Michael and Lauren Lee focus their operation on beef and pecan production
Michael Lee was exposed to farming at a very early age.
His stepfather, Dr. Robert Clark, began farming in 1980 as a hobby. Michael grew up on the farm and developed a love for large equipment and animals. Michael began working on the farm part-time in high school. While he had other interests, Michael had no idea farming would become a way of life.
Throughout college and graduate school, Michael continued to farm. In 2012, he became the farm manager for the Flying C, taking some pressure off his mom, Leanna, and his stepfather, who remain active in the ranch today. Michael’s wife, Lauren, is a fourth-generation farmer, so the love of farming was a strong common bond which is the foundation for the success of their Flying C Ranch. Michael and Lauren have a couple of young farm hands on the horizon with daughters 4-year old Mary Elliott, and 2-year old Adelaide.
Flying C Ranch is a combination row crop and cattle farm located in central Faulkner County, Ark., in the community of Conway. The 300 hundred row crop acres of the ranch are rented out to local farmers and the remaining acres are improved pasture for the ranch’s cow/calf operation. This year’s cattle operation consists of 150 brood cows, 130 calves, 20 steers and six bulls. There is also a 30-acre pecan orchard, which attracts a lot of attention every fall.
Michael’s daily focus is the production part of the cattle operation to ensure the herd is healthy and meets their high-standards of quality for their customers. The steers are marketed in the Flying C Ranch’s farm-to-table program. The marketing for the program is handled by Lauren.
Non-table-to-farm cattle are sold through local sale barns or to individuals. Cows that don’t meet the ranch’s deposition standards, or product quality are culled from the herd.
“It really is about quality for us,” Lauren said. “We work really hard on that. Our customers have come to expect it, and we deliver.”
Human treatment of their animals is a high priority of the Lees, as is transparency. Customers are invited to visit the farm and observe how the animals are raised. In recent years, Flying C has reduced the size of the herd to concentrate on efficiency and lower the stress level of handling the cattle.
“Transparency and education of our customers is very important,” Michael said. “There are so many people that don’t’ understand what it takes to raise cattle. They have heard and read so much bad information. We welcome folks to our farm. It is part of what we do.”
Working closely with the University of Agriculture Extension Service and the Natural Resource and Conservation Service, Flying C has taken advantage of programs to increased production and enhanced conservation. Year-round grazing through the “300 days of grazing” programs has drastically reduced feeding cost. In the fall, the Lees plant winter forage, such as turnips, ryegrass and oats, to provide grazing. With the help of NRCS, Flying C has installed water tanks utilizing natural wells across the farm to provide clean water for the cattle.
Genetic testing of all calves is a key element in insuring the quality of beef going into the farm to table program. The ranch also adheres to a strict animal health program working with local vets to ensure herd quality.
In the fall, things get a little hectic on the ranch as the pecan orchard is opened to the public for harvesting on the halves. For their part of the pecan harvest, Michael works rapidly to get the crop to market. No waste is tolerated with the pecans as pecan shells are used for mulch, and the wood is used for smoking meats.
While running the Flying C Ranch is certainly important, the Lees have a very strong philosophy about being involved in their community. The Lees are involved in more than two dozen community roles from the local to state levels.
The family has won several awards for their farm operation, including finalist in the Arkansas Farm Bureau’s Excellence in Agriculture Award and being named Faulkner County’s Farm Family of the Year.