Couple moves from poultry production to cow/calf pairs with the help of the NRCS

Ask Bill and Gayle Hanke about living their dream in rural McDonald County, Mo., the first word they use to describe their life experience… is blessed.

The high school sweethearts have lived this blessed life despite life’s surprises, hard work and occupation changes over 31 years of marriage. Today, Bill’s childhood vision of having a family and raising cattle has come full circle with the purchase of a 168-acre farm near the unincorporated community of Splitlog three years ago.

The property was what most would consider a “fixer-upper.” The home, built in 1927, was vacant for several years. At the time the Hanke’s bought the place, only the walls and the foundation were salvageable.

To further improve the value of their investment, the couple took advantage of the Natural Resources Conservation Services programs.

Gayle grew up outside of Noel, Mo., on a dairy farm where her father, Robert Porterfield, still raises beef cattle. Bill moved to McDonald County in fourth grade from Utah. Even though it was a culture shock for Bill, he adjusted to rural life just fine.

Straight out of high school, the couple bought their first 40-acre spread west of their current location to raise a few head of cattle. They decided to look for something different when tragedy nearly struck the young family.

The couple survived a direct hit by a tornado while living in a single wide trailer house. Bill, Gayle and, then 2-year-old daughter, Julie, rode out the rolling trailer, suffering just bumps and bruises. Only Gayle, who was 7 months pregnant at the time, stayed overnight in the hospital due to contractions.

After this adventure, the couple decided to jump feet first into the chicken business raising 200,000 chickens roughly every six weeks for 22 years outside of Longview, Mo. A huge undertaking, especially since Bill also worked for Lazy-Boy in Neosho, Mo., for the first 10 years.

“The chicken deal was kinda a rabbit trail,” Bill laughs. “I worked with some guys who were chicken farmers and it sounded pretty neat.”

Bill left manufacturing to become a truck driver while Gayle ran the chicken operation, he helped whenever he was not on the road.

He has driven for Little Debbie for the last 16 years. Gayle joined him three years ago after completing the truck driving program through Crowder College and securing her CDL license, allowing them to spend more time together as team drivers.

They decided to sell their chicken operation and get back into cattle when they made an offer on their new property. It was at the suggestion of Joe Stark and Ronnie Rogers, that they decided to check into the NRCS programs for their cattle operation.

“Because we have a small amount of usable land, I just wanted to maximize my ability to raise cattle,” Bill said.

Even though there is a live spring and creek on the property, there was only one well, which is across the road from the home on the 75 acres currently being utilized for cattle. The 90 acres behind the house and outbuildings is not devoted to the cattle operation, making it necessary to gain the most efficiency out of the pasture land. However, there are future plans to develop it, as well.

The Hanke’s took advantage of four programs through NRCS services: creek exclusion, timber exclusion, paddock development with electric fencing and water tank installation.

NRCS improved the well, allowing it to meet the demand of increased capacity when watering cattle. They helped put in water lines and 11 water tanks spread out among the 11 paddocks to accommodate rotational grazing, planning for approximately 2 1/2 acres per head.

“The side benefit of the NRCS programming is the cows are much calmer and easier to handle,” Bill added. “The paddocks create more interaction with the cattle and makes calving season easier, since the cows are not able to hide the calves in the trees.”

Moving the cattle from paddock to paddock every couple of days is not that much more work when compared to chasing the cattle all over the property. Though they currently have 25 head of Brangus cross cows and a black Angus bull, the goal is to nearly double the herd in the future.

The programs are on a 10-year contract, meaning that the land owner will perform the upkeep on the program improvements and keep the designated areas excluded from cattle access.

The Hanke’s have three grown children: Their oldest Julie is married and is a registered nurse at Integris Hospital in Miami, Okla., Johnica, the middle daughter, is a teacher and coach in Gainesville, Mo. and their son, Jamie, attends Crowder College and has plans to raise cattle for an individual near Climax Springs, Mo.


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