Family continues to grow their farming operation in Pope County, Ark.
Terry and Gail Small got an early start in their farming operation thanks to a little help from a couple sets of family members. Two years after graduating Hector High School, they leased land in Oak Grove, Ark., from Gail’s grandparents and were given 10 cows by Terry’s parents.
Having no hay equipment of their own, Terry’s dad brought hay equipment from Tilly, Ark., and helped cut and bale hay. Terry was already working full time as a maintenance operator at the Bridgestone-Firestone plant in Russellville, Ark., so the help was much needed and appreciated.
Thirty-four years later, Terry and Gail are still cattle farming in Hector, Ark. Their family has grown to include two sons, Eric and Cody, who are both married with children of their own. The boy’s live close and help on the farm whenever their off-farm jobs allow.
In 1997, the Smalls purchased their first farm, which included three broiler houses. Terry and Gail did not know a thing about raising chickens, but with the help of other local growers they learned quickly.
The Smalls bought more land in 2003 and updated existing chicken houses, and build two more. After 30 years, Terry retired from Firestone in 2013 and devoted full time to the farm. The next year the Smalls purchased a farm 2 miles away, which had five broiler houses on it, bringing the total farm operation to 650 acres, 300 rented and 350 owned. They raise an average of 6.5 flocks a year under contract with Tyson Foods (1,774,500 chickens), and run 125 head of cattle.
“We couldn’t have done all this without Terry working at Firestone.” Gail said. “It was hard; he would work all day, then come home and work into the night on the farm. But that job provided good off-farm income and benefits. It would have been hard without it.”
The chicken houses provide ample litter for the farm’s fertilizer needs. With the help of the chicken litter, the Smalls are able to meet all their hay needs and provide high quality grazing for the cattle. Ponds are kept in good condition to insure quality drinking water for the cattle. Cattle are vaccinated annually and provided minerals as needed to insure quality beef. To keep the farm environmentally safe and clean, an ecodrum has been installed on one farm and plans are completed to install another soon.
“The ecodrum has been a huge addition for us,” said Terry. “We mix dry shavings with the mortality birds, allow them to compost 21 to 25 days, then apply the by-product to our pastures. It’s all natural and totally environmentally friendly.”
The ecodrum is basically a large, long barrel looking apparatus. Temperature inside the drum is kept at 120-125 degrees to speed up composted and the drum rotates periodically.
“NRCS worked with us on this project,” Terry said. “They have been a huge help. We hope to have the second ecodrum installed soon.”
Farming has not been without challenges in recent years. Storms have caused extensive damage to some of the chicken houses, calling for major repairs to be done. In one storm, an entire house was lost and had to be replaced. The 2012 drought hit the Smalls hard.
“I had to sell about half of my herd because I didn’t have the pasture or hay to feed them, “ Terry said. “That really hurt me. But, we have slowly built back.”
For Terry and Gail Smalls, it is all about family. Operating a family farm has been part of their plan from the very beginning. Their success was recognized this year by being selected as the Pope County Farm Family of the Year. Future plans include adding more cattle, updating the chicken houses and improving bull selection to improve their cattle herd, and improving conservation practices to insure good quality of farm life for future generations.