Suburban America has surrounded Joe Keltner’s family farm in southwest Missouri. “They built there and then they built back over here and then built on this side,” Joe Keltner said as he pointed in all directions around his home.

Rows of homes are a stone’s throw away from most corners of the 40-acre homestead purchased by Joe’s parents, Nile and Lenna Keltner. “My dad bought this place in 1950 and I was in eighth grade that year,” Joe recalled.

After moving to the farm in Battlefield, Mo., the Keltner family started milking cows.

“Back then we were milking cows, they weren’t any certain breed, just any cow that would give milk,” Joe chuckled.

In addition to milking his family’s small herd, Joe started helping his neighbor. “Our neighbor had 13 dairy cows. He said, ‘We can split the milk check, if you will milk them.’ That’s how I bought my first car – was with a milk check,” Joe said.

It brings Joe joy to reflect on the years growing up on the farm. At 80 years old he’s spent a lifetime loving the land and caring for cattle. His life path includes ventures with crossbred cattle, and registered Milking Shorthorn, Simmental and Gelbvieh.

In the decades since Joe first stepped foot on the farm as a teenager, he’s lived a full life on and off the family homestead.

After high school graduation, Joe enlisted in the Navy. When he chose to serve in the Medical Corps he needed to complete his sea duty through the Marines. During his two years in the military, Joe spent 15 months stationed in Okinawa.

But no matter where life took him, Joe felt a pull to return to his family’s farm.

“My grandmother told me, ‘You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy,’” Joe reminisced.

In June 1960, Joe returned to the country. “I got married after a couple of years in the service and when I got out I still had to have some cows,” Joe recalled.

Joe and his wife, Patsy, remodeled a house on the Keltner farm, started their own family and bought some cows.

“I always liked the roan color so I bought some Milking Shorthorn heifers and raised them,” Joe recalled.

Joe continued to raise a herd of around a dozen beef cattle of one breed or another during the next three decades. He balanced the small farm with his full-time job with the Teamsters.

Joe attended AI school in the 1980s and from that point going forward, he AI’ed all his own cattle.

“I never did have a cleanup bull. I am not going to say I was that good, but I was pretty confident,” Joe chuckled.

After more than 30 years with the Teamsters, Joe retired at the age of 52. Upon his retirement, Joe transitioned into a sales rep job for ABS Global. In this new position, Joe attended classes and seminars to learn more about EPDs and bovine genetics. He covered a four-county area in Southwest Missouri selling semen to dairy and beef farmers.

In 1997, he left ABS Global and took a similar position with Alta Genetics. During the time he spent as a rep for these companies, Joe made a change to his cattle operation.

“That is when I got rid of all my other cattle and started in the Simmental business. Then they were yellow and white and red,” Joe stated.

For the last 20 years Joe has been doing AI work for other farmers. He has bred as many as 200 head a year.

In recent years, Joe made yet another switch to his herd. Bored of the Simmentals he found interest in the Gelbvieh breed. Dabbling in a variety of breeds throughout his lifetime has made for a fresh and diverse career in the cattle business.

But now it seems Joe’s farming journey is nearing an end.

“I hate to say it. My brain can do it, but my body can’t,” Joe said. As for the beloved farm – it will go up for sale this summer per the instructions of his mother’s estate trust. The proceeds will be divided between Joe and his siblings.

Still Joe and Patsy will stay in the home connected to the homestead and fondly recall the days when cattle grazed in the fields and signs of the suburbs were miles away.


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