How 100 Acres Built a Cattle Producer's Legacy
Looking to the south, there’s farmland. Head north and all you’ll find is city until Chicago. This is how Rick Houston describes his homeland near Highland, Indiana, where he grew up intently watching farmers in their fields.
Every June, right after school got out, Houston’s dad, Frank, loaded up the tractor, and they took a weeklong trip down to Arkansas to tend to 100 acres that Frank bought from his father. They’d clean up the land using a neighbor’s bush hog and chain saw, and they spend nights in a pitched tent.
Between the trips to Arkansas and observing row-croppers from home, Houston developed an interest in agriculture. So when he went to college, he and his roommate worked part time for three brothers who farmed nearby. The youngest brother took the college students under his wing and taught them the art of row crops, letting them ask questions and work as much as they desired – usually until dark.
“They didn’t even have to pay us, we loved it so much,” Houston remembers.
At age 20, Houston graduated from college, packed his belongings, and moved south to his father’s land near Morrilton, Arkansas. Frank remained in Indiana, working for the railroad. Houston had intended to begin his own row-crop operation. Little did he know, the ground was such poor quality that farmers quit planting crops on it 50 years earlier.
Undeterred, Houston took a job in the paper mill. He slept in a house on his land with no plumbing and one light in each room.
“I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew this was where I wanted to be,” Houston says.
Without knowing anything about cattle or even how to build a fence, Houston decided to give livestock production a try. He purchased four heifers from a friend of his father’s after a neighbor let him lease a young bull for his new herd. The neighbor only asked that Houston take the animal to the sale barn and bring him back the check.
Others in the area also gave the young entrepreneur their encouragement. A man in the community store leased land for hay, and friends would show up on their own to rake.
“We’re pretty community-minded here. Everybody helps everybody. There are so many times people have just been there to help,” Houston says.
Houston slowly grew his herd by keeping heifers and buying from people in the community when the opportunity arose. After six years, his herd capped at around 20 head, a viable number for the amount of ground he owned.
Fixing fence one day, Houston met a man who owned ground adjacent to his. In 1984, the owner called Houston to give him the first chance to buy his land. As excited as Houston was, he didn’t have the finances.
When he called the owner to tell him he’d have to pass, the owner offered to come over. He took Houston on a drive and offered him a game-changing deal: an attainable down payment and a financing plan.
“The owner could have sold it to anyone. I don’t think he even put it up for sale,” says a grateful Houston. “He sold me enough land to where I could then expand my herd.”
Help along the way
Houston learned and gained the skills necessary to grow into a full-time cow-calf operation from a community of people.
Yet, one individual has served as a steady force through it all: his father.
Frank had taken a few weeks every year to help his son make improvements, build a barn, fertilize pastures, and establish fence. Then, upon retirement, Frank moved down to the 100 acres that started it all for his son.
Frank doesn’t help outside much anymore, but he always has a good cup of coffee ready, and he always wants to hear about how things are going on the farm.
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