The New Generation of Black Cattle Ranchers

March 25, 2022

The New Generation of Black Cattle Ranchers

Coming from Houston’s inner city, Lloyd Prince now leads a farm-to-table beef brand and is continuing the rich history of Black cattle ranchers.

Words by Lindsey Allen
Photography by Antonio Diaz

Editor’s Note: this story is published in partnership with KCET / PBS SoCal and in association to The Migrant Kitchen, our Emmy-winning documentary series now on its fourth season.

On a thousand-acre cattle ranch just outside of Houston, Texas, Lloyd Prince, 34, knows exactly how it feels to work a dream job. Having grown up as a city kid who dedicated his life to learning how to farm, cattle ranching has always represented opportunity. So when his cousin, James Prince, approached him about using acquired farmland to start an Angus beef operation, he was ready to meet the moment and launch Prince Beef. 

As the Prince cousins hit the drawing board, Lloyd knew this was going to be a different operation than one you might see on the opposite side of the state in Hereford—the cattle capital of the country. At those ranches, Lloyd points out that you might find a mass of 80,000 cattle eating corn inside pens set up on a mere 1,500 acres. In Hereford and many other ranching communities, the goal is to sell as many calves as possible at a high weight in order to maximize profits. But Lloyd knew his family Angus beef operation was going to be different. 

Not only because it is a Black-owned ranch—a unique representation in an industry that Black livestock farmers have historically been written out of—but also because of the intentional sustainability choices he and his team made: to have a smaller herd that is grass-fed, grass-finished, with no hormones.

Having finally reached its desired herd and quality standards, Prince Beef has begun selling Angus beef cuts directly to customers through its website. Products include whole, half and quarter cows, as well as package deals that include smaller arrangements of cuts up to 26 pounds. Prince Beef is also venturing into other types of beef products, like the peppered beef jerky they sell on Etsy

Lloyd Prince, Owner/Director of Operations for Prince Beef

On top of direct sales, Prince Beef has built a strong client base among local boutique restaurant chefs and catering chefs. One such chef is Jonny Rhodes, known for restaurant Indigo and food-equity focused market Broham Fine Soul Food & Groceries. Lloyd and Rhodes first met while Lloyd was selling vegetables to chefs from an aquaponics farm after college. Realizing they were from the same neighborhood of Houston and that they both shared a commitment to home-grown food for their community, Lloyd and Rhodes developed a bond that has lasted throughout both of their endeavors to fulfill that passion. Rhodes’ new grocery market centers on sustainable, Black-owned, locally-sourced brands—including Prince Beef.

“We didn’t start this to make any money off of it,” says Lloyd. “We started this for our own consumption. And we want the best for our own consumption.” At the heart of Prince Beef is Lloyd’s desire to foster the deeper community connection and access to farmland his family championed for him. 

Love of the Land

Lloyd grew up next door to his great-grandparents who started cultivating food in two empty lots behind a railroad at the end of their dead-end block. What started out as carrying over a tradition of community gardens, grew into something we might today consider an urban farm.

“I was born and raised right there on that street,” Lloyd describes. “So by me being able to see that—that was my first introduction.”

Lloyd chuckles as he reminisces on when he was only seven years old, watching in awe as his 109-year-old great-grandmother wielded a hoe to till the grains and peas. “That was just a different way of bringing fresh vegetables into the community,” Lloyd recalls. “They brought the same habits of living off the land they had in Louisiana when they migrated over here to Texas, but on a smaller scale.” 

Lloyd’s fascination with his great-grandparents’ gardens blossomed into admiration and love when he started regularly visiting relatives with farmland in the countryside outside Houston. Every weekend, Lloyd would “go to the country and actually see where our people had land—to where this was a lifestyle, this is what they do every day.” He spent his Friday evenings traveling west to fill his weekends with horses, fishing and playing with the farm mule. 

“Coming from the neighborhood where I come from, people didn’t have no escape or place to go to where they can let their hair down, get a peace of mind, learn something different,” Lloyd explains. The affection and nostalgia Lloyd has for these weekend excursions is palpable. Lloyd recognizes now that being able to regularly visit family members who owned farmland was not something available to everyone in Houston’s inner city. It gave him a sense of possibility.

Lloyd’s story rings remarkably similar to that of his cousin James, who purchased the ranch where they now run the beef operation. James made regular trips from Houston to Huntsville to visit the penitentiary where his uncle was imprisoned. “Riding through the country, seeing the big ranches up and down the highway from the hood to the penitentiary, seeing the land that could be obtained drove him to want 1,000 acres for himself and to create opportunity for his own family,” says Lloyd.

