Nixa’s Suburban Rancher
Story and photo By MELISSA ADLER Contributing Writer
It was never his intention to be a rancher. Leon Fisher bought the 40-year-old house and nine acres just south of Nixa, Mo., because he loved the view off the back deck. A mix of shade trees and shrubs grows on the limestone-dotted hills. The view is, well, beautiful. Fisher, a fourth generation Christian County resident, chose the property in 2006 for a little piece of rural life close to work. These days he still doesn’t have any neighbors, but he’s got company.
After deciding against selling off six of the nine acres, Fisher looked into what he could do with the land. He researched emus, llamas, goats, and miniature horses. He discovered a breed of cattle, the Australian Lowline Black Angus, which is perfect for small pastures. Fisher purchased three cows and a bull, and started The Suburban Ranch. The property may be small, but don’t let that fool you. This ranch is big on meat.
At first glance, the short legs and compact body may lead you to believe Australian Lowlines are dwarfs. They don’t carry the dwarfism gene, so there’s no risk of genetic deformity and calving losses are rare. More docile than Angus, Australian Lowline Black Angus are easier to care for because they require only one acre per head, eat one-third of what regular Angus eat, and calve easily. "I’ve had ten born," says Fisher, "and I’ve yet to see one of them being born. I get up in the morning, I see a little speck in the field, and I think it’s a dog at first. Then I realize, oh, I have a calf." Australian Lowline cows are excellent mothers.
Now his backyard comfortably supports eight to nine cattle, plus a few calves, which are grass-fed and raised without hormones. The breed is hearty, and his cattle require only yearly vaccinations. Fisher explains that unlike his herd, some animals are pumped full of antibiotics "just in case." The Suburban Ranch produces all-natural beef without the use of pesticides or unnecessary antibiotics. He also likes the fact that he can administer vaccines without a squeeze shoot, which is a sturdy cage for confining livestock safely.
As Fisher walks through the pasture, the herd is shy until it realizes he has apple and oat treats. "I like them because they’re smaller, less intimidating," Fisher says as he feeds the cattle. "Just easier to handle. Still," Fisher adds, "never trust a bull."
Australian Lowline Black Angus cattle were developed as part of a research project initiated by the Trangie Agricultural Research Centre in the 1970s with the goal of producing more beef per acre. Using full-blood Black Angus, smaller animals were selectively bred, resulting in cattle that are always black, naturally polled (hornless) and one-half to two-thirds the size of other breeds. Today, Lowlines are generally the smallest breed of beef cattle.
Although Lowlines are small by comparison, the animals provide about 75 percent of live weight in saleable meat versus about 65 percent from a typical Angus. That is well above average for any breed. The meat is lean but well-marbled. And how does it taste? It’s definitely not like supermarket meat. Fisher describes grass-fed beef as having a fresher, stronger flavor. And because Australian Lowlines grow and mature rapidly, the meat is tender.
Beef cuts are arguably more nutritious than most store-bought meat, because of the fact that they are grass-fed. According to the most comprehensive analysis to date, grass-fed beef is healthier in many ways, namely lower in total fat, higher in levels of CLA (a cancer fighter) and higher in vitamin levels. The meat also has a healthier ratio of good and bad fatty acids. You get all this for about the same amount of saturated fat as chicken breast. The 2009 study was a joint effort between the USDA and researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina.
Australian Lowlines will finish well on forage alone, but this year’s drought in Southwest Missouri dried up the grass at The Suburban Ranch. "That was terrible. That was rough," says Fisher. Normally he doesn’t have to start feeding hay to the herd until November or December. This time he started in July. Finding hay was difficult and expensive. When Fisher first got into ranching, a round bale sold for $35. He paid $78 each for 15 bales to get through winter.
Fisher understands the challenge of overcoming the notion that bigger is better. Most Angus bulls weigh in the range of 2,000-2,500 pounds, compared to Australian Lowline Black Angus bulls at 1,200 pounds. "You say he’s going to produce better, and they think you’re crazy." And there are a lot of ranchers to convince. Missouri is a big cattle state. The American Angus Association ranks Missouri sixth in the nation for Angus cattle registration, even besting Texas.
When he’s not caring for his cattle, Fisher owns and manages Bud & Walt’s Pizza & Pasta House in Nixa, Mo. "Most of us, we have our regular jobs, and do this for a hobby." He’s passionate about Australian Lowline Black Angus, and wants to share it with others. Fisher explains that people who own two to six acres can easily keep one bull and two cows, which would provide enough meat for themselves and their extended family. Even with one bull and one cow, owners would get one calf per year to either sell or butcher.
"Lowlines are perfect for small acreage farms," says Fisher. He feels raising these animals is a great experience for kids. Whatever the reason for owning Australian Lowline Black Angus — better meat, a second income, a natural lawn mower — the herd at The Suburban Ranch proves that bigger isn’t necessarily better. And the view at the Ranch? It’s still beautiful. His web site: www.thesuburbanranch.com.