Back in the early 1990’s I had a client who had sold a convenience store in Florida and moved to a sizable acreage in Tennessee that his mother had inherited years before. He did not know much about the cattle business but his former ag teacher and uncle lived across the fence and had cattle. Trouble was that Uncle John was maybe a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Their arrangement went on for several years with less than optimal results. Eventually my young client from Florida started doing serious research and came up with a book to help him that he later shared with me.
Among other ranchers, the book featured an old veterinarian by the name of Gordon Hazard who ranched near West Point, Mississippi. It seemed that Hazard had figured out life in general and the cattle business in particular at a fairly early age. To my way of thinking, he had likely become one of the most successful ranchers in North America.
I read the book in its entirety and the Hazard chapter multiple times. I determined that "Doc" Hazard had likely graduated from my alma mater (Auburn). I had been in the Mississippi country a quarter of a century earlier, gone to school with Mississippi natives and felt somewhat comfortable there. I decided to call this “guru of grass.”
To my surprise the phone was answered by Gordon Hazard himself. I told him who I was and asked about a visit. He informed me that I needed to set a date and we would meet for breakfast in West Point and then go to his headquarters out in the country five or six miles from town.
That was in December 1996 and I drove 250 miles southwest to the Mississippi Prairie south of Tupelo for a whole-day visit. Afterwards, over a period of 20 years I made fifteen or more trips down to Doc’s place and never failed to take back bits of knowledge and information that made money.
On December 5, 2017 Dr. Mark Gordon Hazard passed at the age of 94.
He had been inactive for less than a week. Arguably he was the most successful first generation rancher in North America. Other people may have run bigger operations and grossed more dollars but I am aware of no one that has used steers and other cattle to pay for 3,000 acres and 1,800 head at his level and on a part-time basis, meaning as a sideline to his veterinary business.
Hazard frequently made reference to the fact that there just was not much to do during much of the winter. He honed his skills and grass farming cattle operation for most of 80 years and never had an unprofitable year. His outside business financed his family but his steers financed and paid for the ranch.
From the early 1980’s and likely before, Hazard shared his knowledge and ranching model and philosophy with thousands of cattle producers and veterinarians and university staff and students. He was the featured speaker over much of the United States and Canada for more than 40 years at scores of grazing conferences and veterinary meetings.
He was featured at our 499 Ranch college in September, 2016. This was our third school on the Cumberland Highland Rim of Middle Tennessee in the past 10 years and Hazard was featured at each event. Eighty producers from some 18 states traveled thousands of miles to listen to Doc’s wisdom and vision for two days. Allen Williams, a consultant and rancher from Starkville, Mississippi, was Hazard’s travel partner for the past decade of road trips. They both loved the long trips and information exchanges.
Our 499 Ranch operation and myself have been greatly blessed by the close friendship and association with Gordon Hazard. Doc took me to church and over the years we cussed and discussed everything from salvation to Mississippi State and southeastern conference and national football, basketball and baseball. We even re-fought World War II -- Doc was a frontline platoon leader in Europe. On the phone we constantly reviewed animal health and nutrition, the weather and the cattle markets. We both had a keen interest in growing grass that was self-harvested by profitable cattle. Both of us shared hatred and fear of debt and failure and a love of annual profitability.
By the way, I’ve never heard of anyone who ever saw Doc sweat or show fear in business or cattle dealings. He worked to figure the problem at its root and then hustled to get it fixed. When he finished he didn’t forget it but he put it from his mind.
His son Mark called me Wednesday morning, Dec. 6, to tell me of Doc’s passing. He said Doc had planned his funeral after riding out to the ranch and viewing the cattle two days earlier. On Tuesday afternoon he closed his eyes and passed off to sleep for the last time.
If you now think that Gordon Hazard became and was my friend you are correct. I have been truly blessed by our 20-plus year association. Doc will be forever remembered and sorely missed with love.