Marvin and Judy Cochran say it took them many years to expand their farming operation
The roots of farming run deep for a Laclede County, Mo., couple who say the key to the success of their operation was to start small and continue to grow.
Marvin and Judy Cochran, who have been married for 52 years, have amassed 606 acres spread out across five farms that support about 225 black Angus and Red Angus.
“Don’t go out and buy a 400-acre farm right off, (because) you’re probably going to need to work in town, (too),” Marvin said. “Buy a small acreage that you can handle and prove it. Grow (slowly) and don’t buy anymore equipment than what you need. Don’t work for the bank all your life – work for yourself.”
Marvin, 76, grew up on a Stoddard County, Mo., farm, while Judy was raised on a farm in northern Wright County, Mo. They purchased their first farm, a 40-acre parcel about 18 miles southwest of Lebanon, Mo., in 1969.
“It was very meager,” Marvin said. “(But) how we started is the way I would recommend it to new people (looking to farm). Start slow and when you get it paid for, buy some more.”
To help cover the cost of starting a farm, the couple worked at H.D. Lee in Lebanon – Marvin for 34 years in cutting and finishing and Judy for 24 years as a sewing machine operator.
“It took us a while (to grow the operation),” Marvin said. “We didn’t need 600 (acres) when we first started, anyway.”
Judy jokingly said they don’t need 600 acres now.
“We probably don’t,” Marvin agreed. “But it’s just hard to get away from it if you like it.”
Since their start, they have added 35 acres at the original location, and additional farms around Lebanon and south of Competition, Mo., in Wright County.
“It’s kind of scattered,” Marvin said.
The largest addition, came in 1999 when the couple purchased 200 acres of Judy’s childhood home in Wright County from her family.
While the Cochrans began their operation with Charolais, they have since embraced Angus because the breed is a moneymaker and easy to work with.
“The market is good on black Angus,” Marvin said. “We have just been drifting more toward the Red (Angus) because they are heat tolerant and good mommas. They are real gentle, too.”
Currently, the Cochrans have about 130 head of breeding stock in a natural cover program. For the first five years, when it was a much smaller operation with fewer breeders, they used AI, mainly out of practicality and necessity.
“We couldn’t afford a bull back then,” Judy said. “I was working (in town) and we had two girls (Ann and Elaine). It’s hard to keep kids in school and make ends meet.”
Now the Cochrans use registered Angus bulls purchased from the Pharo Cattle Company, of Cheyenne Wells, Colo.
“It’s an easy fleshing,” Marvin said of the bulls. “They don’t feed their bulls any grain. They go right through the summer and hot weather and they hold their weight real well.
“On the young bulls, that’s big time because I’ve been to the bull farms where they’d be carrying them the grain by the bucketful. Then those old bulls will just melt away in the summer if you put them with 25 or 30 cows.”
The majority of the Cochrans’ calves are from the spring season, but they also have a fall.
During a 50-to-60 day weaning period in a feedlot, the calves eat a 13-percent-protein grain from MFA Agri Services in Lebanon and are prepped medically for sale.
“We allow time to make sure they have two rounds of shots before we sell them,” Judy said. “When we vaccinate, we worm, black leg and give them respiratory – that’s a requirement. All the buyers want that to keep them from getting pneumonia.”
They sell almost all their calves at Mid Missouri Stockyards near Lebanon and keep only what they need to sustain their herd.
“We save our own heifers,” Marvin said. “We don’t buy cows anymore – I haven’t bought a cow since 2003.
“The reason I didn’t is for health reasons. We’ve got a closed herd and we just buy virgin bulls. That way we’re not bringing anything in.”
The method has worked.
“I’m not bragging, but we don’t have hardly any sick cattle since I started that,” Marvin said.
Because their pastures are large, Marvin said he’d like to use more rotational grazing than what he does, but the process is labor intensive.
“I haven’t rotated this year as much as I should, but I believe in it – it works,” he said. “My fields are probably smaller than some of the guys around here, but you’ve got to stay on those fences or trees take them down or (the cattle) will go through them, eventually. For our age, that’s probably our biggest (challenge) is staying on top of keeping the fences up.”
The Cochrans produce their own hay – a mixture of Ladino clover, fescue and Orchardgrass – on about 150 acres.
“I like the clover because it puts its own nitrogen (in the ground) and helps the other grasses around it,” Marvin said. “It’s just good feed and it’s good for calves. It puts a lot of protein in them.”
For feed supplements, the Cochrans use range mineral year round with additives appropriate for the season.
“(We add) magnesium in the spring for grass tetany to keep it down,” Judy said.
For the future, Marvin says he doesn’t expect to expand anymore.
“Right now, I’m just in it because I like it,” he said. “I don’t have to be in it – it’s just in my blood.
“It’s just always been my desire (to farm), probably more so than (Judy). She would have probably been happy to have stayed in town.”
“I don’t mind it,” she said. “I just enjoy being out.”
The legacy of the Cochran’s farm, however, could live on in their-15-year-old grandson, Tristan Lowrance, who along with his step-father, John Roper, help out on the farm when they can.
“Basically, I’m kind of holding out to see if he really does (want to farm),” Marvin said of Tristan. “He can do about anything I can do.”