Dawn breaks in Guthrie, Texas. It’s an overcast day as the staff of the Four Sixes Ranch gather for breakfast. Outside, cowboys are getting horses ready to begin moving and checking herds on horseback, a tradition the Four Sixes prides itself on. Then, it is off to do a day’s work on of the most legendary ranches in Texas.
The Four Sixes Ranch was founded by Samuel Burk Burnett in the 1870s and is currently owned by his great-granddaughter, Anne Burnett Windfohr Marion. This working ranch manages 10,000 Angus and Black Baldy cattle and annually breeds more than 1,200 Quarter Horse mares for the ranch use, performance and racing.
Tours on the ranch
Occasionally, the Four Sixes allows tours of the famous West Texas ranch, and if you are in the horse production course at Texas Tech University, you might just go there on a class field trip. During a tour, a visitor can learn about the history of the Four Sixes, its day-to-day activities, and their horse breeding practices. Visitors are shown around the headquarters, the stallion barn and breeding facilities, and sometimes staff will even take a stallion or two out of their stalls to give visitors a good look.
Kelly Riccitelli, Ph.D., an equine associate professor of practice in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech, takes her classes on the 95-mile field trip to the ranch every spring to show them a real working ranch.
“I think it’s important for students to see what is going on in the industry and what’s current in the industry,” Riccitelli said.
Texas Tech is no stranger to the Four Sixes. The Texas Tech Equestrian Center has sent horses to the ranch to be bred and even had the ranch perform an embryo transfer on a horse. Riccitelli said the Four Sixes is very progressive in their breeding practices and technology and have always been willing to help the Department of Animal and Food Sciences when needed.
“They’re as good at breeding horses as anywhere in the country,” Riccitelli said.
The Four Sixes’ Quarter Horse breeding program has cemented its name in ranching history with the use of advanced technology and a lot of experience. Dr. Glenn Blodgett, the Four Sixes’ horse division manager, is a prime example of tried and tested experience. Beginning his career with the Four Sixes in 1982, Blodgett credits technology for the increase in efficiency and productivity in the industry.
They’re as good at breeding horses as anywhere in the country.
“We’re breeding more mares total than we bred before,” Blodgett said. “We have more stallions on site and fewer mares on site but, yet, we breed more mares.”
Some of the reproductive services the Four Sixes provides are artificial insemination, semen freezing and storage, mare management, embryo transfer, foaling and transported cooled semen.
Benefits of artificial insemination include reduction of disease transmission, more mares bred, less hauling of horses, ability to add extenders and antibiotics to semen, and decrease the risk of injury.
Freezing and storage of semen is another important part of the Four Sixes’ operation. The ranch is affiliated with Select Breeders Services, which allows them to offer on-site freezing and storage of semen to the public. The Four Sixes’ affiliation with SBS also enables their frozen semen to be shipped to Australia, Argentina, Brazil, the European Union, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay and Uruguay.
“We have a motility analyzer so we can actually see the semen swimming around on a computer screen,” Blodgett said.
Mare management includes basic upkeep of mares residing at the Four Sixes Ranch, for breeding, foaling or other management options.
Embryo transfer consists of taking an embryo from one mare and implanting it into a recipient mare. The Four Sixes maintains its own recipient herd to be able to do this specific reproductive service when needed. Embryo transfers are regularly used when a performance mare is still working and owners would like to use that mare’s genetics to create offspring.
The Four Sixes allows ranch mares to foal out in pastures that are monitored twice a day and has their racing mares foal in foaling stalls. Clients of the Four Sixes can choose either option based on their price point for their mare.
“The Four Sixes is unique because their ranch horse mares are still foaling out in the pasture,” Riccitelli said. “I think it shows a great balance of using technology where it’s needed but not overusing it when it’s not needed.”
The Four Sixes uses Federal Express, Network Global Logistics and its own courier service, Sixes Direct, as a way to transport cooled semen. Sixes Direct serves the Oklahoma City, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Weatherford/Stephenville areas. Blodgett said it is not uncommon for Sixes Direct to ship semen to a ranch in those areas, and on the same day, bring semen back to breed a mare at the Four Sixes.
“This is a more efficient way to get it the same day to those places we are trying to serve,” Blodgett said.
An impressive history
The Four Sixes’ dedication to providing the ranching, performance and racing horse industries with the best possible horses is one of the many reasons why the ranch has been so successful.
George Humphreys, who began managing the Four Sixes in 1932, started building a herd of horses to someday make “the best horses in the country,” according to the Four Sixes website. In the 1960s, the Four Sixes officially added an equine breeding program to its resumé.
One of the most famous stallions to come out of the Four Sixes, Dash For Cash, threw offspring that have earned more than $40 million. The Dash For Cash statue stands outside of the Four Sixes headquarters in Guthrie to remind visitors of the prestige of the ranch’s stallions and breeding program.
In 1994, the Four Sixes was honored with the American Quarter Horse Association’s Best Remuda Award. Now, people come from all over the world to attend the Four Sixes’ horse sales, like the famous Return to the Remuda. Riccitelli said West Texas even benefits from having the Four Sixes in the area because of the tourism the ranch generates.
Everyday advances are being made in the technology and practices used in the breeding industry and the Four Sixes is at the forefront of it all. Blodgett said there are not many businesses that have been around since the 1800s, yet the Four Sixes is still operating.
“We’ve seen changes in the cattle and the horses,” Blodgett said. “The way we raise them. The way we market them. We’ve seen it all change.”