Douglas County Ranch Has Largest Seed Stock Herd of Polled Herefords in USA

Doug Berger/Herald Hereford cattle following Journagan Ranch truck across past pasture.

by Doug Berger

Located in eastern Douglas County is a ranch which is home to the largest seed stock herd of Polled Herefords in the United States.

Since 1981, Marty Lueck has been working as ranch manager for the Journagan Ranch and working toward establishing the ranch’s reputation as a top source of Hereford seed stock. The ranch, which is now part of the Missouri State University system, includes 3,300 acres. The late Leo Journagan and his family had been building the ranch since Leo Journagan purchased the first 880 acres.

Doug Berger/Herald
Marty Lueck with part of the Journagan Ranch Hereford cattle.

Lueck explained that Journagan was an outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting. He had hunted on the Douglas County property. The owner of the property and his wife had no children and wished to move to town. He asked Journagan if he would want to buy his farm.

“So he did and that’s what started it,” Lueck stated.

The Journagan family in 2010 donated 3,300 acres of the ranch to Missouri State University. The gift represented the second-largest single private gift to the college in its 100-plus year history.

“The Journagan Ranch already had Hereford and Angus here when I came,” Lueck said.

“He always had a love for Herefords. When he was in the service he sent money home and his dad bought him his first set of Hereford heifers, and so when he got out of service he had those, but he had to lease the land,” Lueck explained.

It was when Journagan was buying additional cattle that he met Lueck.

“I grew up in Minneapolis. My exposure to agriculture was my aunt and uncle in northwest Iowa and my grandfather’s farm in south central Minnesota. He had a farm on the Minnesota River valley. I planned on being an architect…I was working for a firm, and they were going to pay my education and I woke up one day after graduating from high school and said I don’t really see myself doing that…I had a love for animals. I enjoyed being around the farm when we had the opportunity to go there, walking the bean fields. Both were highly diversified farms. My uncle had certified beans so you had to walk them to get the weeds out, that was before any of this spray…that was my picture into agriculture,” Lueck said.

“When I decided I didn’t want to be an architect, we had a Baptist Bible College here in Springfield, that came through to one of our churches up there. And I could go there for $80 per month. All you had to do was pay your room and board. I thought I’ll just go down there, get away from home. They didn’t need me at the house anymore. So it got me out of the house and 600 and some miles from home, and you couldn’t go home when you wanted. I was there a year. October, 1973, I started school there. I got a job with a veterinarian…and he had a herd of Hereford cows, four adopted kids, and I was there four years, while I was in college. I took pre-veterinary medicine, once I transferred to SMS. Part of the job was in veterinary practice. I was an assistant. The other part was they had show heifers and steers, and it was my job to take them to the county shows. Back then every town had a show. So virtually every weekend, I was at one of those. So I got to meet a lot of people. He had a nice set of Hereford cattle. I got to learn more about the pedigrees and that kind of stuff and when I left there, after I left MSU, I worked for a Springfield firm. I had done side work during college years, worked sales, worked cattle for sales. That’s what paid for my education. I worked for firms fitting cattle. I’d go to the American Royal and I’d be there for the whole 10 days. I just went from outfit to outfit and fitted cattle.”

Lueck was doing work for a ranch on weekends and was hired as a manager. He was there approximately three years and during that time he met Leo Journagan.

“We had posted an ad in the Springfield paper of cows for sale and he came out and bought them. He tried to hire me that day. I said no, I was pretty content where I was. I worked there another year and came to the Journagan Ranch in 1981,” Lueck said.

“He had some seed stock that were good and we went to Canada and over a six year period purchased 175 head from one outfit up there. That guy had been in business for 45 years, and I learned a wealth of knowledge from him. Things that aren’t written in books. He was a great source for me. The cattle really excelled here. Normally cattle from the north or west usually don’t work well here, in the fescue belt, but those cattle excelled here and did very well for us and gave us a great maternal base that we wanted. They were a good springboard for us to get to where we are today,” he added.

“Now we’re the largest Hereford seed stock herd in the United States,” Lueck said.

Lueck stated that when he was visiting his grandfather’s farm, he never realized his interest in expanding the potential of beef cattle may have also been held by his  late grandfather.

“I didn’t even know what kind of cattle my grandfather had until I got to college. He had Shorthorn cattle, and he brought one of the first Santa Gertrudis bulls to the state of Minnesota. I think about that today. I’d love to have a conversation with him, with my knowledge today, to see what he was doing in his mind. He also sold seed corn, so he understood genetics and that those kinds of things would make a better product. We had severe winters up there and my fondest memories of that bull is that he would keep him in a corner pen in the barn, and on nice sunny days, he’d let him out on this lot and he bucked and plowed through that snow like he was a little calf. And we just sat there and laughed at him. I reflect back on a lot of those things, and now that I have better knowledge of what he was doing, he was pretty progressive. He took a Charolais Journal, and he would sit there after dinner and read, and I would wonder what he was looking at. But I think at some time he would have probably incorporated Charolais, but it never got that far before he passed away,” Lueck stated. 

