KIRBY – Representatives of Pike County Farm Bureau and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Extension and Research Service are pleased to announce the Stewart family of Kirby has been chosen 2015 Pike County’s Farm Family of the year.
“It’s an honor being chosen as the farm family,” said Paulette Stewart. “My sister was upset with me because I didn’t call here and tell her [after being selected]. ‘It’s no big deal,’ I said, and she replied ‘It is a big deal!’ … I don’t want to gloat, but yes, we’re pretty proud about it.”
“The Stewart family was simply the best option for the 2015 Pike County Farm Family,” said University of Arkansas Agricultural Extension Agent Mike McCarter. “They just do a good job with their farming operation and with their community involvement, they represent what farm country people are supposed to be.”
Bruce and Paulette Stewart have been growing hogs for Cargill for 28 years. Bruce came from a farm family and was encouraged to enter the practice by his uncle, Charles Stewart. After clearing land , the family has added cattle and hay production to their farming duties.
“I was encouraged during high school by my agri teacher and by my uncle Charles, who sold me the first 40 acres of our operation,” Bruce said of his early roots in the business.
Additionally, he grew up around farms, with both his father and grandfather working as cattle farmers.
Paulette’s father,77 year old Dennis Cook of Kirby, was a carpenter by trade, and in fact still works odds jobs. Cook operated chicken farms at one point before rearing his daughter.
“He’ll help us in the drop of a hat if we need him,” she said.
Located three miles south of Kirby, their farm is known as the Circle “S” Farm, having added lands as it has become available to them.
The family operates a 750 head sow farrowing operation while under contract with Cargill Pork, as well as 75 head of cattle.
According to the Stewarts, the short term goal for the family farm is to continue to improve and clear the land to increase the cattle herd, after past goals achieved included starting with a 240 sow operation and increasing it to 750 as well as the clearing of timberland for additional pasture land and hay meadows.
The family is also conscious of protecting the environment and conservation on their property by installing underground pipes for irrigation from their lagoon manure system to fertilize their 35 acres hay field that yields 9,600 lbs. of hay per acre a year for their personal use. In addition, a walking gun provide more coverage in the fertilization process, the family utilizes an incinerator to dispose of the dead and practices rotational grazing. The lagoons are a result of the houses being flushed out with recycled water via a gutter system that flow out to one of the two 2-stage lagoons, roughly two acres in size, which, after settling, is pumped out to the hay fields for irrigation and fertilizer.
“We don’t have to buy fertilizer,” said Paulette.
Bruce decided to get into the hog business after seeing a friend, Eddie Turner, have success at it.
“We visited his farm quite a bit and decided we’d go with hogs instead of chickens,” said Bruce. “We thought it was our best bet – there’s more money in hogs than there was chickens.”
Prior to farming, Bruce worked for a decade as a logging contractor for Weyerhaeuser, and found himself often logging too far from home.
“We wanted something that kept us closer to home,” said Bruce, “where we wouldn’t be running so much.”
Three hog houses were built in 1987, and two more were added five years later in 1992. “When we built these houses, we were our own contactor,” said Bruce of the 40’x208’ houses.
Bruce said that he has been without hogs only nine days since he began in 1987.
“We built the farm and I kept my logging stuff for one year … I found out I wasn’t tough enough to run both of them,” Bruce said with a wry smile.
The family’s day begins around 7 a.m. when the animals are fed and feed is run for the next day. Automatic feeder spread the food to the hogs throughout the house, and the feed is delivered by Cargill to the farm. The family then moves on to maintenance, cleaning, checking on babies and doing the required paperwork.
The paperwork is an essential task, with Cargill holding a record of every sow’s life history at their Russellville office.
“The daily paperwork is unreal – a job unto itself – to be able to track each sow’s hsitory on the farm,” said Paulette. “It’s all very organized … we know where every hog in the barn is.”
The family raises a cross-Cambra breed — a mostly white hog — that gets put into the herd at 9 months old. The sow will then have up to six litters of piglets – also known as a “parity” — before it is culled. The sows weigh an average 500-600 pounds each.
Cargill delivers the semen to the farm and the Stewarts are responsible for the artificial insemination process, which happens almost daily.
The family’s 750 sows are rotated into the 138 farrowing crates, where the piglets are born. The hog’s gestation’s period is 114 days long (3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days) and the average number of piglets born per birth is 12. The attempted birth loss is less than 10%, and the commercial grade piglets ship out “all over the country” to other farms for raising at 19 days old.
