Beef cattle aren't cloned, but Clay Schuster and his six year old mini-me Royce might make you believe biotech is behind the next generation of ranchers on this family enterprise that dates back to the 1880s. See how investment in cattle breeding is making beef more sustainable.
"You’re trying to change me, Mom,” Lauren Schuster recalls son Royce's response when she questioned his choice of Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots for the spring fun run at school. Shorts and running shoes never crossed his one-track ranching mind.
It's awfully rare to meet someone and immediately know they are doing exactly what they were made to do. Especially when they are only eleven years old. But to meet Royce Schuster is to meet a miniature cowboy. It might seem odd to meet a kid and question your own sense of true identity, but this little man's authenticity is rare.
Being a rancher isn’t just in Royce’s blood, it’s seeped into who he already is and smart money says it’s who he’ll always be. When you meet his father, 5th generation rancher Clay Schuster, it confirms Royce is essentially a clone. It’s heard sometimes that the American rancher is a dying breed, but down in southeast Washington near Goldendale, they are alive and grinding away and the genetics – of the cowboys and the cattle continues to improve.
The Schuster Ranch was established in the 1880s by Clay’s great-great grandfather. In 1938, Clay's grandfather Art bought the first of the Registered Hereford cattle herd. Growing up across the barnyard from his grandparents, Clay began working on the ranch as a boy, and after graduation he stayed on board full time. Clay and Lauren were married in 2008, and purchased the ranch from grandmother Charl.
Lauren is a teacher in Goldendale and the couple is raising Royce and
sister Whitney in a house built next to the one where his grandfather was born
in 1902. While the ranch is a family legacy, Clay and Lauren are the sole
owners today. The work of their hands and results of their decisions are what
dictates whether the opportunity will be there for the next generation.
"Teaching gives me the
opportunity to provide financial stability for our family, help Clay on
weekends and on vacations, and play an active part in our community," says
Lauren, who works on marketing their bulls, ranch paperwork, moving cattle, and
anything else that needs to be done.
Schuster Herefords is the product of generations of Schusters investing in improving their cattle and their land. In the push and pull of innovation and tradition today’s ranchers feel, Clay Schuster has preferences. He prefers keeping physical, paper records and cusses the glitchy, online portal he has to use to register his purebred Hereford cattle. But that doesn’t mean he’s holding on to bygone practices. He’s always on the charge to improve how they manage their cattle and land. Breeding programs like theirs and ever wiser use of available land are resulting in big returns for the sustainability of beef. Breeding, cattle health, and feeding practices used by ranchers like the Schusters has resulted in the U.S. producing 18% of the world’s beef, with only 8% of the cattle. Advances in genetic quality of beef cattle, grazing cattle on the remnants of harvested crops after harvest, and feeding the byproducts of food processing have led to significant declines in the environmental impact of beef production over the last 30 years by:
The impacts of how the Schusters raise cattle ripple out from their ranch in different ways. When the Hereford bulls they raise are sold to other ranchers, the genetic traits of that rancher’s herd improve. When breeding stock is selected to enhance the health, growth rate, and beef quality from a herd of cattle, there’s an increased return to the people who raise the cattle, and the people who enjoy the beef. The Schusters are leaders among local ranchers and volunteer in the community. When recognized as the Klickitat County Cattlemen’s Association Cattlemen of the Year in 2013, Clay and Lauren hosted a field day where ranchers from all over the state came to learn about how they care for their cattle and their land.
The Schusters are leaders in the Klickitat County Cattlemen and Cattlewomen's Associations and supporters of local 4-H and FFA youth. They donate to Beef Counts to make sure beef reaches their local food banks and spend a day in classrooms each year teaching local kids about farming and ranching.
"Clay has the utmost pride in producing high quality cattle, crops, and improving the land. He has worked most of his life on the ranch and it is what he is meant to do. Whether it is being a skillful welder, making farming decisions or pulling a calf, I completely underestimated the range of knowledge and skill that it takes to run a place. We are constantly working together to improve the efficiency of the ranch. Whether that means updating machinery, working facilities, or the health and maintenance of the animals." - Lauren Schuster
The Schusters' breathtaking range and farmland outside Goldendale is valuable habitat for game, bird, and fish species. The family is working on putting 2,000 acres in farmland and conservation preservation programs. If that is achieved, it will be protected from development. That means guaranteed habitat for cattle and wildlife in perpetuity. In these types of arrangements, only the rancher himself has a questionable future on the land, dictated by markets and business choices and his own grit and stubborn perseverance. Ranchers around our state make voluntary commitments like this all the time, and the Royces and the Whitneys are watching. Clay and Lauren are passing down cattle ranch values, passion and stewardship along with the boots and buckles. Dare you to ask Royce Schuster to give up any single bit of it. We all know how that story would end.
The Heart Plus Brand
The "Heart-Plus" Brand has been in use by the Schuster family since 1890.
Cows are bred and calves are born and raised every year on cow-calf farms and ranches, spending time grazing on grass pastures within sight of their mothers.