Located on the Missouri-Arkansas state line is a sight seldom seen in Northern Arkansas today. JW Guffey and his son, Bryan, and son-in-law, Lee Lester, run a cattle feed lot. Most cattle operations in Arkansas now are either cow/calf operations or breeder stock, but almost everyone runs their cattle on open pasture, supplementing as necessary.
JW, Bryan and Lee have 2,500 acres just outside of Viola, Ark., where there has been six generations of their family farming. Homesteading and clearing the land in the mid-1800s was hard work and put their roots down deep. The family has continued to obtain more land and expand over the generations. Because of the close proximity, a portion of their ranch is actually in Missouri. The main farm and their homes, however, are located in Arkansas.
The three men and their families run the farm as a full-time job. Every Monday and Tuesday, JW goes to Tennessee and buys cattle.
“I’ve been going down there about 40 years. I like their cattle,” JW said.
JW said he believes cattle do better going east to west. He buys in Tennessee because he feels the cattle are leaner and better conditioned than southern cattle. He also said that he has been buying at the same auction for 40 years and feels comfortable and has built relationships with the people.
“That is important to me,” he noted.
The price is always an issue, but not the primary motivation behind his purchases. JW said 2009 was a break-even year, but, he said with hope, “in 2010 we may be able to make a little money.”
JW’s objective is to buy 450 to 500 pound steers and bulls and bring them back to his ranch to feed them out to around 800 or more pounds, depending on the market. They try to grass feed as many as the land and the weather will allow them, and they put the rest in their feed lot. JW says that it’s cheaper to feed them on grass, of course, but he only has a limited amount of pasture available. The Guffeys raise and cut their own hay, putting up approximately 700 round bales and 1,000 square bales each year. JW said, “We could probably put up a couple thousand (square bales), but we only put up what we need.” They buy all of the other ingredients for their feed mix.
JW keeps around 150 cows year round and tries to maintain a herd of approximately 1,500 feeders, 750 on grass and about 750 to 800 in the feed lot. The feed lot is made up of nine pens, each capable of accommodating 120 to 130 cattle. The Guffeys have a man that comes in once a month and grinds hay, which they combine with grains and a sweetener to make their own feed mix. They use a two-ton truck with a feed wagon to go down the aisles and feed into cement bunkers.
They hold onto the cattle and feed them for approximately 150 days and then ship them to a feed lot where they are finished out. JW noted, “There is no market here for finish cattle.” JW has also used the same order buyer out of Kentucky to buy his cattle. They choose a lot, and he ships different loads to where they suggest, usually in Kansas, Colorado or Texas.
For years, JW has also owned and operated the Salem Livestock Auction, which has been converted over from cattle to goats. They sell between 300 and 500 goats each week.
Since JW’s son Bryan has children, and JW’s two daughters have two children each, it looks like JW Guffey can be hopeful his family will continue to be a strong presence in the northwest Arkansas farming community for years to come.


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