“There’s babies being born every day,” said Paulette.
In addition, due to pigs’ inability to sweat, foggers and fans must be run to help cool the animals anytime the temperature gets over 80 degrees in the houses.
“It’s not like people think,” said Bruce. “They think you just throw some slop out and [the pigs] come running up.”
Biosecurity plays a large role in the hog farming practice. “we have strict biosecurity rules,” said Bruce.
As such, visitors are not allowed into the hog houses, Bruce added.
The measure has helped the family have very little sickness amongst their herd, including complete avoidance of the swine flu that has recently made headlines around the country.
Despite the issues in the southern part of Pike County with feral hogs (as per Chris Gilmer, Pike County’s 2013 Farm Family of the Year in Murfreesboro), Bruce stated that they weren’t much of an issue in the northern half, but definitively stated with his operation that “you don’t want any of them around your place … I haven’t any problem at all, there’s none around that we know of.”
The family currently has 75 head of cattle, comprised of “balancers,” an angus and gelbvieh mix, with some limosin/angus “limflex” black cattle. The family also currently has three bulls and approximately 50 calves.
“So far, I’ve sold all my cattle at Cattleman’s Livestock Market [in Glenwood],” said Bruce. “I wish people would support them more. If people would support their local sale barn, they would pull more buyers in.”
“That’s exactly right, It’s hard to get these buyers jacked up if we can’t get a lot of cattle in,” said McCarter. “It’s a testament to how Steven and Danny run the business that they can do the job that they do with the light volume that they have there. We are fortunate to have them in this area.”
“We’ve talked about taking them to Hope, or to Oklahoma, but it’s a lot of extra work,” said Paulette. “If everyone would support the locals …”
“The key to cattle is getting good bulls,” said Bruce, with Paulette noting that “a black cow at sale will bring more than a red cow.”
All three sons have contributed over the years. One son, 34-year-old Wade, is now a full-time employee with barn management and hay in the summer and daily maintenance. The family also employs one extra hand named Luis.
“I’m really proud of them,” said Wade.
Chad, 40, and Kobie, 11, are the couple’s other two sons.
“The best part of the farm is making money,” said Kobie, but stated that “having to go out in the heat and cold and do it,” was a serious downside.
Paulette has been working on the farm for 15 years, and works solely on the farm besides managing the household.
“Being able to work as family, that is a big plus,” she said. “Family is a big priority for us.”
“We make a living 100% on the farm,” said Bruce. “If we have grandbabies with us that day, they can go down there with us, it’s not like taking them to [a factory job].”
The farm has an office with an air conditioner and a television set. “It’s not the fanciest, it is just a hog farm office, but, the kids can stay in there, or they can come with me and we can go through the buildings, and play with the little babies,” said Paulette.
The couple also has four grandsons – Luke and Bo via Chad and Wyatt and Westin via Wade.
After explaining the possible reasons for the origin of Westin’s name, Paulette simply quipped, “all I know is that I need a good name to holler when they are in trouble.”
Wade’s wife works in the Pike County Assessor’s office, and Westin attends preschool at First Christian Church in Murfreesboro. Grandsons Wyatt, Kobie and Bo attend school at Kirby Public Schools. Another grandson, Luke, is a 2015 graduate of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope.
Outside of the farm animals, the family also has a menagerie of three dogs, a fish and a turtle, “Michelangelo,” that was rescued from the road.
“[The dogs] are my alarm system, and that is what I like most [about them],” said Paulette, explaining that the dogs have provided a way better system of announcing visitors than even the beeper system that announces driveway entry. “I’m an animal lover.”
The Stewarts also have a cow named Fiona Gale that they were forced to bottle feed from birth. Because of her association to humans early in her life, she was largely ostracized from the herd. However, it does have some perks, as the family pays her more attention than the other cattle, and her survival to an old age is all but guaranteed.
“She’s not going anywhere,” said Paulette of Fiona Gale, referring to the possibility of the sale barn. “She will live her life out here,” joking that once you name the animal, it becomes a pet and not dinner.
The family is involved in the community, with Bruce serving as an auxiliary deputy with the Pike County Sheriff’s Office from the late 80’s to mid 90’s, serving on the Kirby School Board from 1986-2004 and on the local Farm Bureau Board from 2004-2005. Paulette served as a pee-wee basketball coach last year.
Bruce states that he would recommend going into farming to the youth interested in it.
