It must have been hard, if not impossible, for Josh Eilers to imagine that he would become a cattle rancher. After all, he’s just spent the better part of his adult life either in combat or training for combat with the elite Army Rangers. After an injury in battle, for which he received a Purple Heart, he decided it was time for his next chapter. He’d saved money during his time in the military and was daydreaming about being a cowboy. A chance encounter at a bar piqued his interest in Wagyu beef. That was on a Saturday. On Tuesday, he bought a small herd of Wagyu cattle. Today, Ranger Cattle Company is providing Wagyu beef to the public at their store and local farmer’s markets, and to dozens of restaurants in Austin. We spent the day trying to keep up with his hard working crew while shooting photography for Tecovas Ranch Wear. This conversation followed around a campfire.
What has this place taught you that the military didn’t?
Honestly Ranger Cattle has taught me a higher level of responsibility. As a ranger in the military you are part of an elite team and you're all working together towards the same goal. These warriors worked their entire military career to be part of such an elite team. On the other hand the second you step into business for yourself you are on your own and good help is hard to find. It has taken me over 10 years to assemble our team here at Ranger Cattle and the single aspect I look for in people is that they are responsible enough to do their job day in and day out despite the conditions.
What did you learn in the military that you use here?
My first team leader in the Army, Josh Hunt, once told me to take pride in everything I do. He said that whether I'm taking out the trash or mopping the floor to do it with pride because my work would be a reflection of me as a person. I believe that your work is a mirror. I still try to live up to that everyday.
What drew you into wanting to be a cattle rancher?
Everybody has a hobby... Mine is drinking beer and chasing women. I was in a bar one night and overheard a conversation where a guy was bragging to a cute blonde about how he had just spent 100 bucks on a steak. Thinking this was nuts, I quickly interrupted and asked him what kind of steak it was, he replied “Wagyu.” I quickly thought in my head that steaks are small and cows are big so those hundred dollar bills must add up! That happened on a Saturday night and the following Tuesday I bought a small herd of Wagyu cattle. I had no idea what I was doing but I told myself “Don’t stop, figure it out.”
You guys do the work, but what does the work do for you?
Through our work we produce a premium product that reflects our company. We take an immense amount of pride in the work that we do and in turn we take pride in the premium product we produce. The work motivates us, gives us a reason to wake up, something to shoot for, a way to better ourselves as people through the work that we do.
How do you feel at the end of a hard day’s work?
We give the task at hand each day our everything and this is exhausting but the gratification of a hard day's work is a feeling not many people ever get to experience in life. I’m grateful we are able to work hard daily.
Is this place therapeutic for you?
Absolutely. For starters, the animals are good for me. They’re always happy to see me. When I was a Ranger I used to love the fact that we would go on secret missions, kill bad guys, go back to base and the work we did that night would never make the news. I love the therapeutic aspect (agri-therapy) of what we do here. We put in a ton of work and at the end of the day nobody has any idea what went into creating that product. We spend 3 years creating a product that somebody will eat in 30 minutes. We get to feel the pride without seeking credit. When this happens, I can’t help but smile.
How has this work changed you, other veterans who’ve worked here?
If anything it has humbled our team. Creating premium beef while running an entire vertically integrated ranch is f-ing hard. No matter how good of a cowboy, manager, rancher, or chef you think you are, you can always look out the window and see something you missed. A loose fence line, a sick cow, a dish not plated perfectly, an empty bank account... the list goes on forever. It's nearly impossible to stay on top of this kind of operation and even harder to be good at everything. We have learned to cope with the fact that you will never get everything done and the beef will never be as good as you want. But, if we work hard and put in the time then it will at least be better than the competition.
What do you get out of a day of work that those of us in an office don’t?
I think we get to see the bigger picture. Food doesn't grow on a shelf and water isn't from a faucet. People forget these things, but it's impossible for us to because it's literally our way of life. I think at the end of the day we get a better appreciation for the land as we see it provide everyday. We thank God for the fertile soil and pray for rain. As long as He gives us these two things farmers and ranchers can pretty much handle the rest and feed America.
What makes Ranger Cattle Company unique?
Vertical Integration. We do everything from breeding the cows to distributing the beef. This is very rare in our industry. However; in doing so we are able to control every aspect and quickly make changes at any point of production in order to produce a higher quality product.
And it helps that we are badass.
How can people get some Ranger Cattle Co. beef? And what cuts will they find when they shop?
Our meat counter is open daily from 4-7pm with a variety of cuts available. You can also order online and pick up at the ranch. We host a drive-in movie every Friday night with live music and burgers cooked by Chef Drew with beef straight from the ranch. We also have a party bus for ranch tours, it’s pretty sweet! Come see us.