Trailblazers in the cattle industry, the Lettelier sisters have been facing off against all comers since childhood and are now challenging top-level competitors.
When they were about kindergarten age, sisters Lauren and Emily Lettelier were often found toddling along in the dust of their daddy’s boots as he tended to his prized herd of cattle. Now, they command center stage in arenas such as the prestigious Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, piling up awards and honors for their own Brangus and Ultrablack cattle.
The Lettelier sisters are rising stars in the beef cattle industry, in which they are continuing to gain respect for their showmanship skills, marketing approaches and contributions to bettering the genetics of cattle herds worldwide.
The Early Years
Joe and Beverly Lettelier are from Pompano Beach, in South Florida. It was there they began to raise a family while he was a general contractor and raised cattle on the side.
“He always had cattle; we just loved cattle; my grandfather had dairy cattle,” Beverly notes. “We used to lease land and would have to drive to see our cattle and he hated to do that. He always said you have to keep an eye on your cattle to make sure everything is OK.”
Emily says her dad decided to “retire” into farming and moved the family to Mississippi, where “he ran some cows.”
But it wasn’t long before Beverly began to miss her beloved Sunshine State.
“Dad was fine in Mississippi, but Mississippi is not where my mom wanted to live,” Emily says. “She was a Pompano Beach girl through and through (Lauren speaks up in the background, “Florida girl through and through!”). The Ocala area was the only place they could settle on and so they purchased 160 acres. It was all cotton. He cleared out the cotton and left most of the trees. He did all the fencing and planting. Mom wouldn’t take it back for the world. She loves it.”
At the time, Lauren was 5 and Emily was 4. The sisters attended St. John Lutheran School and then Trinity Catholic High School. Lauren earned a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications/news broadcasting from the University of Florida and Emily got her AA degree in nursing from Santa Fe College.
“I remember going way back, bottle raising babies and riding horses bareback,” Emily shares. “I don’t remember a boring day. We loved it.”
Both girls participated in 4-H, with Lauren beginning to show animals at age 8 and Emily at about 6 or 7 years old.
“We did the Southeastern Youth Fair (the oldest and largest such fair in the nation, now in its 80th year) up through our senior year in high school. We did steers, beef heifers, lambs, chickens… Home Ec, which was one of our favorite things,” Emily recalls. “I remember one year I won Best in Show for my kumquat jam. And I still think, out of everything, that’s the thing my mom was most excited about.”
In their teen years, when many young ladies would be thinking of boys, the Lettelier sisters say they only thought of them as who to beat in the show ring.
“We were so competitive and so in the zone that we weren’t really thinking about chasing boys when we were at the cow shows,” Lauren offers. “We wanted to win, and we did very well that way. Emily and I are very competitive, even against each other. It’s really been a great thing in life to learn how to be a good loser and how to be an even better winner, being gracious to everyone…even when you’ve won.”
Those early days of traveling the cow show circuit brought the petite twosome into close competition with full grown men.
“There are probably more young ladies in the show and travel world than one would think,” Emily offers. “We’d be 8 years old showing with grown men, so that taught us we can do anything a man or boy can do. But this still isn’t really a woman’s industry, the cattle industry or farming in general, so you have to be able to work alongside and work with men and be able to handle that.”
“Yeah,” Lauren asserts, “I don’t want to just be in the Cattlewomen’s Association, I want to be in the Cattlemen’s Association too.”
“My hat is off to these young ladies. I am very proud of them,” offers Jo Ann Smith, of Wacahoota, which straddles the Marion/Alachua county line. Smith was, notably, named president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in 1985.
Smith also served as president of the Florida Cattlewomen’s Association from 1970 to 1972, was named Woman of the Year in Agriculture in 1985 by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and was founding chair of the Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board. In 1989, President George H. W. Bush appointed her Assistant Secretary of Marketing and Inspection of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1982 and 1988, she was named “Man of the Year in American Agriculture” by Progressive Farmer Magazine. In 2015, she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and the International Meat Association.