“We need farmers [in America],” said Paulette. “You look around, there’s not as many people involved. It’s becoming more and more corporate; the companies are wanting bigger farms. Your little small family farms are dwindling away. It’s not a good thing, I don’t think … when you put all your eggs in one basket, you sometimes get them dumped, and they’re all gone.”
The family said they have no plans to expand their hog operation.
“Right now we are plenty big,” said Paulette, who denoted that raising a family while being a framer had it’s own particular set of challenges. “You’re full time with the farm … it comes first.”
She goes on to denote the Fridays are often their busiest days – due to the shipping of pigs – so “sometimes it’s challenging to work everything around get everything done or find someone to pinch hit for you.”
“And sometimes we just don’t get to go and do,” said Bruce.
The family gets “very little” vacation time as well, especially during the summertime, when rising temperatures force the family to be close in case the electricity goes out.
“Our vacation time is camping at Kirby Landing on the Lake [Greeson],” said Paulette. “We have to go to the farm every day, so we wake up, go to the farm, shower, and go back to the camp to sleep.”
“You can’t just get anyone to run the farm, not just anyone can do this … they might think they would want to, and then it would be like ‘holy moly, what is this?’” Paulette quipped. “You wear any hats being a farmer … you’re a plumber, electrician,etc. … a jack of all trades, master of none.”
“However, with being self employed, we know what we’ve gotta do – get in there and get it done – if there is something we want to go do,” said Bruce.
But, ultimately, the family wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Working for yourself provides a measure of independence,” said Bruce, “and we can tie the components of our farm together to mutually benefit each other. We use fertilizer from the hogs for hay for the cattle – I can raise a lot more hay with the fertilizer. Without the fertilizer, I’d have to run less cattle.”
“We are blessed and cursed with this,” Paulette said with a smile. “We are very blessed.”
“It’s been very good to me,” said Bruce. “We’ve made a living for 28 years and still in business.”
And, living on their property with a spectacular view of Arkansas backcountry, they wouldn’t want to reside elsewhere.
“I can’t Imagine living anywhere else. I lived in Hot Springs for a while, and I’d much rather live here. The only thing that would make it better is a Wal-Mart and a Taco Bell,” Paulette said with a smirk.
“I’ve been to the West Coast, to Pennsylvania to the east and to the Gulf, and we’re always glad to be coming back home,” concluded Bruce.
As the Pike County Farm Family of the Year, the Stewart family joined 74 other county farm families in vying for district and state recognition as the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year. The Arkansas Farm Family of the Year will be announced in December at a banquet at the Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock.
For the West Central District, Roy “Pee Wee” and Carolyn Ham of Arkadelphia in Clark County were the district winners. The Hams raise beef cattle, Boer goats, swine, hay and timber on 380 acres. They have two children, two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
“I am amazed every year at the amount of passion Arkansas’ families have for agriculture,” said Randy Veach, a cotton, soybean and wheat farmer from Manila, who serves as president of Arkansas Farm Bureau. “What a great honor to recognize the men and women of agriculture, and their families, for their hard work, success and dedication. I want to congratulate those who have been named County and District Farm Families of the Year. These families have made significant efforts within our industry and exemplify the very best of what our state offers. Agriculture is the backbone of our state. In fact, it is the largest business sector, adding around $21 billion to our economy each year. These farm families are a part of a wonderful legacy and industry that helps provide food, fiber and fuel for a growing population, which we should never take for granted. This is something we continue to recognize and appreciate not only now, but throughout the year.”
The Farm Family of the Year program begins each year with selection of top farm families in each county and culminates with the selection of the state Farm Family of the Year who will then go on to represent Arkansas at the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year. All winners are judged on their farm production, efficiency, management, family life and rural/community leadership.
While the program’s chief sponsors in Pike County are Arkansas in Pike County are Arkansas Farm Bureau and University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Extension and Research Service, other sponsors include the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas and the three Farm Credit agencies that serve Arkansas: AgHeritage Farm Credit Services, Farm Credit of Western Arkansas and Midsouth Farm Credit. Additionally, support for the program is provided by the Arkansas Department of Career Education, Arkansas Press Association, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development.
First established in 1947, Arkansas’ Farm Family of the Year program is the longest running effort of its kind in the nation. The program sponsors are Arkansas Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Services of Western Arkansas, Farm Credit Midsouth, ACA AgHeritage Farm Credit Services and the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, with the cooperation of the program partners Arkansas Press Association, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, USDA Rural Development, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Arkansas Department of Workforce Education and the Arkansas Agriculture Department.