Chef/Owner Jonny Rhodes of Indigo and Broham Soul Food & Grocers with the team of Prince Beef

Black Cowboys

A history of systemic discrimination, exclusion and dispossession has made farmland ownership within Black families unique and precious. However, in Texas’ Wild West lies a history of Black cowboys and farmers who persisted in the face of a society that was trying to keep them off of farmland. Much like their Mexican and Indigenous counterparts, Black cattle ranchers were written out of history as cowboys became continuously depicted as white men. But, at least one in four cowboys were actually Black. And having been forced to look after cattle as cowhands during slavery, Black cowboys were among the best cattle ranchers in the country. 

For Black cowboys, herding steer and working with horses provided a feeling of freedom and showcased skills that demanded a level of respect and equality not granted in other arenas. 

Today, two centuries later, nearly half of all Black-owned farms in the country specialize in beef cattle. Yet, a teenage Lloyd found himself being required to jump through hoops for an opportunity to begin turning his passion for ranching into a career.

When Lloyd was in middle school, he learned of the Texas 4-H program, the state’s largest youth development program. The agriculture-focused organization expanded to reach Houston’s inner-city communities and Lloyd saw the expansion as an opportunity to get more experience with steer and horses. But the only way for Houston’s inner-city youth to qualify for the program sponsorship was through a strange loophole that was not required of youth outside of Houston—entering a home education and cooking competition. In order to learn more about how to raise cattle and farm livestock, Lloyd was told he would have to bake and sell pies. 

So he did, and then became the first Black Texas 4-H youth ambassador.

“Of course, I wanted to be out there showing a calf, showing a horse or a sheep. But how could I? We didn’t have access in the city to raise the cash, raise the steer, show it off, and get a big major scholarship. So I was like, okay, if this is what we’ve got to do to get in the door,” Lloyd laughs.

Showing pies got Lloyd through the door alright, and his skills with farm animals and love for the country took him even further. Even as the only Black ambassador, he recalls the 4-H livestock showing competitions as a place where everyone was on a level playing field. He continued to compete, win awards, and he eventually won a rodeo scholarship for Prairie View A&M University.

Prince Beef and Cattle Ranching for Community 

When James approached Lloyd about ranching beef cattle, the kid in him felt like someone was finally presenting him with a chance to do something he had long wanted to do, but could never quite have. This time there were no requirements, no pies needed—just the opportunity to do what he loved.

But even then, getting Prince Beef up and running was a slow and meticulous process. It has taken the Prince cousins and the ranch manager 10 years to breed the herd to the quality level they desired. “Nothing happens overnight. You want the genetics, you want to be in the top percentage of marbling and body sizes, and make sure of that quality,” Lloyd lists.

In the decade it took for the Prince Beef ranch team to get everything right, they covered operational costs through participating in the traditional beef market—selling yearlings, or young cattle, to sales barns which in turn auction off the cattle. A year ago, once Lloyd finally felt confident in the quality of their 100% Angus cattle, the ranch transitioned into selling beef directly to customers.

For those outside the beef industry, it is not always apparent how intensive of a process growing cattle can be. Cattle ranchers have to factor in the genetics of the bulls they purchase, as well as monitor and record data from how their calves and steers pan out. Testing out a new breeding process to improve how the meat turns out can take up to six years alone.

On top of the time ranchers must invest into careful breeding practices, the beef industry is going through a volatile moment. It is an extremely difficult time to be a cattle rancher. 

Chef Jonny Rhodes of Indigo cooking with Black Angus steaks from Prince Beef for The Migrant Kitchen

Despite the sharp increases in beef prices consumers are currently seeing, ranchers are not benefiting from higher profits. Ranchers are getting hit with harder losses as they are increasingly feeling squeezed into selling to feedlots and processors for very low margins.

Since the ranch sells directly to customers through the Prince Beef brand, the ranch team has more control over ensuring they are properly compensated for the time and money they put into their cattle. But the ranch must still work with processors to cultivate their final products, and Lloyd acknowledges they are feeling the tension between wanting to market an affordable, premium product and dealing with rising processing fees.

But for Lloyd, the time spent and challenges faced has never been an issue. Instead, he views it as a learning process he feels fortunate to be a part of. 

“I want all the people, like I did, who have a will to do it and probably hadn’t even thought about it, and if they can see someone doing it,” Lloyd says, they might think, “‘Well, I never thought about that, because I never had access to it. But if he can do it, all I need is opportunity.’”

Cattle ranching is Lloyd’s way of picking up the generational torch of creating access to the food his community deserves. His cousin provided him with the land needed to run Prince Beef. And he hopes that his doing so can create opportunity and access for others.

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