“The Lettelier sisters were very active in 4-H,” Smith recalls. “I watched them show animals. I give a lot of credit to 4-H, as participants learn at an early age how to groom, feed and produce animals that will show well. I attribute that to what they are doing today. Their hard work and education has enhanced their ability to create a productive business. It is wonderful to see women doing so well in beef production, especially such young ladies.”
“Emily is most certainly a female force in our world. There are very few cattlewomen in our industry who are so accomplished at such a young age. She’s 27,” Lauren, 28, offers. “Under Emily’s leadership, Lettelier Brangus won the title of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association (FCA) Premier Brangus Female, Premier Brangus Bull, Premier Brangus Exhibitor and Premier Brangus Breeder for the 2018-2019 show year. These are the four highest honors given by the FCA, and are tabulated from the results of six shows across the state of Florida.”
In March, the sisters competed in the 2020 International Brangus Bull Show during the massive annual show and rodeo event in Houston and won first place in a class with a Black Spade bull and second in a class with a Grader bull.
“The third-place bull in that class was the Fort Worth Grand Champion bull,” notes Lauren, which was “very exciting for us Florida folk.”
“For two women from Florida to go to Texas and hang with the big guns out there is really a testament,” she adds. “It’s like the Super Bowl for us.”
And, in another connection to the revered show in Texas, Lettelier Brangus owns full possession and half semen interest in MC Low Rider, the two-time Grand Champion Ultrablack Brangus Bull of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Brangus cattle are three-eighths Brahma and five-eighths Angus. The Ultrablack MC Low Rider is 50 percent Brangus and 50 percent Angus.
Emily, who manages the daily operation of the family’s 160-acre farm in Citra, in northeast Marion County, says they are currently running about 150 head of registered Brangus cattle and raise 15 to 20 2-year-old bulls every year for a sale in Lakeland.
“We are a feed stock producer, meaning we are raising heifers and bulls for people to better genetic their beef herds and put food on tables,” she explains.
Lauren, who works full time as director of public relations and communications for the North Florida Regional Medical Center in Gainesville, and helps on the farm as time allows, says all of the work done by her, Emily and their parents, Joe and Beverly, is “trying to make a product for our customers, but it’s also about showing the work that goes into these animals. This is what our industry is about.”
Both sisters say the farm life is “24/7, 365,” meaning long hours, with precious few days off.
“Some days you might go 7am to 5pm and then some days you’re up till midnight watching cows or calves. There is no set schedule,” Lauren notes, her voice rising in pitch when she adds, “and there are no vacations!”
The cattle herd ranges on specially planted Tifton grasses and is fed supplemental grain and hay as needed.
The sisters say that the day-to-day work of running the farm has not been impacted by the coronavirus. The pandemic has, however, impacted the industry as a whole.
“The market has fluctuated a bit,” Emily explains. “Cattle market prices have gone down. Even though beef is high in the store, the cattleman is not getting payback for their product. So, we just hope that the higher beef demand will eventually reflect on us and increase on the hoof demand.”
An important angle at Lettelier Brangus is their involvement in artificial insemination (AI) and Emily and Joe both are certified AI technicians.
Emily says that is important to the Brangus breed because it’s making it easier for the short-haired, heat-tolerant cattle to grow more hair, through the Angus genetics, and be able to withstand cooler temperatures up north.
“So now we are able to market Brangus to northern states and it also produces meat tenderness and meat quality as well,” she explains. “With AI, you are able to get some of the best genetics from around the world and implement it into your cattle herd.”
Emily says the first set of MC Low Rider’s calves born at their farm will soon be weaned and halter broken by Beverly, and then she and her sister can begin exhibiting them on the show circuit in hopes of earning even more awards and honors as they promote their industry.
Both Emily and Lauren say an important part of their life is being able to share the things they have learned with others, particularly youth.
They hold a summer showmanship clinic at the farm each year, during which they teach students 4-H showmanship techniques and help them develop feeding schedules they can apply to their projects with steers, heifers and bulls.
“We had our vet come out and talk to them about vaccinations and deworming,” Emily notes. “There is a lot that goes into each one of these kids’ projects. We also try to get at least two juniors in the Brangus Association each year, and some of the kids travel to shows with us and exhibit the Brangus cattle and teach the public about the beef industry and the daily work that goes into it.”
