Horse Feathers! A uniquely named bed-and-breakfast on a South Texas ranch makes for unforgettable memories.
No two days are ever quite the same at the West Charolais Ranch east of Pleasanton in South Texas. Twin calves were born overnight in a pasture. Horses must be saddled for afternoon riding lessons. Wash a champion bull for a bull sale. Handle a sales call from a bull buyer in Florida, then change bedsheets for overnight customers arriving this weekend. No doubt, Gary and Kristie West work nearly nonstop on their multifaceted ag business.
"We both love cattle and horses," says Kristie, who was raised on a Kansas wheat and Angus farm. "So we're doing exactly what we want to do in life."
Sold on Charolais
Gary, a retired San Antonio police officer, grew up raising livestock in the Pleasanton area. He bought his first commercial Charolais cattle in 1969. Since then, he's grown not only his herd but his reputation as an expert on the breed. He often advises other cattle ranchers on how to improve their lines, and works as a herd consultant for a large ranch near Brackettville.
"There's no animal in the world that will outgrow or out-yield Charolais," Gary says. "They have a feed conversion ratio of 1:3 or 1:4, whereas most other breeds are 1:6 or 1:8. That means a Charolais cow requires less feed per pound of weight gain."
Charolais are also easy to work with and adapt well to a variety of conditions, he adds.
"Their white hide reflects the sun," he says. "So they can go from South Texas heat to Kansas feedyards and not be bothered at all."
Registered Breeds Are Their Specialty
On their West Charolais Ranch, the couple specializes in raising registered breeding stock. Through the years, their bulls and heifers have won countless awards at livestock shows."
Our main market is bulls," Gary says. "We sell to breeders across the Southwest. Our bulls give a crossbred cow more hybrid vigor. Anyone with crossbred cows should always use a purebred registered bull. Then you'll have a consistent calf crop."
For more than a decade, Capital Farm Credit has helped in financing the couple's Charolais business.
"It's very refreshing to work with true ag producers who are the primary caretakers of their ranch," says Kevin Lyssy, senior vice president of lending and Jourdanton branch manager. "We're proud that we can provide capital for their operation."
With bulls coming and going on no set schedule, the Wests maintain a revolving line of credit with Capital Farm Credit.
"We have a real good relationship," Gary says. "And it's much easier to buy cattle with our line of credit. We just write a check. Whenever we sell cattle, we pay them back. It works great!"
"Capital Farm Credit also gives a lot to the community. They sponsor cattle sales and other events that put money back into the local cattle business."
The Wests contribute in their own way, too. Both Gary and Kristie serve as directors for the South Central Texas chapter of the Independent Cattlemen's Association.
"We want to teach young people [how] to get into the cattle business," Kristie says. "We need them to continue the future of the cattle industry. Many kids today don't even know where their food comes from."
1950s Homestead Becomes Bed-and-Breakfast
A year after Gary's mother passed in 2009, Gary and Kristie bought her 1950 ranch home and barn, located on property that adjoins the ranch they already owned. (The couple lives in their own home across the highway.) At first, they considered renting out the homestead.
"But we wanted to keep the family's history alive out of respect for Gary's mother, Mary, so we decided to open a bed-and-breakfast instead," says Kristie, who worked in sales for years. "We spent a year renovating and updating the house. We kept all of the original antique furnishings and reupholstered some pieces for a fresh look."
In November 2011, the Wests opened Horse Feathers Bed, Breakfast and Barn as an event center. How'd they come up with the name?
"I train horses so instead of a bad word, I say 'horse feathers!'" Kristie replies with a chuckle.
Horseback Rides, Good Food and Music
The five-bedroom, four-bathroom house — built in the shape of an H — still retains the original Ponderosa pine walls and wood floors. Two rock fireplaces, built back-to-back, grace two roomy living areas. Off one hallway, a small gift shop stocks a selection of gently worn cowboy boots.
"Our visitors are usually from the city," Kristie says. "Since everything around here either sticks, stings or bites, they can borrow a pair of boots during their stay."
Outside, the Wests converted a detached garage into a game room and laundry. They also screened in an outdoor barbecue pit and added a concrete back patio with a covered stage and rock waterfall.
"We can host all kinds of events here, like weddings, parties, family reunions, and corporate meetings and retreats," Kristie says. "One of our specialties are day tours of our working ranch. Since we're only 20 minutes away from downtown San Antonio, conference planners can bring a group out to see our cattle, take a horseback ride and enjoy a barbecue lunch. Gary and his Western Edge band are available to perform, too. Our goal is to make their visit unforgettable, like family memories of a child going to visit their grandparents' ranch."
Kristie, whose passion for horses runs deep, leads horseback rides across the ranch's grassy pastures and along dirt trails shaded by live oaks and mesquites. She also gives riding lessons to both kids and adults. Some of her students have gone on to win barrel racing awards.
"We have 10 registered quarter horses," Kristie says. "I love to teach people how to handle horses and not be afraid of them."
By day's end, she and Gary typically turn in for the night completely worn out but content and eager to meet another new day.
"Most people are retired by our age," Kristie says. "But we're having a ball on our ranch."
Gary adds with a grin, "And I'd sure rather wear out than rust out!" - SSR