Hunt family celebrates 50 years of farming, county honor

Carol Rolf Contributing Writer Published August 11, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Carol Rolf / Contributing Photographer

The Bill Hunt family of Greers Ferry is the 2013 Cleburne County Farm Family of the Year. Family members include, from the left, Bill and his wife, Shelby; their son, John Hunt; and their grandson, Aaron Hunt.

— Bill and Shelby Hunt are celebrating a special anniversary this year — 50 years of farming.

They began farming in 1963 when Bill’s father gave them 106 acres. Today, they farm 2,133 acres and have a commercial beef cow/calf operation on what they call the Star H Ranch. They also raise hay.

The Hunts are the 2013 Cleburne County Farm Family of the Year.

“I was shocked to learn we had been selected Farm Family of the Year,” said Shelby, 74. “It was the last thing I ever expected. We are humbled and very grateful.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Bill, 79. “I thought they must be pretty hard up for farmers to select us.”

The family includes four sons — Mark, 55; Daniel, 53; John, 52; and Garth, 46 — 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Mark is a truck driver and lives in Brownsville [in Cleburne County]. He has two children: Sheena Isbell, 30, who is a pharmacist and lives with her husband, Justin, in Searcy; and Stephen Hunt, 23, who lives in Midland, Texas, and has a 2 ½-year-old son, Mason.

Daniel drives a truck for a gas company and also lives in Brownsville with his wife, Marilyn. They have four children: Mack Hunt, 32, who is a construction engineer and lives in Cabot with his wife, Jessica, and their daughters, Taylor, 5, and Mackenzie, 2 1/2; J.B. Hunt, 29, who is a maintenance man and lives in Greers Ferry; Adrianne Wells, 26, who is a preschool teacher and lives in Memphis with her husband, Richard; and Haley Hunt, 18, who lives in Greers Ferry and attends Arkansas State University-Heber Springs.

John lives in Brownsville and has one son, Aaron Hunt, 21. John now manages the Star H Ranch. Aaron is actively involved in working on the ranch and has started his own purebred herd of registered Black Angus cows. Aaron has attended the Graham School for Cattlemen, where he studied herd management, nutrition and health, artificial insemination, pregnancy testing and calf delivery. He is majoring in agriculture-business at ASU-Beebe .

Garth teaches art at Bergman High School. He and his wife, Jeanie, live in Bergman [in Boone County] and have three children: Bria, 20, a student at the Memphis College of Art; Braelen, 16, a junior at Bergman High School; and Jaden, 11, a sixth-grader at Bergman Middle School.

Bill said he and Shelby cleared and fenced the 106 acres his father gave them in 1963 and bought 14 head of Hereford cows.

“We sold the bull calves each year and kept the heifers to increase the herd,” he said. “In the last 20 years, we have had a closed herd.

We have not bought any cows but have raised our own replacement heifers. After experimenting with different breeds, our herd is now about 85 percent Black Angus.”

The family’s herd includes 11 bulls, 420 cows and 350 calves.

“As the number of cattle increased, we bought the land as it became available,” Bill said. “In 1972 we built our home on the land my father gave us. [The house] is constructed of native stone, and all of the stones came from our land. Our four sons helped to pick up the rocks.”

The Hunts pregnancy-check the cows each year, and open cows are sold at a local sale barn. The family keeps the steers and nonreplacement heifers on the ranch until they weigh approximately 650 pounds, then sends them to a feedlot in Oklahoma, where they are fed a special feed ration. When the heifers weigh approximately 1,500 pounds, they are sold to a packinghouse.

Over the years, the family has cleared several hundred acres and cross-fenced the ranch into about 50 pastures.

“We have cross-fenced our land so we can practice a rotational grazing program where we rotate the cattle from pasture to pasture, giving the land time to rest between grazing periods,” Bill said. “We do not use herbicides but control weeds and thistles by practicing grazing management.”

The Hunts have built 48 ponds during the past 40 years and plan to construct more so each of the 50 pastures will have its own pond.

“During the severe drought of 1980, we did not have enough ponds, and most of them went dry,” Bill said. “We began to dig ponds as we could afford to. Now there is a pond in most of the pastures, and even during the drought of 2012, we had enough water to supply our livestock.”

In addition to droughts, the Hunts have had a few other setbacks along the way.

In 1994, Bill suffered a heart attack and stroke.

“Since then, I have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease,” Bill said. “My wife and son, John, had to take over responsibilities that I ordinarily would have been able to do.”

And in 2008, a tornado hit the ranch. Bill and Shelby were home but were not hurt. No cattle were killed or injured, but a forest of pine trees that surrounded their house was leveled. The barn was severely damaged, and approximately 1 1/2 miles of fences were destroyed. Bill said it took almost two years to repair the fences and clean up and remove the debris from the pastures before they could be mowed.

The Hunts hope to continue to expand their cattle herd and to improve their pastureland.

“We want to improve and preserve the land for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren and pass on to them a love and respect for the land and for ranching,” Bill said. “We want to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us.”

Shelby said that although three of their sons have other jobs, everyone, including the grandchildren, “helps out when we wean and vaccinate our cattle. They have helped to build and repair fences, put up hay, clear the land and take care of orphan baby calves.”

Bill, the son of the late P.S. and Callie Hunt of Greers Ferry, grew up on a farm. His parents also owned a general store, cotton gin and sawmill. Bill has two living sisters, Bobbie Dudeck of Heber Springs and Blanche Hearn of North Little Rock.

He is a graduate of West Side High School and Arkansas State Teachers College [now the University of Central Arkansas] in Conway. He was drafted into the Army and served at the Army Chemical Center in Edgewood, Md., where he met and married Shelby Greer in 1957.

Shelby was born on a dairy farm in Upper Cross Roads, Md., and was active in 4-H as a teenager. After graduation from high school, she worked as a clerk-typist at the Army Chemical Center where she met Bill.

After Bill was discharged from the Army, he began his 36-year career as an educator. He taught mathematics in Missouri, Maryland and Nevada. In 1962, he moved the family back to Arkansas, where he was a school superintendent for 20 years, serving the Concord and Wilburn school districts.

Shelby was also an educator with 14 years of experience. She taught elementary school at West Side and Concord.

Bill and Shelby are charter members of West Side First Baptist Church in Greers Ferry. He is a past treasurer and former teacher of the young-adult Sunday School class. Shelby directed the adult choir for 30 years and has been teaching a community Bible study for 30 years.

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