Prior to taking the position at the hospital in Gainesville, Lauren was the public information officer for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
“I think getting youth involved in agriculture is one of the best things you can do,” she says. “When I was working at the Sheriff’s Office, there were so many kids going through the system that I looked at and thought, ‘If they had had a different influence, or if they had had some responsibility they were upheld to, they would be in a completely different place in their life,’” she recalls. “And I just really thank our parents for giving us that tremendous gift. I don’t think you can realize that until you grow up.”
Fellow cattlewoman Laura Lee Taylor served on the International Junior Brangus Breeders Association board of directors from 1996 to 2000 and as president for 1998-1999. She says her family has been raising Brangus cattle since 1993 and was one of the first families to start showing Ultrablack cattle in 2017 in Florida.
“I came to know Lauren and Emily during the mid-‘90s, when they started showing Brangus cattle. Their parents have raised Brangus cattle for more than 40 years in Florida and have one of the premier Brangus operations in the Sunshine State,” Taylor declares. “The Letteliers and our family have diligently worked with several shows since 2017 to allow for Ultrablack cattle to show as a division of the International Brangus Show.”
Taylor says that during the 2017 Florida State Fair, her daughter Carlee, age 7 at the time, had a stall next to Emily.
“Carlee loved the opportunity to learn from Emily that week and she has been thankful for her friendship with Emily and Lauren ever since,” Taylor recalls. “Lauren and Emily have a passion to help kids learn about the importance of showing and raising cattle and livestock. They created a clinic called ‘Champion Drive Cattle Camp’ that my children, Carlee, now 11, and Truman, 8, took part in. They also helped my daughter’s team compete at the National Junior Brangus Show Salesmanship Contest, where the Florida Junior Team was named Reserve Champion for 2018 and 2019. My daughter competed at the 2019 National Junior Brangus Show in Texarkana and was named the High Point Junior Exhibitor for her placings in more than 10 contests. This award would have not been a reality without the mentorship and support of Emily and Lauren. We are thankful they have a passion to help youth.”
Beverly Lettelier says she and her husband made sure both of their daughters were involved in lots of activities because “we feel like busy kids don’t get in trouble.”
She says all of the family members are competitive and that once the girls got going, “they had to have every animal and had to enter every contest.”
“I’m afraid I forced them many times to do things they didn’t want to,” she notes with a chuckle, “but they say they loved it. I feel like kids should learn everything when they are little because they are like sponges and you can just throw everything at them. The girls stuck with the cattle and they both love to cook.”
Beverly notes that the affinity for cooking also comes naturally to her daughters. She says she always regretted not pursuing a career as a baker. So when Emily and Lauren went off to college, she embraced her passion.
“I always wanted to be a professional baker,” she admits. “So, I took some classes and learned to decorate cakes. I make these outlandish cakes and no one can eat them all. It’s something I can do with my hands. It is intricate, artistic work. Both girls are that way. They are creative. They enjoy doing something nobody else does.”
Beverly says her daughters have become adept at navigating their way around the beef industry, “in this world really run by men,” in part because they were raised to believe they could accomplish anything that males could.
“We always told them they could do anything they wanted to do and I think that’s especially important for young women,” Beverly explains. “They were raised driving tractors, and once you pull an animal behind you that weighs a ton, you can do anything. They always had that great confidence about them.
“From years and years ago, men have been prominent in agriculture. But the girls have taken strong steps to be able to promote the business and have taken a fresh approach to the whole business—to sell and market cattle,” Beverly continues. “They can talk to people who have been in this business their whole life and they can educate those people. For two young ladies to be successful beef producers, that’s a huge deal.”
“I was always made fun of because I was this dorky kid that showed cattle,” Lauren admits. “But I loved to show cattle,” she adds, her tone growing stronger with every word. “I think, especially for kids, if you have some passion, love to do something, keep doing it. Now, I have never been in a better position in life. My choice to get involved in agriculture made me who I am and I’m really proud of that.”
For more information, visit lettelierbrangus.weebly.com