Lueck also pointed out that salesmanship is an important part of the cattle business, particularly the seed stock business.

“My dad was a salesman. My grandfather was a salesman. A lot of that stuff comes naturally to me. Marketing is a big part of being in the seed stock business. Treating your customers like you want to be treated. That’s kind of how we take care of it here,” he said.

The move from a private enterprise to a state institution has not led to a whole lot of change relative to the day to day operations of the ranch, Lueck stated. The ranch has to operate under a different structure, but this change is not hard to adapt to. Relative to the management of the cattle this has also not changed a great deal, he said.

“We’re an unappropriated branch of Missouri State. So all our bills are paid by what we generate here…We are self-supporting. So you really think hard, or think of alternative ways to do something,” he added. 

“I guess the biggest thing is I’m able to share life experiences here, and hopefully save steps in these student’s operation or family operation. I’ve got pastures as big as some people’s farms, so we do things a little bit differently,” he stated.

But Lueck pointed out that many of the elements of operating a cattle ranch can be carried over into the operation of any business.

“I don’t stand in front of a classroom very often. Occasionally I go up there and will be in a class, but one on one or one on eight. We take Denver trips and have five days to spend a lot of time together and they ask a lot of questions. I think it’s important we get interns down here. They come down here to work, and they are able to pick up things. All they have to do is ask the question. I’ll fill whatever box they want filled. I don’t know what’s going on in their minds, so if they don’t ask a question, I can’t tell them,” he said.

Lueck states that he looks at himself as a ranch manager who shares information.

“I’m happy to be able to share things with students that can make a difference in their lives,” he said.

The transfer to the university has also led to the ranch working with other agencies and with other areas of study. The ranch works with the Missouri Department of Conservation, and a number of other university departments, including forages and forestry.

“This is all a source of income, not just cows,” Lueck said.

“We are trying to work with nature and still ranch,” he said.

“The question is before we try something new, will this be profitable for the ranch. And if we can’t answer that question, yes, than we probably don’t need to be doing it.”

“We’ve got a grassland management plan here and when we get done we should have 63 pastures, which I was already doing with Leo anyway, but now we’re doing more. We’re working with the Conservation Department right now. Part of it is creating more habitat for wildlife. We’ve planted quite a few pollinators…we try to leave buffers, especially around timber, kind of co-exist. We’ve put in wildlife ponds…We’ve done a lot of glade restoration, were we have gone in there and cut the cedars down and that opens the canopy up and it’s just absolutely amazing. We didn’t plant any of this stuff. So it existed years ago and the warm season grasses, the wildflowers, once we took the canopy out, they exploded,” he explained.

“We do controlled burns here. I think it’s important. It’s good for wildlife, good for management of your ground, helps control weeds, helps control cedars. A lot of things benefit from fire,” he pointed out.

Lueck also indicated that there have been some projects that they may not have done, if they weren’t now working with other agencies or the university.

“Part of that is incorporating warm season grasses here. I had a hard time looking at that project and saying this is profitable. So this is how the Conservation Department approached me. They said, Marty, find me a piece of ground here, that absolutely in your mind you think is worthless. And so we did, we came up with 33 acres, a north facing slope with a lot of glade in it and we put in Big Blue, Little Blue and Indian grass, and that stand today is six years old and I cannot believe the production that comes off that sorry piece of ground. Most of the warm season grasses are really deep rooted. They’ll tap down eight feet sometimes to get to water. We will continue to add these,” Lueck said.

“We use that for rotational grazing in the summer when cool season grasses are dormant. It will be four or five feet tall sometimes,” he added.

Along with establishing the warm season grasses, he has added alternative water sources to it. They have used a solar pump to bring water to it from a pond, because they couldn’t build a water source there because there was no clay. 

“We’ve learned things, you knew existed. It’s getting through it and doing it and trying to make it work,” he said.

Lueck stated that the opportunities he has had at the ranch have allowed him to expand his knowledge, act on this knowledge and then serve the cattle community by serving in leadership rolls in a number of organizations.

Most managers don’t make breeding decisions, Lueck stated. He credits Leo Journagan with allowing him to do that and develop his skills. This expertise within the cattle industry has also allowed him to fill leadership rolls by serving on the American Polled Hereford Board and later on the Hereford Association Board.