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Texas State Freeman Ranch welcomes new cattle donation, Willy Wonka


Willy Wonka stops to look around while being fed, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, at Freeman Ranch in San Marcos. Willy is a Santa Gertrudis cattle that was donated to Texas State’s Department of Agricultural Sciences for research.

With the determination for student success, Willy Wonka, a Santa Gertrudis cattle breed, was donated to Texas State’s Freeman Ranch in hopes of boosting opportunities for students and gaining step in the right direction to making Texas State an R1 institution.
As owners of the Buena Vida Cattle Company, a cattle company that raises Santa Gertrudis cattle, Kevin and Heather Blewett donated Willy Wonka so Texas State’s Department of Agricultural Sciences can begin breeding about 40 Santa Gertrudis purebreds.
The Blewetts also donated $523,000 to Texas State in October during Step Up For State to support agricultural science research, leading to the Blewett Agricultural Research Project. The funds were distributed throughout the department and Willy Wonka was the next big donation to further research.
Heather Blewett’s passion for helping students succeed is displayed in the donations.
“We wanted to help out Texas State and the students,” Heather Blewett said. “[Texas State has] got a great program — the agricultural program. I’ve employed several Texas State students over the years and wanted the [agriculture] department to have hands-on experience with the cattle. This benefits Texas State and it benefits the breed as well.”
Willy Wonka is a Santa Gertrudis cattle breed, a native Texan beef cattle that originated in the early 1900s at King Ranch and is known for withstanding Texas heat due to being drought and insect resistant.
Willy Wonka is a new resident at the Freeman Ranch, 3,485 acres of land owned by Texas State for research in anthropology, agricultural and environmental sciences. The livestock at Freeman Ranch consists of cow-calf cattle including the Brangus-Gelbvieh cross and is shifting to an Angus-Hereford cross. The ranch is home to nine Syfan-Spanish nannies and one Boer goat.
With Willy Wonka the Department of Agricultural Sciences can begin its project of breeding purebred Santa Gertrudis cattle.
Since Santa Gertrudis cattle are drought resistant, fewer resources are required for the animal husbandry of the cattle compared to other beef cattle. Shreek Mandayam, the chief research officer for Texas State, believes that growing more purebred Santa Gertrudis cattle will bring about a beneficial environmental change.
We want to know what will happen to the off-spring,” Mandayam said. “Will they be drought resistant? Will they be tolerant of less water? Will they cost less? Will they use less resources because animal husbandry is very resource intensive? So can we have a better environmental impact by creating Santa Gertrudis beef cattle instead of the other beef cattle that is out there? It’s really quite transformative and very much in the spirit of what Texas State does. We want to be really good stewards of our environment.”
The Buena Vida Cattle Company started in 2015 and is based in Kingsbury, Texas. It was founded because of Heather Blewetts lifelong dedication to raising cattle and competing in livestock showsThe company has since participated in livestock shows in Texas and won awards such as the 2021 National Junior Santa Gertrudis and Calf of the 2019 National Champion.
To further its success, the Blewett Agricultural Research Project will utilize the animals in teaching in laboratory settings along with providing more funding across the agriculture department at Texas StateBrian Bruner, a lecturer in the Department of Agricultural Sciences and the overseer of the Blewett Agricultural Research Project, believes that the Blewetts’ dedication to helping students will lead the department to success.
We had a meeting on campus with the Blewett’s and several administrators and they gave their pitch for what they were interested in supporting and to be honest what I heard was ‘students, students, students,’” Bruner said. “We’re just really thankful that the Blewetts reached out to us, and we’re excited for the opportunity. We want to achieve their goals of ‘students, students, students,’ in the Department of Agriculture.”
Willy Wonka will also benefit Texas State’s goal of an R1 Carnegie classification, according to Mandayam. Of the around 4,000 higher education institutions in the U.S., about 140 universities are categorized as R1, meaning they have high research activity. Currently, Texas State is an R2 institution. The addition of Willy Wonka presents opportunities for more external funding for research.
“Engaging in cutting-edge research like this, like bringing back a genetic breed into the animal husbandry ecosystem will be a huge advancement in research when we get this done and it becomes a success,” Mandayam said. “It brings in external research dollars to the university. We are creating new knowledge that we are making sure it gets to the consumer, and we are very much including students in this research. So, it has everything we need to do for R1 and student success.”
With the help of the Blewetts and Willy Wonka, Texas State will be able to build new pathways for opportunities and experiences.
“The more attention that you all can bring to the breed and to the agriculture department, along with what Texas State is doing is pretty awesome,” Heather said. “The only way is to go up from now.”
To keep up with Willy Wonka, go to https://www.appliedarts.txst.edu/news/willy-wonka.htmlTo learn more about the Buena Vida Cattle Company, go to https://www.buenavidacattle.com/.

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