Ashley and Brian Berry jumped at the opportunity to purchase a larger farm in 2015. Photo by Janet Warford-Perry.
Ashley and Brian Berry jumped at the opportunity to purchase a larger farm in 2015. Photo by Janet Warford-Perry

Ashley Berry decided she was going to build her own cattle operation when she was just 15 years old

ROLLA, MO. – As far back as she can remember, Ashley (Turner) Berry dreamed of raising her own herd of cattle. When she was 15, Ashley jokingly told her grandpa’s friend and neighbor Leroy Ratliff she would buy his farm one day.

Ashley’s maternal grandpa, Earl Spencer gave her the first cow, a Charolais. To this day, she still loves a good white-colored cow. In her grandfather’s honor, Ashley applied for the Spencer Farm to be designated as a Missouri Century Farm; the designation was announced just a short time after Earl’s passing last year.

Ashley can’t recall a time when she wasn’t concentrating on farming in some form or fashion. She still can’t figure out what people who don’t farm do for weekend entertainment.

As a youngster, Ashley joined Phelps County’s 4-H Young Riders, led by her aunt Donna Lewis and Kathy Jeager. Today, she and Ashley Hammock are co-leaders of the group, passing along good farming practices to their children.

Working her way through the FFA ranks, Ashley was bestowed the American FFA degree. By the time she turned 18, ready to leave her parents’ nest in pursuit of a college degree in agriculture, Ashley devised a plan to pay her tuition using scholarships and the money she saved from cattle sold at the fair to build a herd.

But the increase in cattle needed more room to roam than her parents’ farm could yield. So Ashley paid her neighbor Leroy a visit, but this time all joking aside. Subsequently, the pair struck a deal for Ashley to rent his pasture land plus purchase 15 Beefmaster cows and a bull.

All was not glorious, but Ashley managed to survive the winter of 2008 when cattle prices tanked. At the time, nobody was rushing to pay top prices for any breed. Still, Ashley survived the crisis by beginning to shift from raising the cute floppy-eared Beefmasters to Angus.

During the winter of 2008, Brian Berry’s cousin, Jenny Berry was visiting one of Ashley’s college friends, Dena Laxson. The two women decided to play matchmaker. 

Little did Ashley or Brian realize at the time that she was being sent a helpmate in the form of a crop farmer from Michigan. Brian, alongside his father and grandfather, grew crops on a 200-acre farm and he too wanted to continue a lifetime family tradition of working his own land. The couple began dating in 2008, and Brian moved to Rolla when Ashley was a couple of semesters away from her agriculture degree.

Photo by Janet Warford-Perry
Photo by Janet Warford-Perry

This time Ashley and Brian approached Leroy, and Brian asked to rent the old farmhouse on his property. Leroy agreed.

Ashley finished college, and the couple married in January 2010. The couple lived in the little rented farmhouse on the Ratliff land when their first daughter Jenna was born. Soon after they purchased a house on a small acreage just down the road from the leased pasture.

Leroy Ratliff passed away and when his family wanted to sell the farm in 2015, Brian and Ashley jumped at the opportunity to buy the 106-acre farm, shortly before their second daughter Jessa was born. They sold the smaller tract of land and home a year later and moved back to the Ratliff farm.

Despite Ashley and Brian’s yearning to farm full time, financially, it isn’t feasible to lose dual-income, retirement pension, and pay health insurance benefits privately for a family of four. Brian works in the sanitation department for the City of Rolla, and Ashley is an executive assistant at Missouri S&T.

Until they do retire, Brian and Ashley continue to build a herd of black and black-white face cattle, with a few reds and whites sprinkled in the mix. Today they have 37 head of cattle and sometimes partner with Ashley’s parents, Debbie and John Turner.

“It’s a blessing to have a retired guy around to help out when we’re at work all day,” Ashley said of her father. 

In addition to cattle, Brian and Ashley acquired their first three Boer goat doelings in 2018. Presently they are raising 11 meat goats.

The most recent addition to the farm is dubbed Sue-E Pig Company, pigs raised for sale from farm to table, and Jenna to show at the county fair. In 2021, the Berrys have custom fed out about 35 hogs for people to butcher.

Ashley serves as secretary to the Phelps County Fair Board and fair week is a family affair. The girls get animals ready; they’ve shown pigs, goats, chickens, ducks and a bucket calf. Brian half-jokingly confirmed he does what Ashley directs to ensure fairgrounds projects are completed prior to fair week.

Jenna and Jessa are already on their way to building a herd. Ashley and Brian feel like because they see their parents enjoying farming, it may prompt their girls to pursue that same lifestyle. Even if it doesn’t, kids who work on the farm alongside their family, friends and neighbors build a strong work ethic.

Perhaps an offhand joke between neighbors who built a lifelong friendship could also serve as a reminder to the Berry girls that with hard work and goals, childhood dreams really can come true.


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