Super Cowman of the South
By Hank Burdine
Hot Moore was HOT indeed. To cattlemen all over America, and possibly the world, he was known as the Super Cowman of the South.
From a meager beginning in the eroded red clay hills of Tate County, Maurice P. “Hot” Moore built his Circle M Ranch into what was undeniably the world headquarters for the Polled Hereford industry. Cattlemen from all over America and many foreign countries would attend his auctions held in an enclosed pavilion large enough to hold a thousand or more patrons. Stetson hats and dusty cowboy boots adorned cigar-chomping cattlemen with money to spend on the finest Polled Hereford bulls and heifers in the world.
Born in 1905, Moore graduated from Senatobia High School and went to the University of Alabama to play baseball. While there he acquired the nickname “Hot” for his pitching abilities, especially his fastball. Behind his arm, his team won every game but one during his three-year college career as a pitcher. He graduated in 1926 and returned home. The young robust and energetic Moore decided that with the price of cotton and related headaches and indebtedness of farming, he would do better playing semi-pro baseball. He left the large plantation owned by his family and was hired as a pitcher in the Delta Bush League.
After a few years of traveling around playing baseball, the young Hot Moore took $3,800 in savings and bought a rolling, nutrient-depleted 380-acre farm outside of Senatobia. His daddy, along with others, said that the land was not good for “field mice or tickle grass,” much less a cattle operation. Nevertheless, he went to work revitalizing the tired and worn out ground with plant foods, fertilizers, good grasses, and stock ponds. According to a 2006 article in The Heritage of Tate County, Hot Moore bought nine cows, including two heifers and two Rollo bulls from well-known Western breeders and started a cow calf operation. Soon he bought his first herd sire, Pawnee Rollo 44 from Hugh White of Keller, Texas. This would be the beginnings of the world famous CMR Rollo Domino and CMR Advance Domino families, the great and deep foundation of the CMR Herd. Moore’s philosophy was “the South is for cattle as well as cotton.”
Always looking to the future and what could make the best breeding stock for his operation, Hot Moore spied what he considered to be a truly great herd mother for his Polled Herefords at an auction in 1940. As he jumped in on the bidding, his aunt began to shake her head. When his name was called out as the top bidder at $3,500 for the cow, his aunt threw up her hands and fainted. The highbred heifer, V. V. Bonnie Burton III was to be instrumental in making the Circle M Ranch known as one of the top Polled Hereford herds in the nation. A local newspaper, The Democrat, stated in November of 2000: “Moore felt that Bonnie would be capable of producing herd bulls, and she did not disappoint him.” She came from the same lineage as CMR Rollo Domino, grandson of Victor Domino, who according to legend was the greatest bull in Polled Hereford history. Between the two, they produced four offspring including CMR Rollo Domino 12, the Fort Worth Champion dubbed “Sire of Sires,” and the National Champion CMR Rollo Domino 28. According to Hot Moore, “Better cows and steaks don’t just happen; you’ve got to design ‘em and build ‘em.”
For years he built his herd, improving it at every breeding. In doing so, he was able to breed the middles, that part that does not bring much at the meat market, right out of them. In developing his herd, he improved the marbling, the veins of fat that make steaks tender, and he increased the size of the lean ribeye area. In 1959, measuring by ultrasound, one of his Hereford bulls had the largest lean ribeye (30.06 square inches) ever measured in a bull of any breed. Hot Moore would boast, “Circle M is the headquarters for hindquarters.”
By 1965, the CMR herd had produced and sold the world’s record priced Polled Hereford bull named CMR Rollotrend 5th. He sold for $320,000. Interviewed in The Polled Hereford Hub in June of 1975, Moore stated, “I had a desire to be a true breeder and a master breeder if at all possible…so I decided to dedicate my efforts to a planned breeding program with practical and fundamental goals in order to make real progress and profitable success.”
According to his daughter Louise, as reported in the July 1996 issue of Hereford World, “Daddy always was a little different. He never did anything in a half-hearted fashion. He was a visionary.”
