoff started and we were delighted when the second effort passed. We knew our industry needed that kind of help. We thought it was necessary 25 years ago and it’s even more important today.”
“I was involved with the Texas Beef Council’s Mythbusters program in the 1990’s, too,” she said. “We learned a lot about beef and how to talk with consumers.”
Jackie started getting more involved when Jon was president of the Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers Association in 2008. Dave Scott, who succeeded Jon as TSCRA president, asked her if she would be interested in representing Texas on the CBB and she agreed. She was nominated and appointed by USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack in 2010.
Jackie serves on the advertising committee and calls it a great group of people who are doing great things with a limited budget. “We’re really leveraging our dollars well and seeing some excellent advances.
“We have a very co-operative spirit, now. I’m pleased with the cohesiveness and renewed sense of purpose. We’re working hard to do what needs to be done.”
Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for Vance Publishing.