Been There; More Than Done That
The Story of the Celebrated Breeder Bill Couch
By Courtney Wesner
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” or so the saying goes.
But when it comes to Indiana breeder, Bill Couch “An old breeder can teach a new breeder new tricks.” In Couch’s words, “It’s easier to learn from someone who has already been there and made mistakes along the way. Those are the people who really know, those are the people that have learned and will never forget.”
Couch was born in Owensville, Indiana, where he grew up on his family’s cattle operation, Couch Brothers Polled Herefords. It was there that Couch developed a passion for working with, breeding, and exhibiting cattle. That was just the beginning of a long and successful career that influenced the betterment of numerous breeds.
After high school, Couch started a custom-fitting business. He handled not only some of the first Simmental cattle in the States but also some of the most influential breeding animals of the time. Bill attended the very first Simmental show in the United States, which was held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis. There he exhibited the Champion half blood, three-quarter blood, and purebred Simmental bulls. Asked about the phenotype of Simmental cattle of this time, Couch had a very candid “Couch” answer.
“They were a lot bigger than the Simmental and Simmental-influenced cattle of today. Let me rephrase that, they were big. To give you an idea of just how big they were, I showed a two-year-old bull that weighed only 3,170 pounds and stood 70 inches tall. That particular bull was never beat in division. Most of them were horned, and they were obviously still yellow and white or red and white at the time. We could show percentage Simmental cattle at all of the shows in the United States. The complementary breeds of choice for making percentage cattle then were Hereford and Red Holsteins, not Angus like today.”
Couch went on to talk about his first-hand experience and his excitement at seeing the progression of the Simmental breed. “The Simmental breed and, in particular, the percentage Simmental cattle of today are sound, easy-fleshing, functional cattle that make money. In my mind, the credit here goes to the breeders who have continually worked to improve these cattle and have promoted them to popularity through the show ring.” He has always had a soft spot for percentage Simmental cattle and has continued to turn out high-quality percentage offspring.
Getting Couch to brag about his accomplishments is not an easy thing to do, interviewing him during the Simmental show at the Tulsa State Fair while his son Willy is in the show ring, is even harder. With breaks in the conversation to watch the cattle walk and listen to reasons (breaks with the purpose of learning “new tricks”), we finally got through a story that speaks volumes to Couch’s talent at exhibiting cattle and his natural aptitude for evaluating in all situations and environments.
“I was at the Cow Palace one year and exhibited all four Simmental Champions. A man that I didn’t know came up to me after the show and he wanted to know if I could fit, feed, and exhibit his Simmental cattle and his cattle only. He told me he was willing to pay whatever it took to see this out. I needed the money, so I found my way to Ventura, California. I took a look at his heifers first; they were good cattle and plenty good enough to get the job done. I looked at the bulls that he had up next and was not nearly as impressed as I was with the heifer calves, I told him that I would like to go to the pasture and look at the calves still running with the cows.
In the pasture I found a bull calf that was covered from head to tail in mud; better than that he was still on his mother at the time. I took another look at the calf and then realized under the mud that he had a chin ball marker on and a plug in his sheath. He was using this calf as a gomer bull. I told the owner that if I was going to take a bull, the mud covered bull was the one and only one that I wanted. With a bit of surprise the owner agreed, but with one stipulation, the bull would not be shown under his farm name. He was the gomer after all. I said that would be fine.
First show, Illinois State Fair Champion; then Indiana, then Kentucky, then Ohio, then Tennessee. Five shows and five times a Champion. Back in that day, Drovers magazine ran show pictures; the owner was a subscription holder and saw what his bull had been doing after his bath. He called me and asked why in the world this undefeated bull didn’t have his name on him. I reminded him of our deal. The bull, PBM SAVIOR, went on to win the North American and his division in Denver. That is the story of how I showed the gomer.”
In 1983, Couch took his custom fitting job to the next level and secured a job as a herdsman. He moved his family and worked at Diamond C Ranch in Stephenville, Texas, where he served as the herd manager of 2,500 head of Simmental cattle. He served as the Simmental manager at Pharris Farms in Hillsboro, Texas as well. Three years later, he headed back north, home to Indiana, where he started C-Bar Ranch. There on the family farm he started breeding and raising high-quality Simmental cattle. His next stint traveled across breed lines when he found a home at Express Angus Ranches in Yukon, Oklahoma. While at Express, Couch not only started and developed their powerhouse, world recognized Angus program literally from scratch (they used to draw up plans on the back of feed sacks), but also led the development of the Lim-Flex breed through close work with the North American Limousin Foundation.
In 2002, after countless champions and nationally recognized caliber Angus and Limousin cattle at Express Ranches, Bill and his family found their way back home to C-Bar Ranch.
Couch’s influence stretches far beyond the numerous breed lines, champions, and high caliber cattle he has handled in his lifetime. He has served as a mentor to many, in particular, his children Christy and Willy.
Christy Couch Lee currently resides in Wellington, Illinois, with her husband Craig and their three children, Waylon, Nolan, and Caroline. Christy serves as a member of the Livestock Publications Council and has recently opened her own photography studio targeted at agricultural clients. “From Dad, I got the courage and confidence to take a risk and do something that I love; he taught me how to love agriculture. He wasn’t afraid to make a tough decision aimed at helping his family, I know it was not always easy but he took risks that paid off. He followed his dreams.”
Couch’s son, Willy, lives in Oklahoma with his wife, Tracie. He is the ranch manager for the successful 74-51 Ranch. Willy follows closely in his dad’s footsteps doing something he loves. While at the Tulsa State Fair, Couch watched his son exhibit the Champion Charolais and Angus bulls, a division champion Percentage Simmental bull, the Champion Percentage Simmental heifer, and the Reserve Supreme Champion Bull.
Couch’s scope of influence does not fall short in the Simmental breed mainstays either; ASA Senior Board member Brian DeFreese worked alongside and for Couch at numerous national show outings and has many stories about learning experiences. DeFreese speaks of the numerous banners, cattle, ventures to the barn at midnight to get cattle ready for the show the next day, and more importantly, he speaks of the lessons and the upstanding character of Couch.
With a lifetime of experiences and advice, Couch says with a chuckle that he wouldn’t have any good advice. Any cattle person who knows him knows otherwise.
“The key to it is to decide your direction. Surround and associate yourself with people you trust in this business. Find reputable breeders that supply good, honest cattle that will work. You should always respect the people you buy from. Listen to what these people tell you to do to achieve success; do nothing but your very best to get the job done.” Couch said as he eyed the cattle in the ring.