Meet at West Point, join the army, get married, have kids, put down roots as a first-generation ranching family. This is the story of Sarah and Colin Dunlap, owners of Silver Bell Cattle Company in Normangee, Texas.
Sarah and Colin were married in 2017, after graduating from West Point just a couple of years earlier. In fact, their ranch is also fairly new, in the scheme of things. The couple started gathering resources and cattle in 2021 and officially formed as an LLC in 2023. The business model is a cow-calf operation that sells beef directly to consumers and currently has about 50 head grazing over 400 acres.
“The hardest part of ranching is getting started,” Colin jokes truthfully. “Not only is the upfront cost astronomical for someone that doesn’t already have a family operation, but the idea of committing to and starting your own business is also a big task. But you can’t get hung up on the hard times – you make mistakes and learn to rebound, even stronger in the long run.”
“I truly believe that this isn’t something you can do by yourself. If we didn’t have great friends and families that helped us buy our first cows, find the land that we own, we wouldn’t have been able to grow at our own pace and make some mistakes along the way.”
Also, Colin strongly believes that education, along with hands-on training and the willingness to be a life-long learner, helps make the real-life onboarding into ranch life easier.
“My wife and I both have environmental degrees, so we’ve learned a lot about sustainability principles and put them into application at the ranch,” he says. “I’ve also participated in Texas A&M’s Battleground to Breaking Ground Program to get a good handle on the business side of the operation, and then was fortunate to line up an eight-month internship with Steve Cook at Cook Beef Cattle in Lampasas. This opportunity gave me an invaluable day-to-day immersion on everything from low-stress cattle handling, fence work, plumbing, and more. I take every opportunity I can to learn what I can from the community.”
While hanging out a shingle as a new rancher has its challenges, Silver Bell Cattle Company is thriving in large part to a close-knit group of cattlemen and women willing to provide mentorship in all aspects of their life, including business advice, childcare, and faith.
“The community of ranchers that have been there for us along the way, has been invaluable,” says Colin. “The network we have developed in agriculture over the last few years is so strong, it rivals the strength of the friendships we had while serving in the military.”
The Dunlap’s have two boys, Hudson and Weston. They stress the whole reason they got into ranching was a family-based decision based on raising their children in a community with specific beliefs, values, and ideals.
“Everything about our operation is family-oriented. I love working cattle as a family, having my oldest son out on horseback with me and working chute-side with him and my wife,” explains Colin. “We’re raising our children around some of the best people America has to offer, teaching them hard work, honesty, discipline, and integrity every day.”
When it comes to eating beef, the family enjoys steaks like Sirloin, Strip, or Ribeye cooked over an open wood fire. No specific recipe per se, but the preference is for dishes that allow the natural flavor of the beef to come through without too much seasoning.
As a veteran-owned business, Colin and Sarah make an effort to stay connected to their military roots by inviting over a group of veterans on important big work days at the ranch.
“We’re a group of like-minded individuals focused on accomplishing a shared goal,” explains Colin. “Just like we used to do in the military. The sweat, the purpose, the laughter, and hard work. We love to foster that sense of community among our peers. Afterwards, we always head out to the Town Café in Centerville, TX for fellowship and a great burger!”