La Muñeca Cattle Company–Not Just a Family Business
By Hannah Wine
This is an interview with South Texas Simbrah breeder Carlos X. Guerra about his family heritage and his successful La Muñeca Cattle Company. It’s a story of hard work, tragedy and death, drought, gin trash, dreams, and scholarships galore.
In 1873, Carlos Guerra’s great grandmother Antonia came from Mier, Mexico, to Texas with her two sons and one daughter. One of her sons, Carlos’s grandfather, began working at the general mercantile store in town at age 14. He saved his money year after year, and before the 1890’s were out, he purchased their first ranch. He continued to grow the family enterprise, putting in the first cotton gins in the area and working the land with sharecroppers to produce cotton and grains. In the middle of a deal to buy a 200,000-acre ranch to expand the family business, Guerra’s grandfather was run over by a mule. The accident left him in a vegetative state in the prime of his business career right before the Depression. Needless to say, he didn’t buy the ranch.
His sons, Carlos’s father, Rafael, and his brother, Arcadio, carried on the family operation, Guerra Brothers, adding more cotton gins and then grain elevators. As the farming grew, they brought in cattle as well. While Carlos’s father was off at war in the 1940s, his brother bought the family’s first registered Brahman cattle.
In March of 1963, Arcadio went to the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show, where he saw local friend Henry Potthast with his prize-winning Red Angus bull, Peter’s Gold Nugget. Arcadio was intrigued and he made arrangements to look at a group of Red Angus heifers on April 14. The night of April 12, Arcadio passed away in his sleep.
Carlos’s father told his family that they would pursue his brother’s dreams. In September, the family purchased nine Red Angus cows and began their venture in the purebred business. Carlos’s first 4-H project, a bull named Pancho, was on the side of one of those pairs. Carlos and his two brothers continued the Guerra tradition raising and showing Red Brangus cattle. They brought Simmental into the mix with the guidance and encouragement of Bud Wentz and Dr. Lauro Guerra.
In the summer of 1979, just before Carlos’s youngest brother Victor was to head off to Texas A&I, when tragedy struck the family again. Victor died in a summer camping accident just days before the start of his freshman year. That fall Carlos and his brother Gerry created a scholarship fund in honor of their brother by putting aside the proceeds from the sale of a heifer Victor had shown. The family’s local veterinarian purchased the heifer for $5,000 and the boys’ father matched the sale. The initial $10,000 family honorarium was the start of a remarkable effort to further youth education. Since 1979 the Guerra family has awarded more than one million dollars in scholarships.
In addition to all of their scholarship kids, Carlos and his wife, Sister, have four children of their own. “All four of my kiddos were involved in 4-H, FFA, and the Texas Junior Simmental-Simbrah Association,” Carlos recalled, “And they have four grandchildren who will be hitting the show road in just a few years.” The family ranch, La Muñeca, in the small town of Linn in the deep south of Texas, is home for the entire family.
The hard, honest work that has brought the Guerra family success for years in the agriculture industry is still in practice at La Muñeca. “My eldest son, Carlitos, manages the ranch, taking care of animal health and nutrition, our embryo transfer program, and showing cattle at the three or four major shows we attend. My wife keeps the books, I take care of marketing; and my younger son, Victor, named after his uncle, helps out wherever he’s needed,” Carlos said. “Our herdsman, Pete Garcia, along with one of our other guys, halter breaks between 150-200 calves each year,” Carlos explained, “Because we sell calves to so many juniors, it really helps to have them broke for the kids to get going right away with their project.”
The drought-stricken pastures have made more work to raise cattle at La Muñeca. “Seven of the last ten years have been very dry. A long time ago a good friend told me I would live to see the day when hay was worth more than money. I didn’t understand it then, but now I realize that sure enough he was right. By the time you pay for the hay and the freight, the hay is worth more than money,” Carlos said.
The drought has not been an easy battle. The family has downsized the cowherd dramatically–from more than 600 cows to 200. “I still have a group of cows on pasture in Kansas,” Carlos said. “A good farmer friend helped us stay in the cow business by finding us gin trash, which is what’s left after the cottonseed meal and hulls are taken. We used a million pounds a year in 2011 and 2012 during the worst of the drought. Other cattlemen down here use any unsellable produce they can find — tomatoes, cabbage, carrots — to feed their cows.”
Rain has recently fallen over La Muñeca, leaving the grass green and the cows fat and happy. Incredibly, despite the challenges of continual drought in a warm, humid, subtropical environment, the Guerra family has continued to excel. “Much of it has to do with hybrid vigor. Geographically this environment demands Brahman blood in the makeup. When you combine Simmental and Brahman, it makes for a tremendous cross in Simbrah. And of course, we pick up the best of both traits, giving you more pounds at weaning, quality of milk, longevity, and heat and insect resistance. Simbrah cattle are very adaptable. Whether we have 5 inches of rain a year or 36 to get us to our average of 21 inches, the Simbrah cattle survive,” Carlos said.
Since starting in the cattle business, Carlos has witnessed lots of changes, “Ever since the ASA put on Focus 2000 here in Texas, we’ve gotten these Simbrahs on track. I learned we needed moderate-size cows and that size wasn’t everything. The cattle have changed; they’ve gotten much better. That Focus 2000 event was what got the Simbrah breed headed in the right direction. We’re in a great place, and it’s going to keep getting better,” remarked Carlos.
Carlos’s cattle are not the only things headed in the right direction. He makes sure his customers are too. While it’s hard to fathom that a family that has given more than a million dollars in scholarships keeps on giving, Carlos takes extra special care of his junior customers. On top of a futurity show, being a part of the Simbrah Super Bowl, and offering several monetary incentive programs, La Muñeca takes care of breeding junior’s show heifers the first year. After that, La Muñeca provides semen on any of their bulls to the junior until the junior graduates from high school.
“Our scholarship programs are a great motivating tool to promote SimGenetics and get optimum exposure for the breed as the Simbrah and Simmental kiddos excel with their professors and classmates,” Carlos said fondly of the junior programs. The LMC prefix has secured a spot in pedigrees owned by young cattle breeders throughout Texas who not only have a great start in the SimGenetics industry, but also have a strong supporter to ensure their opportunities in scholarly pursuits.