Hector family receives honor for farming

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published June 18, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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Carol Rolf/Contributing Photographer

HECTOR — Terry Small has always wanted to be a farmer.

HECTOR — Terry Small has always wanted to be a farmer.

“Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” he said, laughing.

Terry Small and his wife, Gail, both 53, have been named the 2017 Pope County Farm Family of the Year. The family includes their son, Eric, 32, and Cody, 29, and their families.

The Smalls raise cattle, broilers and hay on a 650-acre farming operation.

Being recognized as the Pope County Farm Family of the Year was surprising to Terry.

“I never really thought about it,” he said. “I’ve had several buddies” who received the honor in years past, “but I never thought about us getting it.

“It is an honor, but there is a lot of work involved in it.”

The Smalls’ sons both live near their parents and have just started their own cattle herds, although they both have full-time jobs elsewhere. They also help Terry and Gail with the hay operation and the working of cattle.

Eric and his wife, Hailey Wilbanks Small, have a 3-month-old son, Emmett. Eric is a natural-resource specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Russellville, and Hailey is a family-practice physician in Dardanelle.

Cory and his wife, Kala Reece Small, have two children. Their daughter, Natalie, is 5 and will attend Hector Kindergarten in the fall. Their son, Corbin, is 2. Kala is a stay-at-home mom, and Cory is an electrician in Morrilton.

Terry grew up in Tilly. He is a son of Milburn and Wanda Small, who still live in Tilly. Terry is a grandson of the late Emmett and Drucilla “Drucie” Godfrey of Tilly, and Audis and Dona “Donie” Small of Welcome Home in Searcy County.

Gail grew up in Oak Grove, but her grandparents lived in Hector.

“My grandparents had cows, and I helped with them,” she said. “My grandma couldn’t stand it. She was old-fashioned and thought girls shouldn’t get out in the field and get dirty, but I loved it.”

Gail is a daughter of Jo Smith of Atkins and the late Jimmy Chronister. She is a granddaughter of the late Quentin and Edna Wright of Oak Grove.

Terry and Gail were high school sweethearts.

“We were sweethearts since fifth grade but dated other people off and on until high school,” Gail said. “We got married in 1982.”

Terry said he and Gail both graduated from high school in 1982.

“I went right to work after graduation, doing odd jobs. Then I got on at Bridgestone Firestone in Russellville in August 1983. When I hired in, I worked in production,” he said.

“They make inner tubes for tires. I worked my way up to maintenance, and that’s what I retired from,” Terry said.

“Gail worked some in her family’s business,” he said. “They leased the Little Model Restaurant in Russellville.”

Terry retired three years ago from Bridgestone Firestone after 30 years and one month.

“That one month was important to him. It meant more money,” Gail said, laughing.

“He retired on Sept. 1 of that year,” she said. “I turned 50 on Sept. 3. I had my husband home all day long. … I had a new boss. I had been taking care of five chicken houses, and in February of that same year, I had five more chicken houses to take care of.

“That was some year. It was tough. I found myself walking a lot. That’s what I do. … I just get out and walk to relieve stress. It took a good six months for us to adjust to his retirement.”

Terry said he worked off the farm and finally got enough years in to retire and purchase another farm.

“We now have the ‘old farm’ and the ‘new farm,’” he said. “I always wanted to be a farmer.”

Terry said one of the biggest challenges of farming is the weather.

“Storms, especially,” he said. “If it ain’t too wet, it’s too dry. That’s just part of farming. You just take your lumps and go on.”

When asked what breed of cattle the family raises, Terry said, laughing, “a little bit of everything.”

“We have horned white-face Herefords, Angus, Brangus, Charolais and Simmental,” he said. “I run Black Angus bulls.

“Some of my older stock was my Grandma Donie’s, and I just can’t bring myself to get rid of it. My newer stock is pretty much Angus and white-face Hereford. I’m trying to get Black Baldy cattle.”

Terry said he has about 110 mama cows in a cow/calf operation, which normally produces approximately 100 calves per year.

“We market our beef cattle through livestock auctions, mainly at Blackwell, Ozark and Ola,” he said.

“We supply our own hay to feed our beef cattle through the winter,” Terry said. “Our chicken litter is very important to our hay crop. We produce over 1,775 tons of chicken

litter annually, which is spread on our meadows to help produce better-quality hay and better cattle-grazing.”

The Smalls contract their broilers with the Tyson Dardanelle Complex.

“We raise over 1,744,000 chickens annually for Tyson,” Terry said. “Tyson delivers the birds when they are 1 day old, and we raise them for 33 to 35 days.”

The Smalls began farming in 1984, just two years after they graduated from high school and were married.

“My dad gave me some cows, and we leased some land in Oak Grove from Gail’s grandparents,” Terry said.

“We didn’t even have a house at the time,” Gail said, laughing. “We saved enough money to buy a bull, and that’s how we got started.

“We didn’t have anything to start with except our families, who helped us. Terry’s dad would come from Tilly with his hay equipment and helped us cut and bale hay.”

When the Smalls’ sons became old enough, they began to work on the farm, too.

“Eric was 5 and Cory, 3, when they began learning about hard work on the farm,” Gail said. “Eric would sit on Terry’s lap and steer the truck, and Cory would sit and watch the tires go around.

“We weren’t slave-drivers, but the boys always helped us,” Gail said. “As they got older, they had to work around schoolwork and athletics, but they still helped. They worked for their allowance and gas money, which instilled a strong work ethic in both of them.”

Eric and Cory both graduated from Hector High School. Eric went on to Arkansas Tech University in Russellville and graduated in 2007. Cory attended the University of

Arkansas Community College at Morrilton for four years and is now a licensed electrician.

In 1997, the Smalls, with the help of Farm Credit of Western Arkansas and family, bought their first farm — a home, three broiler houses, two barns and 37 acres. In 2003, they updated their three chicken houses with new computers. That same year, they built two additional broiler houses, doubling their chicken production. In 2004, they purchased more land that adjoined their farm and moved their cows from Oak Grove to their primary farm in Hector; they continued to bale hay on the land at Oak Grove.

In 2013, Terry and Gail bought the “new farm,” which is 2 miles from the “old farm.” The new farm consists of 245 acres, five broiler houses, hay equipment, cattle and a home. With the addition of this farm, the Smalls now operate 10 chicken houses and manage more than 650 acres and 125 cows with five herd bulls.

“I plan to grow some more,” Terry said. “I’d like to get more land for more cattle.

“It’s kinda hard to explain how I feel about farming. It’s a love of animals. You can go out and look into a house of chickens, and it looks like the ground is covered in snow. You can go out in the pasture and look at the ground where a new calf has just been born. It’s just watching things grow.”

Gail agreed: “You have to love to be in it, … to take care of the animals day and night. There is no day off. You have to love the land and the animals.”

Terry said farming is a good life.

“We hope to raise several generations of Small farmers,” he said, laughing, as he pointed to his grandchildren. “We hope to teach our grandchildren how to work hard through farming, just as we did our own children.”

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