In an industry as old as the cattle industry, it's also hard to find a new niche, but Desoto county natives Michael and Kelli Martin have managed to carve out theirs.
"We've been in the business of raising quality replacement heifers for a couple years now," said Michael.
Michael manages the purebred Brahman division of Rum Creek Ranch in Arcadia. But he also has a ranch of his own.
"As a smaller producer, when I went to buy (replacement heifers) I had to go to a big ranch. I wanted to buy 10 or so, but they wouldn't sell you less than 50," he explained.
Once he purchased some heifers, he found that he wasn't satisfied with the quality of the animals either.
He saw there was a need for affordable quality replacement heifers and decided to try to fill that need for small ranchers like himself. Now he provides that service under the name Double M Cattle Company.
Michael knows what makes a good cow, too. In fact, between the two of them, the Martins have pretty much covered all the bases of experience in the cattle industry. Michael has a long history as a livestock judge and livestock auctioneer and does genetic and health protocol consulting along with Kelli, who is a registered vet tech. He is currently president of the Desoto County Fair and director of the fair's livestock committee and has marketing experience as well.
The Martins use a combination of tools to maximize the quality of their heifers. "We only use low birthweight Angus bulls so my customers don't have calving problems," said Michael. The Martins have virtually eliminated calving problems in their herd.
When breeding cattle, they also consider not only the animal's structure, but its ancestry by using Expected Progeny Differences. EPD is a tool used to predict the traits of the offspring of animals, for example meat quality and high-weaning weights (to garner a higher price at market).
As a youth, Michael was a serious kid, especially when it came to cattle.
"I remember being 10 or 12 trying to build something, trying to have an understanding of genetics and what you want to accomplish and doing it on a budget. Then of course talking to people in the industry ..." If that sounds a little grown up for an elementary school kid, Michael admitted it was. "I was a little bit different," he joked about himself. "They said when I was 12 I was about 40."
Michael won countless awards in livestock judging between age 8 and 18 due to his attention to detail, he said. He went to work for a period of time at the Kansas State University Agricultural Research Center of Hays with Dr. John Bethour, a research scientist who pioneered using ultrasound technology on cattle to study the quality of the steak before the animal is even slaughtered. The Martins currently use this technology on their own ranch.
His love of learning is also what led him to auctioneering school. On a dime, he can rattle off a line of information unintelligible to most in a typical auctioneer's drawl.
"My grandfather always said they can't take knowledge away from you," said Michael.
His love of cattle took him through 4-H and FFA during his younger years, and now he and Kelli give back to youth agriculture by volunteering as 4-H leaders.
Kelli is the beef leader and runs a club of 40 or 50 kids. Michael owns the fair portion.
"You see them really evolving and understanding what the cattle industry is all about," said Michael of the kids. But he doesn't believe in pushing kids into agriculture. He wasn't pushed into it, and he doesn't plan to push the couple's 7-year-old daughter Emma.
"I hope she grows up a whole lot like me and her mom. She already knows a lot about cattle breeds; I've taught her that since she's been small," Michael said.
"I think it's a good way to grow up. Everybody tends to go back to their roots," he added.
Kelli, a vet tech at Arcadia Animal Hospital for the past 23 years, is already grooming little Emma to be a veterinarian.
"She has been coming here since she was six weeks old," said Kelli with a smile. Emma cleans syringes, draws up shots and more. Her favorite part is watching the surgeries, Kelli added.
Born and raised in Desoto County as well, both of Kelli's grandfathers raised cows, and her mother's side of the family grew watermelons for a long time.
Kelli loves caring for the animals at the clinic, especially the cows and horses. She also provides much of the medical care for the animals that she and Michael own and breed.
"Some people might golf, might fish, might go hunting. I don't do any of those things. Cattle, that's what I do. Cattle are my passion," Michael said.