West Texas woman shows TCU students ladies can ranch as well as cowboys

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by JOHN McCAA

Bio | Email | Follow: @johnmccaa

WFAA

Posted on November 16, 2012 at 11:36 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 16 at 11:49 PM

CHILDRESS, Texas -- Hollywood's version of ranching in Texas has almost always been off the mark -- not even close to what life is really like for people in agriculture.

In West Texas, we came across a real-life John Wayne; just as tough, and just as committed to getting cattle to market and steaks to your table.

But this one, like more ranchers than you might imagine, occasionally wears a dress.

She knows every rancher's had a dream of country living, but higher prices and bad weather drove some off the land their family cherished.

Like all of them, she’s been fighting to hold on to what she’s built up over time. The difference is, she's been very successful at it. So much so, that tomorrow's ranchers -- part of TCU’s Ranch Management program -- made the long drive to see her in West Texas, near Childress.

When Minnie Lou Bradley and her late husband started Bradley 3 Ranch, Dwight Eisenhower was President. From that day to this, she has held the reins, and refused to give up.

“We can't shut the doors on Friday night [and] come back Monday morning, because our cattle got to be fed, horses got to be taken care of,” she said.

At Bradley 3, they raise some of the world's finest Black Angus cattle. 57 years of careful breeding, culling, now has Minnie Lou's herd at the top of its game.

So despite long hours and uncooperative weather, she's not going anywhere.

“I have city cousins,” she explained to News 8 one day sitting on her front porch surveying her property. “They can't figure out why I like this old life. When I was younger, I'd go back to Fort Worth or some place, and they'd say you're darker in the winter time than you are in the summertime. I'd say it's just that old wind hittin' me horseback... That harsh wind. But I've outlived them all, so far."

Minnie Lou and her family warn the TCU students that for them, it is simple: “If you are not passionate about feeding people," her son-in-law, James Henderson, tells them, “you shouldn’t come into our business.”

However, more than endurance brings future ranchers to Bradley 3. Minnie Lou's techniques consistently outpace her competition.

“She is so innovative... When you get into an older generations, sometimes they don't want to change," said TCU student Jessen Tucker. "But they're experimenting with DNA testing and blood sampling."

Over the years, countless other ranchers have followed the lead of the Bradley 3, even though a woman was at helm. While some women have experienced a sort of "grass ceiling" in ranching -- holding back advancement -- Minnie Lou said it doesn’t last.

“I think women own more land in the United States than men do today," she said. "'Course part of that is, we flat outlive 'em.”

Now more women are joining Minnie Lou; six among the 28 from TCU this year. Some of whom, like Emma Mathis, still notice the occasional slight.

“There's even been people that are shocked to hear that women are in this, [and they say] 'Oh, so women actually want to be in the ranching industry?'” Mathis said.

But their professor, Kerry Cornelius, makes it clear the women in this program can more than handle themselves on any ranch or farm.

“They're extremely bright, extremely knowledgeable," he said. "They can handle a horse, they can handle a rope, they can handle cattle, they can run the numbers, they can run the break even."

As for the Bradley 3, Minnie Lou's successor's already in place: daughter Mary Lou Bradley Henderson. Just as tough as mom.

“Some days are just fun,” she explained to us, “some days are just not so fun... It's just that here, you certainly can't control mother nature."

Sitting in a chair that has been in the family for 100 years, Minnie Lou Bradley confesses that the years building Bradley 3 have weaved a bond between her and her ranch.

“When I sit in this chair, it does something to me, because I think of all the hardships they went through ranching in Texas,” Minnie Lou said.

Now, with her legacy established, you couldn't blame her for sitting back and enjoying it all.

However, no one expects that to happen. Not with horses needing care, cattle to get to market, and another tomorrow just beyond the horizon.

E-mail jmccaa@wfaa.com

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