Craig Stephenson got out of the cattle business several years ago, but came back to the industry in 2012
With a herd of only 13 Angus cows, you might think Craig Stephenson of Ozark, a retired mail carrier, is only dabbling in a retirement hobby. But he’s a serious cattleman and has some impressive records to prove it, and an interesting life story of the ups and downs and twists of fate of farming.
Growing up in Ohio, Craig loved spending time on his uncle’s farm of hogs, cattle and row crops. After serving in Vietnam, he returned to Ohio State University, majoring in agriculture. But when his dad worked out a deal with him to buy a small farm, Craig found himself worrying about how to plant spring crops and also graduate. He chose the former and left OSU in the spring of 1972.
Having sold his Corvette for a Farmall Super M tractor, Craig was committed to farming. He bought gilts and Hereford cows from his uncle but soon switched to Angus.
“I remember at 9 years old my first Angus was a heifer I was to show in 4-H. I was too small to halter break it, and that heifer drug my dad all over, and he had the scars to prove it,” Craig recalled with a laugh.
He began upgrading his herd, starting with six cows from Premier Angus in Indiana and later bred heifers from Sayre Farms in New York.
“Those farms participated in the Angus Futurity Sales in Ohio,” Craig said. “I met all those men.”
He named his fledgling farm Allegro Angus, the Allegro coming from the name of a restaurant in a favorite soap opera, “The Young and the Restless,” that he watched during his lunch break.
Between the 40 brood cows and a 100-head farrow-to-finish hog operation, he was a busy and successful young man. He showed cattle at the big county fair and at the Ohio State Fair during the 1970s. Then came the hog market collapse of the late 1970s.
In 1980, Craig sold all but four head in an on-farm Allegro Angus dispersion, which was the second top averaging sale in Ohio that year behind Summitcrest Farms. The sale enabled him to pay off his debts and start over with the remaining cows and new hogs.
Once again he upgraded his Angus herd. Then, in the mid-1980s, his corn went moldy, his newly purchased SPF (specific pathogen free) hogs proved not to be disease free, bloody scourers showed up in other hogs and the hog and cattle markets went south.
“I felt like Job in the Bible,” he said. “I was really yelling at God.”
But as a Christian since 1983 with his wife, Fay, Craig decided God was telling him to get out of farming and so he did, moving to Springfield, Mo., to attend the Assemblies of God seminary. Becoming a preacher, though, proved not to be his calling. He continued to be involved with church but became a Springfield mail carrier.
Getting back to the country kept nagging at the couple, and in 2003 they bought a small property in Christian County and moved in a year later, doing most of the house building and landscaping themselves and on a two-story bank barn several years later.
Cattle and hogs called to him.
“I thought about Dexters but couldn’t find any. Then I thought of Angus. Hey, I know Angus!” he recalled.
In 2012 he bought a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old cow.
“Then I had an epiphany. I’m in my late 60s, I can’t wait for this to happen, so I then went to several auctions and bought some pretty good younger cows,” he said.
Since then he’s once again invested in improving his herd with cows from Sydenstricker Genetics, also known as SydGen, in Mexico, Mo., known for its excellent production records.
That’s paid off. In 2014, at a four-state Angus sale, he sold the top cow/calf pair for $6,000. A top heifer of his brought $5,000 and a bull of his was the second top seller at $3,800.
One more sign that his luck was holding is a kind of “redemption” story: After buying a cow sight unseen in an online sale originating in Virginia, Craig discovered he had bid on the wrong cow. He had done his research but simply made a mistake with the numbers.
“So I got that cow and was sick about it,” he said. But she had been considered for embryo transplant so she had potential.
“I kept her, she produced a heifer and I bred her back and sold her for $6,000 – I had paid $3,500 for the cow I didn’t want. And then later I learned the next calf sold for $10,000.
“That’s how God works. When you think you’re smart, you’re stupid. That’s been the case most of my life!” he laughed.
On 25 acres – most of it free grazing on neighbors’ land in return for free beef and pork – Craig has about five hogs and the 13 Angus cows, plus their calves and young yearling bulls, which he rotates from pasture to pasture. He buys hay locally, is diligent about pest control and breeds for easy calving. He pays attention to calving stats, always working to improve the numbers. His Allegro cattle keep him occupied, satisfied and making money.
While paying close attention to production records and constantly tweaking his herd genetics, Craig also remains forever thankful for the helping hand his dad gave him with that first farm and for the inheritance he received with his siblings from their mother. Today, he notes, without that kind of help, young farmers probably won’t make it. And, as he’s learned so well, fate can deal both good and bad hands.
“When I was younger, I dreamed of having a little place in the country, five acres and a couple of cows and now I’m right where I wanted to be,” he said.