Father/daughter team raises cattle on family farm

Carol Rolf Originally Published June 27, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 26, 2013 at 10:27 a.m.
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Carol Rolf

Hugh Eldridge taught his daughters, Janice Irwin, center, and Sandra Andrews, to drive this 1941 Ford tractor before they could drive a car.

Like father, like daughter — Hugh Eldridge and his older daughter, Janice Irwin, farm on land that once belonged to Hugh’s parents. Both families raise cattle and hay.

The Eldridge and Irwin families share the honor of being named 2013 Yell County Farm Family of the Year.

Hugh and his wife, Margery, both 77, raise Black Angus/Brangus cattle. Janice, 54, and her family — husband, Kevin, 51, and son, Jacob, 21 — raise Simmental/Angus and Salers crossbred cattle; Jacob also raises a herd of registered Salers cattle.

The Eldridges’ younger daughter, Sarah Andrews, 51, and her family — husband, Russell, 49, and sons, Zachary, 20, and Luke, 18 — also live on the family farm but are not now regularly involved in the cattle business.

“It’s an honor, but it was quite a surprise,” Margery said when asked how she felt about receiving the Farm Family of the Year award.

“If it were not for the family working together and pitching in when needed, we would not think of continuing at the pace we are working at this time in our lives,” Hugh said in a prepared statement. “We are thankful that the girls, having grown up working on a farm, wanted the same life for their sons. They learned at an early age how to work and have contributed a great deal to the everyday farm life.

“Our sons-in-law each have off-the-farm occupations but are always here when needed. Our grandsons have always helped during hay time and cattle working.”

Hugh and Margery sell their calves year-round through local livestock auctions. They offer replacement heifers off the farm as well.

Janice and her family sell their calves in the fall and lease a bull each year during breeding season. They keep some of the calves and sell others locally.

To improve their farming operation, the Eldridge and Irwin families utilize a number of programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service; the Yell County Conservation District; the Yell County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture; and the Arkansas Forage and Grasslands Council. They use the rotational grazing method of feeding their cattle in pastures.

“Anything we learn that can improve our operation and allow us to maintain the country lifestyle we enjoy, we will certainly incorporate it,” Hugh said.

“We see our land and the use of it as a blessing, a gift of God. And, truly, we take care of it with hopes that our children will also do the same.”

Hugh and Margery have been married for 56 years. The son of the late Vester and Glennie Eldridge of Birta, Hugh was born less than a mile from where the family lives today. Margery, the daughter of the late William R. and Inez Smith, was born in Jourdanton, Texas.

Margery and her family moved to Birta when she was 16, settling on what is known today as Baskin Creek Road on the Yell-Perry county line.

Hugh and Margery graduated from Ola High School in 1955, married in 1957 and moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., for work. Janice and Sandra were born during that time.

The Eldridges moved back to Arkansas in 1962 and lived in North Little Rock until 1969, when they purchased their own farm on Isabelle Creek Road in the Oak Grove community north of Atkins in Pope County.

While in Oak Grove, they operated two breeder hen houses and a herd of Hereford cattle. Janice and Sandra grew up on this farm, “driving tractors and farm trucks before cars; mowing, raking and hauling square bales of hay; and gathering eggs using a push dolly,” Hugh said. They graduated from Atkins High School.

As his parents began to reduce their operation, Hugh and Margery purchased in phases the Eldridge farm in Birta. In June 1981, they sold their farm in Pope County, moved equipment and cattle to Birta and built their home.

Janice and Kevin moved from Hot Springs to the farm in 1996 when Jacob was 5. They live in the house first built by her Eldridge grandparents in 1939.

As a 4-H Cloverbud, Jacob began showing poultry, and then, when he was 10, he showed cattle at the Yell County Fair. Today, Jacob has his own registered and commercial lines of Salers on the place with his parents’ cattle. He has been on the Junior Salers Association Board of Directors for five years.

He is a senior at Arkansas Tech University majoring in agri/business and minoring in chemistry, and is applying to veterinary school. He is also employed at Merritt Animal Clinic in Dardanelle.

Kevin operates the Irwins’ home-based heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration company, Irwin Air Inc.

Janice serves as the bookkeeper for both their farm operation and the heating-and-cooling business.

Sandra and Russell moved their family from the Crow Mountain area north of Russellville and built a home on a northern section of the farm in 2005. Both Zach and Luke were active in 4-H. Since neither of their sons lives at home, Sandra and Russell sold their cattle.

Sandra works as needed for the Yell County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture. Russell is an electrician at Green Bay Packaging in Oppelo.

Zach is an electrician apprentice for Koontz Electric Co. in Morrilton. Luke is in the Army, and in September, he will be stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., training as a cavalry scout and airborne soldier.

The Eldridges and Irwins are active members of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, serving in various capacities. All are members of the Yell County Cattlemen’s Association. Hugh is president of the Birta Cemetery Board of Trustees, and Janice is the secretary-treasurer.

The Irwins are members of the Arkansas Forage and Grassland Council, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, the American Salers Association and the American Border Collie Association. Jacob is an Agri Ambassador and a member of the Agri Club and Pre-Vet Club at Tech, as well as a member of Sigma Pi fraternity. He was an Arkansas 4-H Ambassador and an Arkansas Hall of Fame nominee when he was a member of the Yell County 4-H.

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