Joan Thorne says she never knows who might drive through the ranch gate on any given day, looking for a bull, replacement heifers, club calves, semen, embryos or even freezer beef. And with a selection of genetics from at least four breeds, she refers to Thorne Ranch as “Cow-Mart.”
Joan and Albert (Abbie) Thorne operate A. W. Thorne Land and Cattle Inc., near Adair, in northeastern Oklahoma. The Thorne family has been involved in beef production since the 1940s, initially farming wheat and managing stocker cattle in the Texas Panhandle area and finishing them in Texas feedyards.
Albert moved to the Thorne Ranch in Oklahoma in the 1980s and continued running stocker cattle. In 1988 he purchased 11 pot loads of Beefmaster-type cows with plans to fatten them for resale. It turned out a large percentage of the cows were pregnant, and he decided to calve them out.
Following a successful calf crop, he entered the cow-calf business. He purchased several Braunvieh bulls and found the cross produced a high-value crossbred calf. He liked what the Braunvieh breed contributed so well that he added fullblood Braunvieh donors and top herd sires to the herd, and eventually developed an extensive embryo-transfer program.
It was the Braunvieh connection that led to Abbie’s marriage to Joan in 1996. She grew up on the Herrington Ranch, a Hereford operation south of Bassett, in the Sandhills region of north central Nebraska. She was office manager for the Bassett Livestock Auction for many years and sub-sequently went to work with the Braunvieh Association in Lincoln, Neb., where she met Albert.
Today the ranch offers Maine-Anjou, Simmental, Angus and a few Braunvieh cattle. The Thornes register purebred and percentage cattle with each of the respective breed associations. They use their lesser-quality cows as recipients in their embryo program and clean up with their varied herd sires to produce a variety of bulls, show steers and replacement heifers.
The Thornes breed for spring and fall calving, with spring calves born in February to April and fall calves born from September to November. Spreading calving means the Thornes have bulls or females available for sale at just about any time of the year.
The Thornes held an annual production sale until 2003 but then moved to selling all their cattle, semen and embryos through private treaty. The ranch is located just off heavily travelled U.S. 69 and generates a fair amount of “walk-in” customers. “We sell cattle to a lot of first-time cattle owners,” Joan says, adding that they take the time to educate them and help them manage their cattle after the sale. These newcomers to the business, she adds, are willing to pay for good genetics and gentle cattle that are easy to handle.
Attention to producer needs has built a strong following of repeat customers, she adds, who account for a good share of the operation’s sales.
Joan says their genetic focus has always been on maternal traits, fertility and temperament, adding that they have built a strong market for club calves with a reputation for easy handling. Abbie uses a low-stress halter of his own design to halter-break club calves in a short time.
In addition to marketing yearling bulls, the Thornes sell some bulls at weaning, with a guarantee they will breed once mature. Some repeat customers, Joan says, have enough confidence in the genetics that they place a deposit for half the bull’s price while still on the cow, pay the remainder at weaning and take the calf home to mature on their own operation.
The couple uses the Internet as a marketing tool, maintaining a Web site — Thornelandcattle.com — that lists cattle, semen and embryos available for sale. Joan also posts a ranch diary called the “Adventures of Dear Abbie’s Wife” on the site, documenting life on the ranch. She says the diary attracts attention from other ranchers but also from people outside of agriculture, helping them gain an appreciation for livestock production.
Whether they find Thorne Ranch online or in person, visitors are always welcome. “It’s a bed, breakfast and bovine facility,” Joan says. During a recent conversation, she said several potential customers had shown up unexpectedly that morning. “Good thing,” she says, “I had a big pot of chili on the stove.”