Hesston Stark rides the range at his family’s beef operation Hesston Stark has been gaining ranching experience on his family’s beef cattle operation, located outside of El Dorado Springs, Mo., as far back as he can recall.
“Dad always had cattle when I was growing up and I can remember riding in the truck or tractor with him,” he said.
When Hesston entered high school, he began to build his resume through working on several local ranches. His hard work paid off his senior year when he was named the 2015 winner of the Missouri FFA Beef Production Placement Proficiency award and received a Gold rating on the national level.
Hesston has always been a recreational rider, but his true profession is working cattle on horseback.
“I started getting into horses four years ago,” he explained. “From there I started doing work in the pasture using our horses. Cattle will respect a horse more than someone on a four-wheeler or on foot.”
His family’s farm, Stark Farms, consists of an Angus cow/calf herd. Along with selling weaned calves, they will sell several registered and commercial black Angus bulls off the farm.
Hesston diversified his career experience by working for Hughes Farm in Nevada, Mo., where he managed a 250-head commercial cow/calf operation. He also worked for Thoreson Ranch, a feedlot operation in El Dorado Springs, which will have around 1,000 head of calves on hand year round.
“I was on a horse everyday whether it was riding pens or doctoring cattle,” explained Hesston. During his time spent at the feedlot, he experienced first-hand how much smoother things go with horses and dogs; and started to implement those methods at Stark Farms.
Many of Hesston’s friends work their cattle either on foot or by using four-wheelers, which is what he did up until a few years ago.
“Before we started using horses we used a bucket of feed,” Hesston explained. “I never realized how much easier cows are to get up by doing everything on horseback. Before when we would work cows it might take us a week. We would start feeding them and bringing them in. Now, my brother, Heath, and I can get on horseback and we can have 200 cows caught in 30 minutes. It goes a lot easier.”
Over the years Hesston has polished his skills and now much of their farm work is done on horseback.
“I pretty much take care of everything with the cattle here,” said Hesston. “My brother, Heath, who is 15 years old, helps me a lot. We just started from doing nothing to taking care of everything.”
Hesston is a firm believer in low-stress cattle handling and is Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified.
“I liked BQA because it focuses on the calm handling of cattle; a lot of ranches want their employees BQA Certified. If you get to reading on the large feedlots, they are big on stress free handling,” explained Hesston.
One thing he likes about stress-free handling is how calm the cattle are when being worked.
“I can drive one up, take it to the veterinarian and it will stay just as low key as if there were other cows around it,” he said.
Hesston’s philosophy is simple.
“A sick cow or cows, and calves are going to sort themselves. I try to help them, not make them, sort themselves. I do not whip on them or get rowdy, I just encourage them along,” he explained.
Being aware of the cattle’s flight zones and point of balance to move the cattle are techniques taught in the BQA course.
“My brother and I always work in pairs, if there is one out by herself we will try to take her to a fence line; all of our fence lines run into corral and working facilities, I try to move the cow to the fence where we walk her down the fence all while staying far behind her,” he explained. “I let her go on her own and encourage her to go in the right direction, all while not being rough on her. I stay behind her so she knows where we are at and so she will keep going the way we need her to.”
The stress-free handling techniques Hesston has learned from working on various ranches during his high school career will be valuable assets as he pursues a career managing a feedlot.
Hesston received a rodeo scholarship and is currently pursuing a degree in farm and ranch management at Fort Scott Community College in Fort Scott, Kan. Hesston is the son of Travis and Charla Stark.
His FFA advisors were Bret Neil and Courtney Poirot.


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