It's just not true what they say: Nice guys don't finish last, at least not always. Take Johnnie Hoffman, for example. Folks in the Texas Longhorn industry are familiar with the Hoffman name by now, but not because Johnnie has done a lot of boisterous horn--blowing. No, he's earned his excellent reputation by being a nice guy who happens to have a spectacular herd of longhorns. With cattle as tremendous as theirs, the Hoffmans could easily get away with a bit of bragging, but that's just not their style.
As vice-president and manager of New Orleans' Noble Drilling Corporation, you might expect that Johnnie would have a ranch foreman to take care of all "the dirty work" that a ranch requires. Not so. He and his family - wife Ruth, son Johnnie, daughter Julie Keller, the grandkids and a brother-in-law do all the chores. "I've got it set up to where I can do the branding with just one other person helping," Johnnie explains.
He and Ruth thrive on their weekends at the ranch. They make the forty-five-minute trek each Friday from their home in Metairie, crossing Lake Pontchartrain to the ranch outside Folsom, La. Green, rolling hills, dotted with oaks and pines, provide the perfect backdrop for 125 of the finest Longhorns you're likely to see in one spot, especially if you fancy the Butler line.
Ruth confides, "To me, the Longhorns represent peace and quiet - a lifestyle away from the city. I'm not implying that our Longhorns are a hobby; they are a business. But the ranch gives us a nice change." Her charming accent reveals that she is a native of New Orleans, but she wasn't exposed to ranching until about nine years ago.
"The first Longhorn I ever saw was in the San Antonio zoo," she admits with a laugh. "Cows of any kind were still very new to me when Johnnie became interested and wanted to buy Longhorns. I knew I could learn to love them - and I did!" Her enthusiasm is obviously genuine, especially for her favorite cows, like Katz Meow, a full sister to Sweet 'N' Low.
His favorite cow is "the old grandma, Pearl. She's an old WR cow, the mother of Delta Diamond. We have six of Pearl's daughters and two of her sons." They announce that Delta Diamond's horns now exceed sixty inches, "so she really stands out." Another favorite is a Rose Red daughter called Delta Flame.
Their system is that all the heifers on their ranch will be christened "Delta" something, and all of the bulls will have "Dixie" in their names. The committee for deciding each animal's specific name is a little less scientific that the Delta/Dixie system. Johnnie and Ruth solicit input from grandchildren and other relatives, Ruth's friends - even Johnnie's secretary! But by consistently using Dixie or Delta, they hope to be able to note which cattle are Hoffman products at the sales they attend.
Ruth and Johnnie aren't the only ones keeping an eye on the Hoffman cattle. With stars like Delta Diamond on the Seven T Ranch, people in the business are intrigued by this low-key gentleman and his success.
Perhaps his eye for superior Texas Longhorns was inherited. Originally from Gonzales County, Texas, Johnnie was raised in a farming and ranching family. His dad ran commercial cattle, and his grandfather "always kept thirty or forty head of Longhorns separate from his other cattle." Johnnie remembers his grandfather reminiscing about the time the men came through looking to round up some Longhorns for a wildlife refuge herd.
Ever since his boyhood in Texas, Johnnie has wanted to have a ranch of his own, but at seventeen, he left to join the military service. At age, twenty, he went to work in the oil fields of Louisiana's bayou country. He's been with that same company for the past thirty-nine years, and his career there eventually enabled him to realize his dream of ranching.
"I bought my first Longhorns from Bobby Hyde, then got seven more from Darol Dickinson in 1977. The next year, we went to our first TLBAA Convention. We met Blackie and Lorene Graves and they invited me to come see their cattle," Johnnie relates. "I went over there, saw those Texas Longhorns and that's what sprung me! I really started from there."
The Hoffmans have carefully built up their herd since that time. Says Johnnie, "I go to every sale I can and most every time I go, I buy one. My other business has kept me away from some sales this year, but normally I go to the ones in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma!"
"I look for good conformation, and bloodlines have a lot to do with it too. On bulls, I like a pretty deep-bodied, straight bull," he says. "Not all the good young bulls turn out that well, and you might have a slow-starting bull that turns out to be better than you expected. I also like to see a big base on the horns."
As to which of his own young bulls are selected to be steered: "I base it on their bloodlines, build, color, just general characteristics. Color does have something to do with it, but if it's a good bull with good bloodlines, he can be any color."
The Hoffmans do butcher steers for their own beef ("its very good"), but most are sold for roping steers or trophy steers. "I just sold a pretty speckled red one and a nice speckled blue one to a guy in Austin who has seven acres on Lake Travis."
About eighty per cent of their bulls are sold into the commercial market. Buyers have come from nine different states, including Florida, to purchase Hoffman bulls; they've also leased bulls to people in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana. The strongest testimony to the quality of their longhorns and to their own business integrity is that three commercial cattlemen have come back for more - three years in a row.
Aside from bulls, the majority of their cattle are sold via private treaty. Other than magazine ads, Ruth and Johnnie don't push too hard to sell their Longhorns. "I don't try to coax anybody," Johnnie says. "I just invite them to come out, let them know they're welcome. It is up to them if they want to come. Some of the people who have bought cattle from the Seven T are Darol Dickinson, Tom Brundage, Betty Lamb, King Ranch, F.M. Graves, R.L. Londot, Dr. Gene Berry, Braxton Blake, R.M. "Red" McCombs and also Alan Sparger.
"When people do come to the ranch," says Ruth, "the cattle sell themselves. We really don't have to do any selling."
Apparently that's exactly what happened in the case of the Londots, owners of Ace Cattle Company, and now partners with the Hoffmans in several outstanding Longhorns. The Londots were first exposed to the breed when they visited the Colorado ranch of their friends, Minford and Judy Beard. When R.L. and Gayle Londot learned that there was a Longhorn herd in their neck of the woods, they went to check it out. Ruth recalls that R.L. "just kept coming over and looking at the cattle and enjoying them. He wanted some of his own, but he had no place to put them. As soon as he got his land, he bought the Longhorns."
Dixie Hunter, one of the Hoffman's primary herd sires, was raised them and is now shared fifty-fifty with the Londots. Classic Majestic, which Johnnie purchased from Blackie graves, is also half-owned by the Londot's Ace Cattle Company.
Another of the Hoffman's partnerships is with Blackie Graves in the bull Monarch ("my main man," as Johnnie refers to him). "I've never had any trouble with partnerships. We're dealing with fine people whose word is their bond. We get along great."
Ruth adds that it helps to have the folks that you are dealing with situated reasonably close to your own ranch; Graves' ranch is only about 300 miles away. "One of the secrets' to a successful partnership arrangement, according to Ruth, "is really knowing the people you're partners with." Johnnie agrees emphatically: "That's the only way I'd go into a partnership."
Through their partnership, commercial sales and private treaty sales, Johnnie says, "Our ranch is holding its own. Sure, the oil slump bas affected the Longhorn industry - all businesses have been affected. But since the Longhorns aren't my main line, it hasn't really hurt our operation."