Sherwood W. McClaren built 44 Farms’ first red barn back in the early 20th century, putting down the roots for a Central Texas legacy that remain to this day. His family arrived in Milam County from Tennessee in 1872, when Sherwood was three, and they settled along the Little River bottom land near Cameron. By 1909, Sherwood had saved enough wages as a farm laborer to buy his own little piece near the Little River, and there he founded 44 Farms with his wife, Josie. The land was fertile, but needed plenty of water (“and sweat and prayer,” adds Bob McClaren, who is among the fourth generation running 44 Farms today). For over a century, 44 Farms produced crops—mainly cotton in the 1930s and ‘40s, along with corn, sorghum, and other grains. “He was one of the first people to grow cotton on that farmland,” Bob says, “and also one of the first to bring coastal Bermuda grass to Central Texas. He was always experimenting with different crops.”
Those first few acres soon swelled to thousands. The family prospered, too—nine children were born to Sherwood and Josie over the years. Four sons took up their father’s agricultural legacy, beginning a tradition of passing the farm down through generations that continues with Bob and his sister, Janet McClaren Salazar, today. The Cameron Daily Herald, penning Sherwood’s obituary in 1941, wrote that he had “followed the long furrow of the years and held many of [the farm’s] acres in his own name.” His descendents have done the same.
It remained an agricultural outfit, plus a few head of cattle, until 2005, when Bob decided to come back to the farm. He wanted to start what people in the cattle business call the backbone of the industry—a seedstock operation. He revived his great grandfather’s 44 brand and converted many of those old fields to grazing pastures, while others were planted with corn to supplement the diet of the thousands of cows and bulls of what is today a world-renowned Black Angus herd.
It started with 70 head. By acquiring herds from ranches across the country to gain access to top genetics, cultivating a talented and committed team, and positioning itself in one of the densest cattle markets in the country, 44 Farms has become, in seven years, synonymous with genetic quality. It is today one of the largest Angus seedstock operations in the world.
“We are blessed and grateful for the opportunity to make this our life’s work—it’s what we love to do.”
Bob McClaren, Owner
The challenge of cultivating a large Black Angus herd in the heat of Central Texas is not an easy one, requiring careful attention to feed, plenty of shade in each grazing pasture, and easy-to-access above-ground water sources. But the breed’s superiority was clear to Bob from the beginning, and he and his team have equipped the ranch to ensure the animals’ wellbeing. “I studied the Angus breed for many years before we ever got involved, and I really became a believer,” he said. “There’s a level of quality that’s unlike any other breed.”
The cornerstone of the business is selling bulls. 44 Farms has two annual production sales in October and February, and sells cattle private treaty throughout the year to cattlemen across the globe. The ranch also recently launched its own line of premium steaks. About a quarter of the beef from 44 Farms is graded USDA Prime, compared to the industry average of about 2 percent—a statistic that proves the ranch’s emphasis on quality. The steaks are also, of course, certified Black Angus and generally have the better marbling, flavor, and tenderness that come with the breed. A big part of the future of 44 Farms, McClaren says, is preparing to meet a rising international appetite for beef while controlling quality “from conception to the plate.”
Plenty of people have told Bob, ‘You know, if I were a cow, 44 Farms is exactly where I’d want to live.’ And “that might seem like a silly statement,” he says with a laugh, “but it’s one we take a lot of pride in because it is a great place for the cattle. From the beginning, I wanted to have a great emphasis on stewardship of the land and stewardship of the animals, and wanted people on the team who believed the same way I did about that. We have people that didn’t necessarily come up in the industry, and some who did, but they all share the same thing—a commitment to excellence. We want to be the best, and we want our cattle to be the best in the country. Everyone is working toward that goal.”
Moving forward, the 103-year-old ranch has a heritage to protect. “God has graciously allowed us stewardship over these lands for such a time as this,” McClaren says. “We are blessed and most grateful for the opportunity to make this our life’s work—it’s what we love to do.”