When you hear of a family business going back more than 140 years, intuition tells you it’s passed successfully through the generations with an abundance of hard work and heart. But, after “meeting” Tana Autrey, the 5th generation behind Campbell Ranch located mostly in San Saba County, you realize it’s not a gut feeling… it’s the truth! In fact, Tana operates by the mindset that, “When you do something you love, it isn’t work!”
Campbell Ranch is a commercial cow-calf operation, established back in 1878. As a historical point of reference, this was prior to the invention of Dr. Pepper in Waco in the 1880s or even before the flip was switched on Austin’s first public lighting system (Moontowers) in 1895. Today, the nearly century-and-a-half year old ranch brings crossbred calves to market using Angus cows bred by Charolais bulls. The result is a hearty calf that eats well and tends to weigh more — 700 to 750 lbs. when sold off.
“It’s a family affair at Campbell Ranch,” says Tana, “however my husband, Cody, and I make most of the management decisions and do many of the hands-on daily tasks at the ranch. This includes everything from gathering, marking and branding, to supplemental feeding and more.” The couple’s two boys, Kase and Kane are still youngsters, 6 and 3 years old respectively, and help with chores where they can — but are still growing into the figurative family cowboy boots!
For the last 30 years, Tana’s parents, Tim and Helen Dockal, have overseen the whitetail deer population on the ranch’s 6352 acres via the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Managed Land Deer Program (MLDP). Tana adds, “My husband and I own two other businesses in Mason, Texas. We have a road construction company and a seamless gutter company. I manage those businesses as well as work for Nine Bar Land and Cattle, LLC, our family real estate company.”
“It’s hard to put a specific amount of time spent on ranch work (and other),” says Tana, “it is never ending!”
Despite having all these hats in the air, Tana is juggling them with finesse and doing what she loves. “Ranching isn’t going to give you monetary wealth; however, it teaches you a wealth of knowledge that many do not have the opportunity to learn” says Tana. Plus, she points out that sharing the experience with family is extremely gratifying and as is providing mindful stewardship and passing on the history for future generations.
Read on to learn more about this amazing lady in the Texas beef community.
Pets: We have four dogs – Amos, Josie, Reno and Pecos. Also, 10-plus horses, one cat, and a herd of Spanish goats. Our oldest son, Kase, loves chickens so we also have hens which he takes care of.
Education: I have a Bachelor in Animal Science and a Masters in Agricultural Economics from Texas A&M University. Also, helping my parents from a very young age has prepared me for this career.
Hardest Aspect of Ranch Life: There are many. The unpredictability of the weather. It seems we fight a battle with mother nature and she is either working for you or working against you. Also, family ranches have been victimized with increases in property and inheritance taxes. Many generations have sold out. This has prevented younger generations of ranch owners from returning to the ranch to live and raise cattle. Those who have hung on to their legacy have had to figure out other ways to source income, many with secondary jobs.
Favorite Beef Cut: Ribeye, medium rare!
Favorite Beef Recipe: Chili and cornbread are a favorite in our house.
Favorite Beef Cooking Method: I love it prepared many ways but a good chicken fried steak with homemade gravy is hard to beat!
Favorite Place to Get a Burger: Alamo Springs Café in Fredericksburg, TX
Active Hobbies: I like to attend the occasional team roping with my family. And, our boys love to fish, so if we are not working or at a team roping you can find us on the river, lake or coast!
Staying Fit: I’m not a long-distance runner but I am devoted to fitting workouts into my week. I enjoy lifting weights, doing HIIT training and the occasional jog around the ranch.