Bill Sossamon returned to Arkansas and the family farm after living in California
Bill Sossamon spent most of his early childhood living on 17 acres devoted to raising chickens for Swift. Then his father and mother, Bill Sr., and Vesta, decided to move to California, where Bill Sr., worked for a chemical company while Arkansas family members took care of the farm. Bill graduated from Oklahoma University with a pharmacy degree in 1976. During Bill’s senior year, his folks went back to California to start their own chemical business while Bill joined them a bit later to work as a pharmacist. There he met his wife Liz, who was a pharmacy technician.
Good memories of the farm stayed with Bill during his time in California. He especially remembers helping his grandfather produce molasses with a mule-driven sorghum mill. Bill’s jobs were to remove debris and to keep his grandmother supplied with fresh cane. By 1997, Bill wanted to return to the farm to help his dad and someday take over while continuing his career in Arkansas. The farm now consists of 500 acres, four broiler houses and a commercial cattle herd.
The farm produces five and a half flocks of 7-pound broilers per year for Tyson. Overhead is reduced by cleaning out the chicken houses themselves and spreading litter as fertilizer.
“Each week, 15 to 20 producers harvest their chickens, and producers in the top 50 percent do well financially because of Tyson’s incentive program,” Bill said. “While Tyson supplies the chicks, feed and fieldman, our constant attention to air movement and temperature is a significant factor in our success.”
The cattle side of the Sossamon operation consists of 90 mommas divided into spring and fall calving herds and bred by four bulls. Half the cows are commercial black Angus bred by two registered Hereford bulls, while the other half is comprised of black baldies bred by two Brangus bulls. Bulls are kept with the cows for three months, with the cows preg checked two months later.
Both herds develop calves that weigh 550 to 600 pounds at weaning. Calves are kept for a minimum 45 days after weaning as part of the requirements for a preconditioning program that maximizes selling prices. Sometimes Bill works under Arkansas’s Go Green program and at other times under another program called VAC 45.
Winter hay is supplemented by a liquid feed called Rumilic that can be used with both cows and calves. Bill believes the non-urea formula and the addition of a small percentage of molasses and probiotics are significant factors in the success of his operation and was impressed enough to become a distributor for the company.
In his constant effort to maximize profits, Bill follows several practices. One is combining calves with the neighbor’s to create a semi-load headed for the local Ozark I-40 Sale Barn, or at Carthage, Mo., or Oklahoma City, Okla. The calves are sold at special preconditioning sales with current prices being the determining factor of the location.
Another practice is to not raise his own replacement heifers. When he tried, most heifers bred the first time but did not do as well the second time even though they were in good condition. As a result, Bill purchases about 15 bred second-calf heifers as replacements.
In order to maintain good winter forage, Bill overseeds with a wheat/rye combination though this year’s exceptionally hot September and October significantly decreased productivity. Nonetheless, he plans on continuing the practice.
A final process is expanding marketing to include direct customer sales. Bill currently sells to one restaurant and is talking with a few others. In addition, he sells beef off the farm, selling both specific cuts and anywhere from one-eighth to a whole beef.
“I am always looking to expand my selling options, because I look towards the future when my children will take over,” Bill said. “My children are the fifth generation and a family tradition has always been to pass on the farm in better condition than the generation before.”
The entire family is involved with the farm. Bill and Liz’s son Chris works for Farm Credit. Father and son share equipment and bulls, as well as help each other out as needed. Daughter Dr. Sarah Sexton is a veterinarian who performs all of the vet services for the farm, while his other daughter Laura Sossaman is a lawyer who takes care of all of the legal factors. Bill readily admits his wife Liz, a retired elementary school secretary, “keeps him straight” because she is far better at organization. She also maintains much of the farm records.
The most significant future plan for the Sossamon farm is to transition from a cow/calf operation to a stocker operation in order to help Bill decrease his 10 to 12 hour days. The first step is to not sell the calves after weaning but to keep them to 750 pounds, which also avoids the stress and illness issues when purchasing stockers at a sale barn. Initially Bill plans on maintaining the cow/calf part of the operation, but not replacing females as he culls them. Eventually the cows will be gone and Bill will begin purchasing calves to finish.
Bill is an active member of the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association and has served as county president, in addition to being a member of the National Cattlemen’s Business Association. Both he and Liz have served as officers in the FFA Alumni Association and continue active participation.
“My dad was even more active than I am,” Bill acknowledged. “Right now, my son is busy with his career and family though I think he will become more active one day as well. All of this would not be possible without the Lord’s help, so Liz and I are also active members of the Bread of Life Fellowship in Ozark.”