WOOSTER — It’s been a good year for Gary Patton.
“I’ve had three honors bestowed upon me this year,” said Patton, whose family is the 2015 Faulkner County Farm Family of the Year.
“Being named the Farm Family of the Year is quite an honor,” he said. “I’m also the 2015 president of the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association, and our farm (Patton Farms) has been selected to be an agriculture stop for [U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.] on Aug. 21.
“Yes, I’ve had a good year,” Patton said.
Patton, 66, and his children, Todd Patton, 40, and Jennifer Merritt, 31, raise cattle on 300 acres that originally belonged to Gary’s grandparents, the late A.L. and Eva Patton.
They raise about 200 head of commercial cattle. They also have a trucking business and a mini-storage business.
Todd works full time on the farm with his dad and drives a truck, hauling feed and cattle. He also breeds Boer goats.
Jennifer is the bookkeeper for all business operations for the farm and mini-storage business. She also teaches art in Conway.
“Our cattle were bought and sold through the area livestock barns in Conway and Little Rock until 2001,” Gary said. “Due to the closing of livestock barns and in order to compete with pricing, we branched out, going to Oklahoma City and the Internet to sell. We are now buying and selling full time on the Internet with sites such as Superior out of Texas and Private Treaty out of Florida.
“We have shifted from the yearling business to a cow/calf business. This has allowed us to utilize the forage we have worked hard to establish and maintain.
“This year we are building a silage pit and have contracted a farmer that will be supplying this to our farm. This will, in turn, allow us to increase the number of cattle that we can feed.”
Gary said he uses fence-line feeding and row-feeding systems to make the process more efficient.
“The daily feeding was taking all day, creating a time crunch on the farm. We solved the problem by installing row feeding, thus allowing us to increase productivity,” he said. “By using the feed troughs, I never have to open a gate.
“I feed [the cattle] something every day. The pasture is not enough. I do rotational grazing, but I still feed something every day.”
Gary said he might do things a little differently than other farmers, such as using the feed troughs and using a cold or frozen branding iron instead of a hot branding iron to identify his cattle.
“The cold brand freezes [the identification mark] onto the hide rather than burning it. The hair comes back white. That white shows up real good on black cattle. It’s a plus when it comes time to sell them,” he said.
“I take other people’s experiments and do my own experiments. I’m not doing things the way my dad did or the way my grandpa did. I operate a little differently,” he said.
“I started farming when I was 10 years old with cattle and an 8N Ford tractor. I made my first crop and showed cattle under the supervision of my dad,” Gary said.
“Cattle have been a part of the farm since 1950. In the ’70s we added hogs to the farm, trying to increase cash flow. In 1980, we added produce to our operation, growing peas, soybeans and beans. We added a mechanical pea picker and pea huller to cut down on labor and time. I also ventured into cattle buying, visiting two to three sales a week,” he said. “We are strictly a cattle operation now.
“In 2001, we started the trucking business to add revenue to the farms. We began hauling commodities feed and cattle for the public.”
They also started a mini-storage business with 24 units in 1993 as a way to supplement income. That business has continued to grow and now has 242 units.
Gary, the only child of the late John and Clara Patton, graduated from Greenbrier High School in 1967. He studied agriculture business at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville for two years.
He quit college and did road-construction work for a while.
He managed the Arkansas National Stockyards, which is no longer in business, in Little Rock for 10 years. In 1980, Gary went to work for the Arkansas Forestry Commission in the district office at Greenbrier.
“I traveled Arkansas as a training instructor on how to handle wildfires,” he said. “I did that for 26 years.”
After his mother died in 2011, Gary said, he began “dreaming the dream” and took over the family farm.
“I lived across the highway from my parents, and when Mom died, I moved in here,” he said,
“I live on the old home place,” he said. “I’ve bought back just about every acre of my grandparents’ farm.”
Gary’s son, Todd, and his son’s wife, Tammy, live next door to Gary. They have one son, Colton, 16, who is a member of FFA and 4-H and has shown goats in the Faulkner County, district and state fairs for the past five years.
Todd graduated from Greenbrier High School and started his own trailer-manufacturing business. He now has his own catering business on the side while working on the farm.
Todd is a member of the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association and serves on the Wooster City Council.
Gary’s daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Daniel Merritt, live across the road from Gary. They have one daughter, Olivia, 2, and are expecting another baby.
Jennifer is also a graduate of Greenbrier High school. She graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia and from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway with a Master of Arts degree in teaching. She taught secondary public-school art for six years — three at the Distance Learning Center in Maumelle and three at Bigelow High School.
“My husband and I moved back to Wooster nearly three years ago before our daughter was born,” Jennifer said. “We are glad we are close to family, and a baby sitter is always available. Olivia enjoys seeing and petting all the animals on the farm.”
Gary said he hopes to continue to expand his farm.
“I always want to grow more. I always want to make things better,” he said.
“I am just the holder of this farm. I want to pass it along bigger and better. I wanted to make it bigger and better than what Dad and my grandpa had.
“Grandpa had 300 acres, and we’ve still got about 300 acres,” Gary said.
“I’m trying to slow up,” he said.
Gary said he organized the first Faulkner County Junior Livestock Premium Auction.
“In 1990, the sale started with only three hogs,” he said. “Now it is one of the largest in the state with premiums of $110,000 or more. In 2014, the Faulkner County sale was larger that the Arkansas State Fair sale.”
Gary said he was the first member of Life Song Church in Greenbrier, joining in 2010 when it first opened. He has been a member of the Faulkner County Cattlemen’s Association since 1959, when he also joined the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association.
He was the junior livestock auction ringmaster at the Faulkner County Fair from 1990 to 2012.
On the national level, Gary is a member of the National Cattlemen’s Association’s marketing committee and holds a voting seat on business issues.