Billy Joe and Courtney Wilkins live on a 250-acre ranch in Lutherville, Ark. They have worked this ranch, its six chicken houses, 80 or so cows and four or five bulls, for three years. The Wilkins have two little girls, Josie, who's 3 years old, and Abby their 4-month-old baby. Courtney works second shift, twelve hours a shift at Tyson’s. Also she’s in the process of getting her master's degree. Billy Joe calls her super mom, which she denies quietly, with a smile. Billy Joe works the farm full time now.
The Whole Family
They also farm with, and have the support of Courtney’s family, Rick and Jayne Green; her mom and dad, and her three younger brothers Kyle with his wife Kacy; Cody, who goes to University of Arkansas and is still showing cattle; and Corey. Cody won Reserve Champion Simmental, at the American Royal National Simmental show in Kansas City this year.
Courtney's dad, Rick said, “I started the kids out doing chores, and feeding morning and night, when they were 4 or 5 years old. I thought it would keep them out of trouble if they were busy.” All of Rick and Jayne's kids showed cattle. Courtney started showing when she was 15,” said Jayne. "In fact, that’s where most of our vacations were spent, traveling all over the United States going to the livestock shows."
Billy Joe and Courtney, along with Rick and Jayne, and Courtney's three brothers, are members of the Arkansas Cattlemen's Association. Billy Joe and Courtney are also members of the Farm Bureau Association.
"Some of the ways we manage the farm is we feed Bermudagrass hay, and fertilize (our pastures) with chicken litter. We keep salt and mineral out year around. Our pasture grass is so good, I very seldom have to spray for weeds," Billy Joe said. "We also have the soil tested with the NRCS. Chicken houses and cattle go hand in hand.
"We want to implement more pasture management, however I’m going to have to do more cross fencing, and add more water to the pastures before this can happen. Our concentration right now is to use the best grass for hay, and then we can rotate the cattle accordingly,” said Billy Joe.
"We start calving in early September, and calve all the way through to February. We pull the bulls out in the fall, so we don’t have summer calves. I don’t mess with feeder calves right now, it costs too much to do it. However, I do save my best heifers back."
Billy Joe changes his bulls out every three or four years. “One thing that’s been a detriment to us is the high costs of fuel and feed prices," said Billy Joe, "so we buy in bulk and I don’t tedder, or fluff the hay. Also, we make sure there’s no draft in the chicken houses. We’ve seen the feed prices dropping a little, but beef prices are down, too."
His key to balancing the price differences is in preventative maintenance. "For instance grease is a lot cheaper than the gear boxes," noted Billy Joe. "I also would suggest to the younger ones thinking about farming, save some money back for the equipment that breaks, and for emergencies."
The Wilkins and Green families agree, they're eager to pass the farming and showing lifestyles down to their little ones. Courtney's daughter, Josie said, very confidently, that she is going to "show a pig first." The whole family visibly loves ranching, and they are very supportive of each other. The Greens all get together at the ranch on the weekends for work and play.