ROSE BUD — For Gary Townsend, there is not a prettier sight than green pastures dotted with black cattle.
“When I see this, I really get a feeling of self-satisfaction,” he said during a recent tour of his farm outside Rose Bud. “So far this month (by Aug. 14), we have had eight days of rain. The pastures are as green as they ever have been.”
Townsend’s black Brangus and Ultra Black cattle could be seen grazing in these green fields as the tour progressed from pasture to pasture.
Gary and his family have received the honor of being named the 2013 White County Farm Family of the Year. Gary and his wife, Marilyn, both 65, have two sons, Chad Townsend, 44, and Thad Townsend, 41. Chad and his wife, Stephanie, live in Rose Bud with their daughter, Noralee, 11. Thad and his wife, Brandy, now live in Rossville, Ill., but still maintain a home in Rose Bud. They have one daughter, Kyerra, 13, and two sons, Jayce, 10, and Luke, 5.
“It’s a big honor,” Gary said of their recent recognition. “It’s something we never thought about receiving. I kept waiting for them to call us back and tell us they made a mistake. There are a lot of top-notch farmers in White County. We are honored.”
Marilyn said she was “surprised” to learn they had received the county award.
“It’s quite an honor,” she said.
The Townsends have been farming for 37 years. They currently farm 793 acres. They raise 150 head of registered Brangus and Ultra Black (a composite breed of Angus and Brangus) cows, eight head of registered Brangus replacement heifers, four head of registered herd bulls and 48 head of registered bull prospects. They also raise 200 acres of hybrid Bermuda grass hay, irrigating 100 of those acres, and 65 to 125 acres of cool-season-annuals silage, which is made up of rye grass, wheat and oats.
“We’re having an exceptional year, especially compared to last year,” Gary said. “I’ve already put up 1,000 rolls of hay and have more cut and ready to bale. Last year, I only had 144 rolls.”
Marilyn said, “We were feeding cows [hay] by the first of June last year and fed them until May of this year.”
Gary said he had to disperse part of his cattle last year because of the drought.
“We had 250 head last year and had to sell down to 150 head of cows,” he said. “We had to use the income from that to feed the rest of the cows. Last year was a really tough year for everybody.
“I tried to hedge a little bit [this year]. I put in a center-pivot irrigation system, the only one in western White County.
“I use this pivot to irrigate 64 acres of hybrid Bermuda grass to increase hay production and quality for cattle in drought conditions,” he said, noting that he has used the system only a few times this year.
Gary is the son of JoNell Townsend of Rose Bud and the late T.C. Townsend. Gary has one brother, Danny Townsend of Quitman, and one sister, Diane Apple of Batesville.
Marilyn is the daughter of the late William and Christine Cagle. Marilyn has three brothers, Keith Cagle and Sonny Cagle, both of Heber Springs, and JuaDon Cagle of Texas, and three sisters, Dovie Jackson of Heber Springs, Lanell Neighbours of Pangburn and Adella Van Parys of Sherwood.
Gary and Marilyn are graduates of Rose Bud High School.
“We went to school together from grade school to graduation,” Gary said. “We’ve lived together all of our lives. We’ve been married for 45 years.”
Gary said he has worked all his life.
“I helped build the Toad Suck Dam,” he said with a smile. “After that, I joined my dad and granddad in the pipeline industry. I worked all over the United States working on pipelines as a welder and fabricator. I even worked on the Alaskan pipeline. I did all of this working toward our goal of owning a cattle operation at retirement age.”
The Townsends bought their first farm in 1980, starting with 20 commercial cows.
“In 1987, we built a layer house and produced eggs for seven years for Caldwell Eggs,” Gary said. “In 1991, we bought our present farm with two pullet houses and raised
replacement pullets for Smith Farms and Darragh Co. During this time, we were increasing our commercial cow herd.”
Since that time, the Townsends have gotten out of the poultry business and have sold their commercial herd to raise a registered Brangus herd.
They now have a “seed-stock operation,” Gary said.
“Our primary goal is to produce quality purebred Brangus and Ultra Black bulls that meet the needs of our commercial customers,” he said. “Our select bulls are developed and marketed through Southern Cattle Co., which is headquartered in Marianna, Fla. They own a bull development facility north of Rose Bud. We send our select bulls to the facility after weaning to be developed. The bulls are sold by private treaty by Keith Cagle, (Marilyn’s brother), who is development and sales manager, and at the [company’s] annual bull sale in Marianna.”
The Townsends own sprigging equipment to plant their hybrid Bermuda grass themselves.
“We grow our own hybrid Bermuda grass sprigs and plant the farm ourselves,” he said. “Several years ago, we sold and sprigged hybrid Bermuda grass for others.”
During the years Gary was away working on pipelines, Marilyn and their sons, along with Marilyn’s brother, Sonny Cagle, took care of the farm. After Chad and Thad left home, Marilyn started working as Gary’s helper on pipeline construction. During those years, the Townsends relied on family and hired help to maintain the farm.
“It was a challenge to keep our cattle and farm up, but through hard work and perseverance, we are where we are today,” said Gary, who retired from his pipeline work two years ago. “Now we devote our time to the farm and to the grandchildren, to teach them about cattle and the importance of stewardship of the land.”
Gary said the couple provide “every opportunity” for the grandchildren to get involved in the farm. They have given each grandchild a bred heifer with which to start his or her own herd.
Chad and Stephanie own 253 acres adjacent to his parents’ farm. He is also in the pipeline business as supervisor of a company in Judsonia. Their daughter, Noralee, started out with her heifer and now has four cows with calves and three heifers. She showed a heifer at the White County Fair in 2012, winning the Herdsman Award. She is working with a heifer and a steer for this year’s fair. Noralee is active in Rose Bud 4-H and in local rodeos, participating in barrels, poles and goat tying.
“She’s our little Elly Mae Clampett,” Gary said with a laugh. “She loves all animals.”
Thad and Brandy have 40 acres adjacent to the family farm in Rose Bud, as well as 100 acres in Illinois, which they lease out. They recently moved back to Illinois for Thad to work for three years on a
pipeline there. Their children have received their first bred heifers from Gary and Marilyn. Brandy is from Illinois, and she and the children will stay with her parents while Thad works.
Gary’s goals for the future include increasing his cow herd to 225 head of registered Brangus cows; reducing hay needs by improving pasture quantity and quality with the use of rotational grazing; and improving the genetics of his herd to continue to provide quality beef cattle that meet the current industry needs.
“I don’t know if you’re really ever happy with the way things are,” Gary said. “You always want to see what’s next, what you can do differently to make it better. I am constantly trying to improve things.”
When Gary is not working on the farm, he enjoys hunting.
“I’m a big hunter,” he said, grinning. “We have dedicated about 130 acres of our land to wildlife.”
Gary is a member of the White County and national cattlemen’s associations and the International Brangus Breeders Association. He is also a Rose Bud FFA supporter.
Marilyn is a member of the Crossroads South Church and the Explorer Bible study. She also is a Rose Bud FFA supporter.