Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB) member Steven J. Mafrige manages Y Bar Ranch, a model for how today's most successful Texas ranches operate. It is a multi-generational, multi-faceted family business that uses cattle as its centerpiece but reaches into areas that have only recently been incorporated into the bottom line of good Western ranch management.
The Y Bar ranch was established in 1883 by Frank L. Henry. Located about an hour south of San Antonio, it's a working ranch that covers 18,000 acres. Mafrige is the fourth generation of the family to manage the ranch. There is a possibility of a fifth generation, too, with a daughter, nine year old Kaitlyn, and a son, six year old Steven Henry, waiting in the wings. His wife, Heather, uses her marketing degree from the University of Texas to help market the ranch.
He studied wildlife and ranch management at Tarleton State University before graduating in 1995 from Texas Christian University where he received a degree from the TCU Ranch Management program. He's still very active in the TCU program, having served as the alumni president and hosting visiting students every year.
"I give them a tour of the ranch every year as part of their south Texas field trip and conduct a class in negotiating contracts, too," he said.
A search of their website – “a modern marketing tool Grandad never imagined” - shows a sophisticated marketing approach to 'selling' their warm and cool season grass production; their cattle business which includes Angus bulls, commercial and replacement herds, and yearlings; and their wildlife hunting packages.
Mafrige is particularly proud of the intense wildlife management program that began in 1994.
"The ranch is set up to let people experience South Texas hunting the way that it was meant to be. None of our pastures are enclosed by game fence. All of our hunting is fair chase," he said. "Hunters can find deer, wild boar, quail, turkey, dove and javelina on the property."
Mafrige and his wife host hunters in an 8-bedroom lodge that can sleep as many as 20 people. This is a cattle ranch so, as expected, they feed their guests from a menu that features beef.
Currently, the herd stands at about 600 head.
"We're just coming out of a 6-year drought," said a hopeful Mafrige as he explained the low numbers. “
We can manage about 900 head in a good year and can run as many as 1,500 yearlings. We use yearlings as way to adjust our stocking rate to our sporadic rainfall. We work hard to let our cattle and wildlife co-exist," he said. "Some ranchers say it can't work - it's either cattle or wildlife - but we've been very successful at managing for both."
Following a tradition established by all CBB members, he has always been extremely involved in industry volunteer work. He's director for the Texas Wildlife Association, the Coastal Conservation Association, and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. The work he did for those groups eventually led to his nomination by TSCRA and an appointment by USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack to the CBB last year.
"The CBB is really intriguing to me," he said as he explained his work on the safety subcommittee. "I'm impressed by how involved we all are. I've been on some boards that almost seem like we're just going through the motions. When we're attending CBB meetings, we're spending our time well.
"I want to do all I can to help make sure beef is presented in the best way possible," he said. "We're doing the important research and presenting it to the right people so they have a good understanding of what we have to offer. We're putting our sound scientific research to counter the propaganda we encounter everyday."