4R Farms began in 1878 and has grown to more than 1,500 acres
SARCOXIE, MO. – Rodney and Christine Lewis, are the fourth generation to live on a farm that has become a showcase for the Missouri Beef industry, a feat recognized at the recent 54th Annual Missouri Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show held Jan. 8, at Osage Beach, Mo.
The couple were awarded the Missouri Cattlemen’s Pioneer Award, which is considered the highest honor bestowed on beef producers in the state. Their efforts to promote beef only scratch the surface of the strong foundation this operation is built on.
4R Farms, stands for Richard, Rozelle, Rod and Rosemary —Rod’s father, mother, Rod, and his sister.
The commercial cow/calf operation located a little north and east of Sarcoxie, Mo., began more a 100 years ago and has at least that many years, if not more, raising beef and the usual staples to survive in Southwest Missouri. The tale of how his family came to be in Southwest Missouri highlights the tenacity of individuals determined to live the American dream of owning land and providing for a family.
“My great, great, great grandfather grew up for a time in a Shaker orphanage on the East Coast and once old enough, he ended up in Fayette, Mo., on the Missouri River,” Rod explained. “Then my great-grandpa and his brother came to this country and settled here in 1878 on what was then 80 acres on this spot here.”
On his mother’s side, the Woodrows came from Oklahoma and were also stockman.
Today, the farm has increased to 1,540 acres, where they run approximately 400 head of cattle. Rod and Christine background all the calves, either selling them as feeder calves or fattening them in the feedlots of Kansas. They raise at least one semi load of cattle a year and retain their own heifers to continue to grow their herd.
“We haven’t bought a cow in a long time,” Rod said. “All our herd is born and bred right here.”
“The only thing we buy is bulls,” Christine added.
Their cattle are comprised of a cross between Angus and Simmental, a combination Rod prefers because of the hybrid vigor or heterosis.
“This makes them a good fit in our opinion, but there are several breeds of cows out there,” Rod said. “It’s like Ford or Chevy, everybody has their opinion and that sort of thing.”
Modern conveniences have allowed Rod and Christine the ability to manage the herd and the land themselves over the last 36-plus years of marriage. That wasn’t the case 100 years ago for his ancestors.
“Back in my grandparents’ day everything was done by horse-drawn implements,” Rod said. “Today, we produce enough of our on hay to feed 400 head of cattle and we’re a team. When the weather is right, she checks the cows on the 4–wheeler and I take care of the yearlings and maintenance.”
What most farmers and ranchers know at their core, may be lost on those who consume their product or produce. And that is, far and above the goal of maintaining a stable income stream, is the simple fact that raising livestock of any type requires good animal husbandry skills.
“Cattle are our livelihood, and it is our duty to take care of these animals,” Rod notes. “We go to great extremes to make sure they remain healthy.”
Rod attended the University of Missouri focusing on animal studies, and he credits the university with expanding his knowledge, especially in genetics.
Even their spare time seems to revolve around the cattle industry in some shape or fashion. Rod has been a member of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association since before they married. However, putting words into action matters and the couple are active in several ag-focused activities.
Rod serves on the Southwest Missouri Research Farm Advisory Board and they both are members of the Cattlemen’s Associations at the national, state and local levels.
“The benefit for us as cattlemen, is that the Cattlemen’s Association advocates for ranchers and producers of all sizes,” Rod said. “They are proactive in property rights and have our back on social issues.”
The couple take part in what is known in their Southwest Missouri Cattlemen’s group as “The Grill Team,” promoting beef across the region at various events from high school fundraisers, benefits for families that suffer loss due to a fire, and scholarships for future ag students.
The largest event is the three-day Apple Butter Days in Mount Vernon, Mo., that requires at least 30 members to grill and serve fresh steaks to the scores of visitors at the event. Their biggest cook was 5,000 steaks one particular year.
“You’ll be surprised how many people come back from Apple Butter Days and say they have never had a steak before and it was really good,” Christine said.
Their future hope is that there will be six generations, or more, on the legacy farm. The couple’s daughter, Rebecca Mettler, her husband Brant and their two boys, Blaine and Tate, live just down the road. Rebecca and Brant, both work in agriculture.
At the end of the day, Christine sums it up like this:
“If we raise a good animal and a person has a good beef experience, then they will want to come back and buy more quality beef.”