By PennyLynn Webb – Managing Reporter – County Life Magazine
Ranching has no scheduled hours, no weekend breaks and you’d best be a morning person. The days are long and hard, especially with unpredictable Texas weather and extreme summer heat. It’s not just rounding up cattle, cutting hay, feeding livestock and fixing fences. The work is endless and not just physical labor; it requires math, science and the use of technology. Ranching is about knowing books, accounting, land value, the day-to-day prices of cattle, feed and fuel. In ranching, especially on a legacy ranch, you stand to lose a life’s work with every high-rolling decision you make, so it pays to know all of the inner workings of your operation from top to bottom. While women in today’s society have taken over the boardrooms of multi-million dollar business, the ranching industry remains a man’s world. However, in Anderson County, one woman running a 2,500-acre cow/ calf operation is proving women can also take the bull by the horns. For 25 years, Linda Jordens Galayda worked in the concrete jungle of New York City, making her way to the top of the fashion industry as the Vice- President of Foley’s (Macy’s) working with the likes of Ralph Lauren, Gloria Vanderbilt, Diane von Furstenberg, Oscar de la Renta – just to name a few. On the weekends, she traveled to another world and worked cattle on her father’s ranch, the 7-7 Ranch – Jordens Cattle Co. – just outside of Slocum. Today, Galayda owns and operates this ranch, a legacy she hopes to one day pass to her own children. “I never ‘lived’ in New York,” Galayda said. “I would stay there Monday through Thursday and then fly home. I would meet Gary at our home in Katy and he would have the kids and the horses loaded up and we would head to the ranch for the weekend. My two boys, Scott and Chris, spent their summers on the ranch, so it’s just as much a part of them as it is to me. My father always discounted my career. I’d tell him about the things I was doing and the interesting celebrities I had met and he would say, ‘I don’t care if you had lunch with Gloria Vanderbilt, we’ve got cows to work.’ I was always involved in the ranch in someway.”
Recalling her childhood, Galayda relayed that her father was a rice farmer and a rancher in Katy, just west of Houston. In the 1960s, Galayda’s father believed Houston was getting too close to his ranch there, so he decided to look for more land, finding what is now the 7-7 Ranch. “Everybody asks me how he found this place. I just remember coming up here to look and he was so impressed that the grass came up to the bumper on the truck, because that’s not how it looks in Katy on the prairie. He bought the first piece
Before fashion became a career choice, Galayda said she wanted to be anywhere her father was. “My sister was blond-haired and blue-eyed, a beauty queen. She was sweet. I was a tomboy and very much in your face. When I was growing up, no matter what he was doing, I was going to be with my dad. My father would take me to all kinds of meetings where they would be talking about land deals or cattle, and the phrase that he would always use, that I credit to making me so much stronger as an individual – he would say to me, ‘What do you think?’ After these meetings, when questions were raised, he would always turn to me and say, ‘What do you think?’ I was just a little girl. At the time, I would have rather been playing outside or riding a horse. However, when he said this to me or my sister, he was prompting us into decision-making roles.” She adds, “He was pretty amazing when it came to raising my sister and me.” As her father’s health began to fail, Linda began taking the reins. “Before my father was ill, he was hard to keep up with and he didn’t have time to tell me how he ran the ranch, how he knew what to do and when to do it. We’d saddle up, Gary would say, ‘Where are we going?’ I would shrug my shoulders and say ‘Just keep up.’ The year before he died, I had the opportunity to really spend time with him and talk about the way he did things and why he did them the way he did. I wrote them all down in a journal.” Galayda said there was no real discussion on who was going to take over; it was just an expectation of her father. “A friend was visiting my father in the last year of his life and they said, “What are you going to do with that ranch? It’s big, it’s hard to run, what are you going to do with it?” My dad, gesturing to me said, ‘Well, she’s going to run it. I’ve been preparing her for it her entire life, she should be ready.’ I was like, ‘We’ve never had this discussion. I’ve taken a leave of absence, but I do have a job.’ But that was the first of him saying that it was going to be mine.”