Those practical and fundamental goals led Hot Moore to become possibly the greatest of Polled Hereford breeders in the world at that time. In the mid-’60s after competing in National Polled Hereford Shows for twenty-three years, his blue ribbons included nineteen National Grand and Reserve Grand Champions, ten Best of Six Head, nine First Prize Get-of-Sire, nine Premium Exhibitor, and two Premier Breeder (that class only being held for six years). By the time of his death in 1991, Hot Moore was the first Polled Hereford breeder to have his prefix “CMR” patented by the government. Three times he served as president of the American Polled Hereford Association and three times on its board. He was named Champion Farmer of America, and in 1951 he was selected as Man of the Year in Mississippi Agriculture.
In order to market his cattle, Hot Moore began having picnic and production sales in 1942. By 1991, he had held seventy-five sales attracting buyers to the intensely popular events. Huge barbecues were held, and Polled Hereford buyers from all over America and the world showed up, daring not to miss a CMR sale. Always by his side was Hot’s wife, Annie Louise, who was reportedly as knowledgeable about cows as any cattleman. Hot’s leadership preceded him everywhere he went. His large stature and presence in a sales ring, along with unprecedented salesmanship ability, established him as a merchandiser un-paralleled in the livestock industry.
Today, the CMR herd continues to be a dominate factor in the Polled and Horned Hereford cattle world. Hot’s son-in-law Walter McKellar, along with his wife Louise, look after the farm and the commercial beef cattle operation while grandson Walt McKellar is in charge of the registered cattle business. According to an article in the 2006 publication Welcome to Tate County, Walt believes that farm life is good for his three sons. “Raising cattle has given my boys a good work ethic. Growing up around the farm teaches them to appreciate a good day’s work.”
Walt’s philosophy is a lot like his grandfather’s. “Cattle in Mississippi can go anywhere in the United States and work for anybody,” Walt says. “In the last two years, I’ve sold cattle into thirty states. It’s hard for cattle to come from the north into our humid climate, but cattle grown in the southeast can stay here or go north and thrive. Raising cattle from here gives me a really good area to sell to.”
Graduating from Mississippi State with a degree in business has given Walt a wide marketing and professional expertise that has been instrumental in the continuing success of the Circle M Ranch. “Walt basically put CMR back on the map and has brought it out as one of the front-runners of the Hereford breed today,” says Jil, Walt’s wife.
At age twelve, Walt bought his first heifer on his own, picking her out and then showing her on to become the grand champion at the popular Jackson-based Dixie National Rodeo. He has dedicated a great deal of his time to the youth in the industry. In a July 1996 Hereford World article, Walt said, “When a junior buys a calf from us, I’ll be there to help out as much as I can.”
Each year, CMR hosts a two-day youth clinic, offering instruction in selection, fitting, and feeding. Recently, forty kids from fifteen Mississippi counties attended. Walt also participated in the Mississippi Rural Rehabilitation Program. The program allowed farm youth to receive a registered bull to take home to improve their family’s cow herd. The youngsters also got a chance to exhibit their purchases, and CMR was very proud of the championships the juniors garnered. After a brief show career, these young cattlemen began to develop a base for their own herds. Walt said, “We realized how worthwhile this program was when heifers by these bulls started producing quality calves.”
In November of 2014 CMR, in conjunction with partner Grandview Farms, held the largest Hereford bull sale in the Southeast. Buyers were expected to be in attendance from all over America and as far away as the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. “We’re moving in a positive direction right now,” according to Walt. “We’re seeing more calves with the kind of muscling the industry needs, and the cows can make it on grass. Herefords work just about any place, and the docile temperament is sure a plus in our market.”
Hot Moore had a vision many years ago, and that vision is being perpetuated now at the Circle M Ranch outside of Senatobia. With Circle M cattle being produced and sold all over the world, Hot’s favorite saying continues to ring true even today, “The sun never sets on CMR.”