Putting Together A Winning Team At La Morra Ranch

By Sharla Ishmael • Reprinted Courtesy of Simbrah World


A love for good kids, top-notch Simbrah cattle and a competitive streak keep this couple in the game as they strive to reach their goals. Joe B. and Nelda Rodriguez also happen to be known as some of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet.

Joe B. Rodriguez, owner of La Morra Cattle Co. with some of his Simbrah cattle.

Like that popular Texan bumper sticker, some folks are born into the cattle business; others get there as fast as they can. Joe B. Rodriguez is one of the latter. After working as a Division I collegiate basketball referee for 28 years, he was looking for the next big thing in his life. After all, a fellow can only run up and down the court for so long before it starts to take a toll on the body.

It just so happened that Nelda’s younger sister married into a ranching family, the Fred Moreno family of La Negra Catttle Co. Rodriguez thought to himself: “I think I could do that!” So, they started La Morra Cattle Co. in 2001 and now run more than 50 cows on about 800 acres. They have seen much success in the show ring and in the sale ring, but what they really love most about the Simbrah business is the kids that are involved.  In fact, the  juniors recently honored Joe B. and Nelda as “Supporters of the Year.”

“We are really suckers for the kids,” he says, “in a good way.  We go to as many shows that we can and we believe that all of those kids belong to us. We meet new nieces, nephews, granddaughters and grandsons at every show.  The exciting thing about youth is that we watch them grow up to be young adults.  Seeing kids succeed in life is a rewarding thought.   You know, if you give a kid a little bit of attention, it goes a long way in the development of their life, all the more reason to work with them and try to be positive influence in their lives.,” he described.        

Nelda, an educator herself, is involved in many youth educational programs, and together they volunteer in as many junior events like the American Junior Simbrah Roundups  and sponsor events as much as possible.”

Joe B. and his dog, Princess

La Morra-raised heifers have also done a lot for 4-H and FFA youngsters, winning prestigious titles such as American Junior Simbrah Roundup Reserve Grand Heifer;  S.T.A.R Supreme Champion in Edinburg and much more. On the open side of the show ring, the 2010 National Grand Champion Bull (J7N VicMar 420) and the Reserve National Champion bull (J7N Whiskey River) were bred at La Morra and both were offspring of the most recognized cows in their breeding program – LMC Knockout Muneca  5 M/9, or M9 as she is called.

“The biggest and best cattle decision that we have made was the decision to purchase (M9),” says Rodriguez. “We found a key in this donor cow, who has been nothing but a blessing to us. She has definitely made a name for the ranch. If you mention “the M9 cow” to most Simbrah breeders, they will more than likely know exactly who you’re talking about. We have flushed her to seven different bulls and have had the same excellent results each time, which in my opinion is unusual.”

Offspring of the M9 cow, in multiple generations, have gone on to set sales records and show records and are making an impact on the breed in a big way. Names like LMC Oprah, LMC Diva and LMC WFC Dream Girl as well as J7N What-A-Delight “Demi,” shown by Victor Moreno, all go back to M9 in some way.

Most of the cattle Joe B. and Nelda sell are handled by private treaty, though they are MAS members and participate in The Elite Sale, as well as the Simmental-Simbrah Superbowl. While Joe B has a soft spot for Brahman cattle (once they reach their Simbrah goals they might branch out), he is a true believer that Simbrah cattle offers the best-of-both-worlds, the Brahman traits of maternal instincts and heat tolerance along with the Simmental traits of milking ability along with docility.  This is truly “the Worlds Breed.”

“I think the Simbrah breed has made a great deal of improvement in the last five years,” he explains. “They are just as competitive now as any other breed. If you look at the supreme champions in the junior shows lately, a whole lot of them have been Simbrah heifers. We believe that Simbrah cattle, in general, are knocking on the door when it comes to competing with other breeds. We will always have Simbrah cattle."

“There are a lot of Brahman-influenced cattle out there. But in my opinion, none of them provide the complete package that our breed offers. You get the milk and docility of Simmental combined with the hardiness and longevity of Brahman and it just can’t be beat! Plus, in Simbrah cattle, we can offer a diversity of colors, whereas other most other breeds can’t do that.  Yes, some people like uniformity in color patterns but as a breeder, I feel that you limit your potential market by breeding for just one specific color or color pattern.  We cater to all customers’ color choices.  Some like red, some like black and some even like lighter colored cattle.  We have blazed faced cattle as well as solid colored cattle.  

“You know, in Mexico and South America, red cattle are very popular and Simbrah are doing extremely well there and we have gotten into the semen sales market with one of our bulls.  Here in the States, black cattle are very popular, especially the further north you go.  We try to give them both,” he says. “Simbrah cattle also can compete with other breeds for tenderness and other carcass characteristics. We can offer the same quality as any breed along with longevity. Simbrah cows can be productive for up to 18 or 20 years.”

In terms of their own breeding program, Joe B. says they are always looking to the future. “You can’t change that calf you have today.  Sometimes that’s a good thing and you breed the dam back the same way.  Then there are other times that our vision was not quite what we anticipated and this is when the work starts.   We start our in-depth critiquing of that calf and try to match up known bulls and their strengths to the calf’s dam to attempt to produce the best calf possible.    The important thing is to pay attention to customers’ needs and understand what they are looking for.  It is up to me to conform to the breeds needs,” he explains.

Just thinking...

His ultimate goal? Raising both the grand champion bull and female at a major show, which he admits probably has been done already but says it is a reasonable goal. “I tell my fellow breeders, you are in my sights, competitively speaking!” he says with a chuckle. “I mean it respectfully of course, but they are my show ring targets. I believe we can get there.”  He also plans to have a battery of bulls selling semen all over the world, including Australia.
Like everyone in South Texas and other large swaths of the country, recent droughts have put up big obstacles to La Morra’s breeding program. But again, he looks beyond the current challenge to focus on a long-term perspective.

“In a drought, you have to make tough decisions,” he says. “One decision I made was to feed our cattle instead of culling.  My decision was based on knowing there was value in this animal that I own today. That value was not going to be rewarded at sale barns so during the last droughts, I decided to feed at whatever the cost.  I convinced myself that feeding cost would be less expensive than replacement cost so between the droughts of 2008 and 2010, I only culled four animals.  It has definitely been financially challenging, and I pray for rain every day. There are no guarantees for success in this business and it’s a daily gamble.
“So far this year, we have gotten good rains and I feel like we are sitting pretty right now,” he adds. “Our cows have bred back in a reasonable amount of time.  With the drought this year in the Midwest and in portions of Texas and all of the cattle being culled, our decision to keep most of our herd makes our animals even more valuable.”

When asked if all those years of refereeing taught him any lessons he could apply to the cattle business, Joe B. emphatically says, “Yes!”

“Absolutely, I always go back to my basketball officiating days and those experiences and reflect on everyday life,” he says. “The key is patience – patience – patience. We cannot make rational decisions when we’re high-strung. We have to stay focused on a specific objective. In basketball, we studied film before and after every game to improve.  We would go to training clinics and camps.  I still go to camps and clinics but now the clinics and camps deal with cattle.  Most evenings, I think back on how I got started in this business and reflect on successes and setbacks.  My personal goal was to stay focused in my objective, create great Simbrah cattle and to always listen.  Pay attention to everyone, you never know when you might learn something from someone you never expected.   I can honestly say that we have benefited greatly by paying attention and staying focused.

“One of my mentors in basketball once told me, ‘Pay attention to what other people are paying attention to and you will learn a thing or two.’ That is also true in the cattle business. Paying attention, staying focused and being patient can take you a long ways.”