While some men may discount Galayda because she is a woman, they will quickly realize the mistake. Tough as nails, she knows her operation inside and out and knows the cost of production and the areas where she can and cannot make adjustments. She is not the domestic wife who works inside, maybe doing the accounting and never getting her hands dirty. She is the operations manager and is in complete control of her ranch. There is a routine and schedule for every part of Galayda’s cow/calf operation. She is constantly studying the markets. She knows prices for hay, feed and nutrients as well as the going price of cattle and can quickly do the math to recognize where the profit margin lies. Before the sun is up, Galayda has already started her day and will work into the night. She keeps records on every one of her cows and knows each one as a mother knows her children. She talks to them and nurtures them, building them up to produce some of the best breed stock in the state. Galayda and her husband Gary work the ranch on a day-to-day basis. They also employ local cowboys who help with working the cattle, including Brandon Richburg and Carl Murphy. “I’m out there working alongside them. Out working cows with my father, I was never given any special treatment. I was expected to saddle up, and ride, and take care of myself like everyone else. You have to study everything, all the time and know that there is a constant change in variables. No day is ever going to be the same.” A shrewd businessperson, Galayda always tries to stay ahead of the game, purchasing hay when prices are reasonable and sometimes storing it longer than she would like. To make sure she is giving her cattle the very best available, she tests the hay and adjusts supplements as necessary. She also keeps track of the prices of supplements to get the best bang for her buck. While some ranchers are quick to cut back or completely cut out their mineral programs, Galayda noted, “Some ranchers look at it as an added expense, but I have spent a lot of time learning about the role minerals and nutrition play in reproduction. While it may be an added expense, it helps cut down on vet bills and such. It keeps them healthier. It keeps them and their calves stronger.” She also knows how to calculate nutritionally precise amounts of food each animal must consume. “I know exactly how much hay we have to put out today [Friday] to keep them until Sunday. Now today we are actually feeding them more than normal because of the cold weather. I want them to be comfortable. I don’t want them to be hunting. We have cows with young babies; we started calving on Dec. 1, so the more hay she gets, the more milk she’s going to produce, the more warmth she’s going to have during this time, and the better care she is go- ing to take of the calf. I’m not going to lose that calf. For me, this is a business. I have to look at all aspects of this like it’s a business, and I have to make these calculations or I’m not going to be in business.” Galayda maintains spreadsheets on everything including rainfall. It was her complete understanding of her operation, feed options and nutritional variants that helped her to navigate and keep her cattle operation afloat during the worst drought in recent Texas history. When hay grew scarce during the drought, Galayda said she flagged down a truck driver to ask about their hay. “I actually flagged down an 18-wheeler truck that went right out of Grapeland carrying quality hay. The hay was beautiful, and I asked them ‘Where’s this hay coming from?’” Through the driver, she located an operation out of Mississippi and trucks began to roll in day and night with fresh hay, delivering 30 loads to the ranch. When springs on their ranch dried, she hauled water in for her animals. Heifers normally used to restock were sold, which was hard for Galayda who prefers using her own genetics and raising heifers in her environment. “I know the arguments about it costing more to raising one, but I like raising my own breed stock. I know what their attitudes are. I know what their health is. They are not wild and crazy, and I’m not going to deal with wild and crazy. But during the last two drought years, we had to keep the herd down so we couldn’t keep any extras. We didn’t have the water and hay to feed them.” Eventually, with resources dwindling, Galayda was forced to encourage her son, Chris, who was a paid employee of the ranch, to find work elsewhere. However, they survived and are now in recovery mode. A year later, ponds refilled and hay crops produced abundantly. Although Chris found work in San Antonio, Galayda says that both of her boys still continue to contribute as much as possible to the ranch, with Chris more involved in the cattle and ranch operations and Scott working as the family’s finance guru. Galayda said that while things are beginning to level out, ranchers are still feeling and seeing the effects of the drought in their herds and may for years to come. In an effort to educate others and advocate for her and other ranchers, Galayda recently became a member of the Texas Agricultural Lifetime Leadership (TALL), a group of Texans working to ensure effective understanding and encourage action on key issues, policy and economics to advance the agriculture industry. This group attends an annual seminar with the Texas Legislature, and seminars in California, Washington D.C., and one international trip, which this year is held in Brazil. As a TALL spokesperson, members provide testimony and conduct interviews with news media and various organizations throughout the state. Through the TALL program, Galayda has also started a blog, www.TexasRancherGirl.com, where she discusses her life in the agricultural industry, from raising cattle to cooking steak and everything in-between. Today, instead of traveling to Europe on business, Galayda visits places like Bryan/College Station or Austin. She traded her high-fashion duds for Wranglers, boots and work gloves. And while Galayda said she misses New York, her friends and the “thrill of the deal” in the boardroom, she notes she wouldn’t trade her lifestyle today for all the iced tea in Texas.
County Life is proud to announce that Linda will now be a featured blogger on our website countylifeonline. com. You can check there under our Community Columnist section starting this Wednesday to read her blogs and articles.