From the mound to the pasture: Former MLB pitcher returns home to raise cattle

Martha A. Hollida, Southern Livestock Standard

July 8, 2024

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After years of striking out batters under the big lights, former major league baseball (MLB) pitcher Homer Bailey has returned to his roots and is embracing the lifestyle he dreamed of while in the majors. He has traded the roar of the crowd and hustle of big cities for the tranquility of rural life and is dedicating himself to continuing the family ranch. Bailey finds fulfillment in the simple, hardworking lifestyle he always knew he’d come back to once he left. 

Bailey was a standout pitcher for La Grange High School, La Grange, Texas and was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school in 2004. Three years later, he had moved from the minor leagues to the majors and was on the  Reds’ roster for 18 seasons. His pitching career would include two no hitters. Today, you’ll find him concentrating on things like weaning weights, pounds produced per cow, fertilizer application rates and the like, instead of wins and losses, ERAs and strike to ball ratios.

“Coming back home was always my plan and every day I was gone, home was where I wanted to be,” he explained.

Bailey, along with his parents, run a large herd of straight bred commercial Red Angus. He analyzes management practices, profit and loss sheets, market prices and genetics with the intensity of how he used to size up opposing batters.

Bailey is the third generation of his family to raise cattle on this land. His grandfather was an engineer in Houston and purchased the initial land outside of LaGrange in 1959-1960 and ran crossbred cattle. His grandfather established their brand JB6, which stood for John Bailey and the six members of their family. Bailey’s dad, David added commercial egg production to the family business, which operated for 27 years. The drought of 2011 forced the sale of the commercial cattle and the egg houses were phased out in 2012-2013. 

“Dad and I were looking at rebuilding the cowherd, once our grass recovered. It was about this time that dad met Red Angus breeder, James Kolek of Trinity River Ranch in Shepherd, Texas. James’ son, Tyler was a highly regarded high school baseball pitcher and they were studying his options where the draft was concerned. He and dad immediately hit it off as they were walking through many of the same things we had in my draft process. Tyler and I became great friends in the process. They encouraged us to consider Red Angus,” he said.

Their initial purchase of Red Angus females was from Mushrush Ranches in Strong City, Kansas. They have also purchased genetics from Trinity River Ranch and Cross Diamond Ranch, Bertrand, Nebraska. They have added land in nearby Smithville, Texas and they also have a place in South Texas near Carrizo Springs for deer and they feed out some commercial steers in partnership there.

Bailey readily admits his knowledge of the beef industry was very limited as so much of his time growing up revolved around baseball.

“I had decided that 2021 was going to be my last season in the majors. I also knew I was not ready to step into running the cowherd, but I wanted to be. I was having a casual conversation with one of my teammates who had graduated from Texas Christian University (TCU). He told me about their ranch management program. I investigated it and told my dad he would have to wait one more year for me to come home full-time. I enrolled for the one-year program, and it ranks as one of the best experiences in my life. A no hitter experience lasts a day, TCU will be with me for life, “he said.

Bailey is quick to list the advantages of Red Angus and includes their size, docility, efficiency, and nationwide marketing appeal as major factors.

“I believe a 1,100 lb. cow producing a 550 lb. calf is the most efficient for our operation. If I can run more cows, I can produce more calves and spread my costs out that way. Docility is important to us, and Red Angus cattle have favorable dispositions. 

Marketing opportunities is also high on Bailey’s list of Red Angus strongpoints.

“We have an expanded market for our calves. They are desired nationwide, and we sell our calves predominately in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. It’s important your cows fit your environment and we are located where Red Angus do well. If you go 75-100 miles farther south or toward the coast, Brahman influence is needed,” he explained.

Currently, they are running one cow to 3.25 grazable acres and are understocked, but the frequency of drought in Texas is keeping them on the cautious side.

The JB6 Ranch calves in late January to early February and has a little less than 90-day calving season, which is an area Bailey is working to condense in the future. Last year, they had an 88.7 percent conception rate vs cows exposed and that of course was coming out of a drought.

They have identified a select group of females that are maternally strong and they retain the top 20% of their heifer calves annually as replacements. Heifers are kept separate from the mature cows till after their second calving, so that they can be given a great start to a lifetime of production. They have also purchased groups of heifers from Mushrush and Trinity River in certain years.

They like to run one bull to about 25 cows and the bulls are tested each year. In addition, the Baileys maintain a policy of having two to three more bulls than needed to cover for any injury.

Their bull battery has been selected from sales and private treaty offerings from Trinity River, Mushrush and Cross Diamond.

They select two-year-old bulls and visually appraise for muscle, structure and masculinity. They also analyze their EPDs and select bulls for their mature cow herd that offer strong weaning weights and strong spreads from birth to weaning. They are also mindful to select bulls with high maternal traits that will be used on the cows they have marked for heifer production.

Their calves are weaned and sold in October on Superior Livestock. They have been marketing this way for about eight years and are enrolled in the Superior-sponsored all-natural program. They usually split most of the crop between loads of steers and heifers and complete the marketing year with a mixed load. Over the years, their steers are averaging 560 lbs. and heifers at 535 lbs., which is, according to Bailey, just right on for their 1,100 lbs. cows.

“We like the exposure we get on Superior, and we have the opportunity sell anywhere. It’s more efficient for us and we like working with our representative, Mike Arnold, who lives nearby. Superior is insured and bonded, so that adds a level of confidence. We have repeat buyers and that’s something we are proud of,” he added.

JB6 pastures are about 95% coastal grass and they are intentional in managing their forage. They fertilize and do weed control annually and have cleared out brush and developed more tanks in the past few years. They have been able to produce all their own hay. They do one cutting a year and they have converted some of the chicken houses to hay storage.

“We prefer not to bale. We prefer rotating the herds through the pastures in winter and letting them graze as much as possible. We find that’s a more efficient use of our time and resources. We feel our pasture management program is working and it has been the catalyst to getting through the most recent droughts,” he stressed.

Bailey is hopeful about the future and thinks the cow-calf producer will be in the driver’s seat for the next few years as everyone seems to be reluctant for herd expansion. Depending on markets, JB6 is considering utilizing retained ownership for some of their calves in the next few years. Another area of concentration is culling any cows that are over the 1,100 lb. threshold as their data shows that to be their optimum efficiency.

“Everything we do has to pencil out and that’s the way we make decisions. Producers are experiencing record high prices, but the expenses are record high, too. You need a sharp pencil or thorough Excel spreadsheet. TCU provided me with some strong tools for managing costs and record keeping is critical,” he said. 

He grew up hunting and fishing and he continues to be an avid deer hunter and enjoys managing their whitetail deer program at the Carrizo Springs location. He now throws a rope instead of a baseball as he is trying his hand at team roping and has developed an interest in reined cow horses.

Bailey doesn’t miss the grind and travel of a baseball season. He says home is just like he envisioned it would be all those years and he is content with his immediate family of Amanda and five-month-old daughter, Palmer. He is thrilled to live on the family place along with his parents. His three sisters and their families are close by, also.

Getting to have coffee with my dad about any morning now is one of my biggest blessings and I’m happy to be home raising cows,” he concludes.

Southern Livestock

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