The Hodges find ways to balance their jobs, kids and cattle
If someone would have asked Darin and Katie Hodges 30 years ago about their future plans, the phrase “cow/calf producer” was not on the radar.
Darin was a young basketball star and had dreams of going pro. Katie, on the other hand, was bucking square bales and thinking all she wanted to do was get away from the farm.
“I was going to live in a town where I was going to have a pizza delivered to my house,” Katie recalled with a laugh.
The couple have been married for more than 20 years and are living on the farm that has been a part of Katie’s family for more 120 years. They’re in the cattle business, and there’s no place they would rather be.
Their farm near Taneyville, Mo., has been in Katie’s family for five generations, making daughters Harleigh and Caseigh, the sixth generation of the Louis (Hirer) Hires family to call the original 1893 farm home. Her parents, Roy and Debbie Combs, and grandparents, Exie M. and Jessie Case, also live on the original farm.
“When we got married, we just decided to stay here. My grandparents decided to start phasing out, and now my parents are retired and don’t have cattle anymore. Darin said he thought he might like to get a few head of cattle and I asked him, ‘Are you sure?’”
Katie’s grandpa actually caused Darin to get bit by the cattle bug when he gave Darin his first cow.
“It all started when we got married and I’d help (Katie’s) grandpa on the weekends. One day he asked me if I wanted my own cow and I said I would. He just gave me one (cow) and then it had a calf,” Darin said. “About a year later, I bought six Show-Me-Select heifers, and now 20 years later, I have more than 100.”
Both have off-the-farm jobs. Darin is the service manager at Tri-Lakes Motors in Branson, Mo., and Katie is a commercial and ag lender at Branson Bank in Branson, Mo. Their daughters are very active in sports and other activities, leaving little extra time in the day, but they gave raising cattle a whirl.
Darin and Katie came to the family farm in 1998 and own and rent a total of 430 acres where they run 110 commercial cow/calf pairs serviced by four to five herd sires. The cattle are primarily Angus, black Limousin, SimAngus and black Gelbvieh.
Cattle are split into three herds, divided by age and calving season.
“When I started, I wanted to have registered cattle,” Darin said. “The more I got into it, the more realized it wasn’t worth it. (Katie’s grandfather) said, ‘just sell the calves.’ It got so complicated with the registered side we went to just commercial.”
Calves are weaned at 500 to 600 pounds.
“If I can, I try to pre-condition for 30 days before I sell, but if it’s hot, I’ll go ahead and sell them,” Darin explained. “I would rather get that extra 30 day on the calves because the buyers like them at market. After 30 days, their mouths are dried up and the buyers can tell that, and they’re not bawling in the ring.”
Maintaining herd health is a priority for the Hodges family. Cattle are vaccinated and wormed twice a year, and cattle receive one round of Mutimin annually.
“Because we both have jobs, he does a lot of preventative care to keep everything healthy because he can’t be there all the time to watch every cow and calf,” Katie said. “Prevention is a replacement for the time because he doesn’t have to sit and watch them all day.”
Females that are not productive or are higher maintenance are culled
“If they don’t calve out every year, or if they have bad feet or udders, they’re out,” Darin said. “If they want to stick around here, they have to be productive and get the job done. I’ve got some that maybe have two bad (quarters) and two good ones but raise a good calf, I can look past that, but if it takes 14 months for her next calf, she’s gone.”
Darin retains very few heifers for his herd. By not having many, if any, first-calf heifers, he doesn’t have to worry about birthing issues.
“I prefer to buy new genetics,” he said. “If I keep a heifer, it’s pretty few and far between. In this market right now, you can buy a young pair for $1,200, $1,300 and a weaned heifer is bringing $700; it’s a better financial decision to have an animal that’s ready to go and have a calf at her side. I’d rather buy something that’s already doing the job than to waste a couple of years to keep a heifer and get a calf just to find out she’s not going to do the job. That’s a long time to wait on a $700, $800 calf.”
“We can also come home and there will be three new calves on the ground without any issues,” Katie added. “We don’t have that worry about pulling calves.”
Darin buys his hay, which also saves him time. While some producers are worried about having enough hay his year, Darin said he always buys his hay from his providers very early in the year, so his barn is full for the upcoming winter.
Buying hay also allows him to optimize his grazing program.
“We can actually run a few more cows,” Darin said. “If you have ground blocked off for hay, you can’t run as many cows. I will buy the hay and run the extra cows. Her dad and grandpa hayed for years and I would help on the weekends, but when we took over, we haven’t done our own hay. Hay doesn’t wait until Saturday or Sunday and that’s the only time I have to do it.”
Grazing pastures opposed to haying them means Darin spends a great deal of time making improvements to pastures.
“There had never been any herbicides used here,” Darin said. “I use herbicides every spring and spray. It’s pretty amazing what GrazonNext can do. Up until about seven or eight years ago, I would just brush hog and that was my weed control. I talked with some other guys who were using (GrazonNext) and their pastures were nothing but grass; I couldn’t believe it.”
Darin is cautious with the use of the weed killer, making sure no water sources come in contact with the product.
Pastures are what Darin called “typical rocky Ozarks pastures.”
“We don’t have the soil to grow things like alfalfa,” he said. “We have mixed grass and land we have dozed off gets put back into warm-season grasses, usually Bermuda. The areas I have in Bermuda are green and growing. It’s kind of a lifesaver in years like this. I love it because it’s a one and done plant and it spreads. I want something that’s going to grow every year.”
In addition to forages, cattle are offered lick tubes, Hi Mag and trace mineral, as well as a salt and trace mineral mix from Vit-A-Zine.
With the recent dry conditions, cattle have also been offered 20 percent cubes. Darin said the cubes are also a useful tool when moving or working cows.
Darin and Katie feel they represent a new generation of cattle producers, producers who can have jobs in town and have success raising cattle.
“If my kids want to take this over one day, they are going to have to have a job because they can’t do it full time,” Darin said. “I’d love nothing more than to just raise cattle, and maybe I’m doing it all wrong, but it’s not going to happen. I love raising cattle, and there’s years it’s good and years it’s bad.”
Despite there still being no pizza delivery to their farm, Katie is happy to see the farming way of life continue in her family, and her girls have learned about hard work and responsibility, as well as a few other life lessons.
“It’s not always fun and it’s not always easy,” she said. “If your marriage can survive working cattle, it can survive anything. Darin really enjoys it and we make it work.”