By Miranda Reiman
Back in the day, Minnie Lou Bradley likely never considered that she would become an icon in the cattle business. She was just a young lady with a passion for cattle.
But back in that day, young ladies were supposed to have a passion for baking pies and cooking supper. It’s also likely that Minnie Lou never thought of herself as a barrier breaker. But in her own way, she is that and much, much more.
“I really didn’t know I was the only girl in agriculture. I just didn’t think about it,” she says.
But Bradley—Minnie Lou Ottinger then—did think a lot about livestock. And she never stopped thinking about livestock and how to make them better.
For her lifetime of dedication to the cattle business, the Livestock Publications Council (LPC) presented Bradley with its Headliner Award. The Headliner Award recognizes those outside of the publishing industry for actions that have produced a positive change in livestock production and marketing.
Most know her as the first female president of the American Angus Association board, or the first woman to win at collegiate cattle judging and graduate in animal science, but she may shrug off those accomplishments.
“School wasn’t like it is today. You could take off for anything,” she says. “Every livestock convention or meeting or anything, I just took out of school and went with [my dad]. Everybody asks, ‘Why my love for livestock?’ And I don’t know. I don’t know why it became my passion, but I didn’t care about anything else if I could have my livestock.”
In between the Hydro, Okla., farm where she grew up and life today on her ranch near Childress, Texas, Bradley poured hours of service into the beef industry, brought new ideas and created cattle that add value for everybody.
“Not only has she had many firsts as a woman, but she has made some great achievements as a cattle producer,” says ag journalist Jennifer Carrico, the nominating LPC board member. “She has helped many others see the importance of performance, genetic predictability, carcass quality and raising cattle to help improve the beef industry.”
In 1949, Bradley made history when she enrolled in animal husbandry at Oklahoma A & M (now Oklahoma State University), and then signed up for the livestock judging team.
“I was really looking forward to Denver,” she says. “They posted the travel team and I wasn’t there. My heart was broken, because I thought according to the scores I had made it.”
Team coach Glen Bratcher called her into his office. “He said, ‘I’m afraid that the people you give your reasons to will not be fair to you because of your voice being high.’ So I was heartsick.”
They took her next time, and she went on to win high individual in the Intercollegiate Livestock Judging contest in Chicago that year. When they gave out a tie clasp for an award, Bratcher said, “Don’t worry. We’ll have it made into a locket for you.”
After graduation, Bradley worked for the Texas Angus Association before marrying into the Bradley family and beginning her ranching career.
That career began inauspiciously. “We turned into here [what’s now the Bradley 3 Ranch at Memphis, Texas] and everything was in disarray; not a windmill was working, the fences were down,” she says.
They bought it in 1955, “and we’ve been trying to improve it now for 63 years,” the rancher says.
Early on, just able to make interest payments, Bradley asked the banker how others in the area were making it.
“He said, ‘A rancher, unless he’s got oil in this part of the country, doesn’t expect to make any money. It’s just living and living the life you want.’ And I said we’ve got to do better than that,” Bradley recalls.
So they bought a lifetime membership to the American Angus Association in 1958 and started their seedstock business. The family pioneered the gate-to-plate movement and opened B3R Country Meats in 1986. During the 25 years they owned it, they paid on beef quality and returned data so ranchers could earn more and build beef demand.
“I tell people today, every cowman ought to be a packer for one day. Just one day. You learned a lot,” she says.
Bradley was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum in 2006 and joined many of her early OSU mentors when her portrait was added to The Saddle & Sirloin Club in 2014.
“Surround yourself with good people. Not only good morally, but those that have ambition, that want to do something or have done something,” Bradley says. “I think that’s what makes you a better person.”
When Bradley’s son Monte died in an accident, her daughter Mary Lou Bradley returned to the ranch. She and her husband James Henderson now manage the business with direction from Minnie Lou.
“I always worry about some of these things that’s happened to me; I don’t know if I’m worthy or not. And I don’t want anything I’m not worthy of,” she says. “And I worry about, what can I do tomorrow to make myself more worthy of the good life I’ve had?”
Reiman is director, producer communications with Certified Angus Beef LLC