By Lilly Platts. Editor’s Note: This is the twelfth article in a series highlighting significant contributions of women in the Simmental industry.
Ellen Tom grew up in the AJSA program, and now runs her family’s historic Tom Brothers ranch which has been in operation since 1857. Along with her uncle, Philip, Ellen was responsible for putting Simmental at the center of the program.
“I always tagged along with my dad whenever he went to work cattle since I was old enough to walk. He saw my interest in cattle and fostered it. He really taught me the reins of running the ranch and gave me projects to do on my own. I really appreciated that he took me along, and he never put gender boundaries on me, or told me things, like ‘you can’t do that because you’re a girl’. I never had it in my head that it was something I couldn’t do,” Tom recalls.
She started in the AJSA at nine and went to 10 National Classics. Tom served on the AJSA Board of Trustees and was a high-point individual in the junior division. “I got interested because my Uncle Philip was also in AJSA, and he was the President. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and do the same thing.”
Photo: Ellen Tom grew up in the AJSA and used the skills she learned to excel through her education and beyond.
The AJSA program gave her a leg up when she attended college. “I was recruited by the top advisors at Texas A&M because they knew of my Simmental involvement. They knew the kids who grow up in that program are more well-rounded, more well-spoken individuals because of the emphasis on leadership contests, and especially the public speaking contest.”
At A&M, Tom studied Animal Science and was on the 2004 National Champion Meat Judging Team, and the Intercollegiate Meat Animal Evaluation team. She stayed in College Station to earn a master’s degree in Agricultural Leadership and Development.
Returning to the ranch near Campbellton was never a question for Tom, and upon graduating she became the sixth generation to lead the ranching operation. Bringing Simmental to the forefront was a priority. “When my dad and my grandfather were running the ranch, it was primarily an Angus seedstock operation, and we dabbled in a little bit of Simmental. When Phillip and I came back, the cow herd was commercial and we had a decision to make — where we wanted to go from this point on. We decided we wanted to invest our time and money into SimGenetics and go from there.”
“There was a niche to fill in our area, raising seedstock SimAngus™ and Simbrah bulls, so we thought that was going to be the best option for us. There was nostalgia tied to them from growing up in the junior program, and we already had network within the breed so it just made sense to do that. My grandfather experimented with Simmental back in the early ’70s. He used Parisien and some of those other early bulls. Simmental has been a part of our ranch ever since then, but before we came back to the ranch, Angus was the primary focus.”
Tom Brothers Ranch holds a longstanding reputation for raising quality seedstock, and with the breed change, loyal customers still stuck around. “We had some loyal customers from back in the Angus days who still wanted to buy bulls from us because of our family’s reputation, so we had somewhat of a customer base to work with when we started out. Because of the lack of performance-tested SimGenetics bulls in the area, we’ve been able to also continue to develop our customer base.”
Tom has represented the Simmental breed across a number of platforms and organizations, including as ASA’s 2013 Young Cattlemen’s Conference Representative, and at the 2010 World Simmental Conference in Australia. She also serves on the advisory council for the Texas A&M Animal Science Department, was an advisor for the Texas Junior Simmental-Simbrah Association for nine years, has been a speaker at the Texas A&M Beef Cattle Short Course, and hosts educational seminars and ranch tours with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.
Running a ranch is a major commitment, but Tom believes it is extremely important to have a presence in the industry as a young woman. “I think it’s important to get more women involved. If you look at the leadership positions in our industry, or any industry for the most part, and it’s male-dominated. We certainly need more women’s voices out there, representing our industry and having our voices heard about the direction of where our industry should go.”
“Because I’m a millennial I see some things differently than generations older than me. Maybe the beef industry doesn’t present itself as well as it could, because we’re steeped in that tradition of the all-American male cowboy. I think the industry needs to be showcasing more people of different ethnicities, women, younger people — I think that’s kind of the shortfall of agriculture is our lack of diversity and I would like to see more diversity in leadership positions in agriculture.”
Tom expresses that the community and focus on improvement through science and genetics are the things she values the most in the industry. In addition to her family, Tom points to Dr. Jerry Lipsey, Sally Buxkemper, and Dr. Chris Skaggs as people who have both influenced and supported her in the beef industry. “I value the friendships I’ve forged through the breed associations and the industry. On the 2010 World Simmental Congress trip, I traveled with Doug Bichler, and he’s one of my best friends now. I talk to him almost every day. Other breeders I’ve met along the way are some of my best friends now, too. You live isolated in these rural areas, so now with texting and the internet, I have these friends across the country who I talk to every day who can relate to what I do, so it’s fun having that community.”
Photo: Tom Brothers Ranch is highly committed to collecting important data.