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story.lead_photo.caption Ouida and Lester Cossey, owners of Flying C Ranch of Searcy, are the 2019 White County Farm Family of the Year. Pictured are, front row, from left, Cole, Joseph and Aimsley Cossey; middle row, Michael, Elain, Aimee and Thomas Cossey; and back row, Ouida, Libby and Lester Cossey. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

— Ouida Cossey loves cows. Just ask her.

Cossey and her husband, Lester, who own and operate Flying C Ranch, were recently named White County Farm Family of the Year for 2019.

“I love cattle,” she said, referring to why she’s stayed in the ranching business for more than 30 years. Flying C Ranch is a beef-cattle ranch. It raises pure-bred Santa Gertrudis and registered Hereford cattle as its main products.

“This is a huge honor,” Ouida Cossey said. “I’m proud of it. I know a lot of people who have had this honor in the past. It’s a huge honor for us.”

The Flying C Ranch comprises 510 acres on six farms, Cossey said.

“I keep another farm that an older gentleman can’t keep up, so I cut hay off his land,” she said.

The original farm was started by Cossey’s father, J.D. Fincher, in 1960 when the family moved from Venezuela to Searcy. Fincher worked for Esso Fuel Co., now Exxon, while in South America.

“This is a multigenerational family farm,” Ouida Cossey said. “He started our small family farm of row crops and commercial cattle. He started with a herd of commercial cattle, but he always liked the Santa Gertrudis cattle.”

Cossey said her father visited with Winthrop Rockefeller about the Santa Gertrudis.

“My dad purchased a bull from Mr. Rockefeller and purchased more bulls from him over the years,” she said. “When I was old enough, I excitedly made trips with my dad to WinRock Farms to purchase a new bull. My future was born.”

Cossey said her father had around 600 acres during his farming career.

“We had 180 acres that we never did anything with,” she said. “Daddy had a few cows. He probably didn’t have over 40. I have over 100 momma cows. Some years, we’ll have over 200, maybe 300. I got out of row crops. I didn’t like riding a tractor all day. I love to cut hay, but I don’t like to do the dirt work. That’s how it really changed.”

The Cosseys took over the cattle operation in 1979.

“My brother wanted row crops. … I wanted cattle,” she said. “We started Flying C Ranch in 1982. We eventually got out of the row crops and went to strictly cattle.”

Brian Haller, agent for the the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in White County, said the Cosseys are progressive when it comes to their cattle.

“They do artificial inseminations and embryo transfer,” he said. “They are very specific with high-end technology when it comes to their beef-cattle herd. The benefits of that are that they are able to get the semen off the bulls that they might not be able to afford to buy, but they still get the semen from those high-dollar bulls and still get the genetics and build the herd off that.

“One benefit for Ouida is that she can do it herself and not have to hire someone for that.”

Cossey said it has benefited their farming operation.

“I attended classes and purchased a semen tank and supplies and started a new adventure,” she said. “I was able to improve the quality of the offspring of my cows because I was able to use the superior herd sires. I have, through the years, reached a proficiency rating of 85 percent.”

Cossey said they do not use injections to bring the female cows into heat.

“We use a marker bull, which allows the cows to naturally cycle,” she said. “This leads to a more normal environment for the process, although Lester and I have spent many late nights breeding our cows in the optimum time of their cycle. I have helped my friends and neighbors artificially inseminate their cattle as well.”

Cossey said there have been some challenges throughout the years with the cattle — “the up-and-down cycle of sales and the weather,” she said. “There are some years you don’t have any hay. Also, it can be tough with the acceptability of the Santa Gertrudis herd this far south.”

Cossey said she’s been contacted by a rancher in New York about her herd.

“There was a breeder out of New York calling me, looking for some bulls,” she said. “I was like, ‘You’re where?’”

Haller said market cycles can be tough.

“Farming is one of the few industries where the people don’t determine what they sell their product for,” he said.

“You take what they give you, good or bad,” Cossey said. “If you go to a sale, you’re at their mercy. You can protect the cattle and bring them home, but you still have the cost of transporting them to the sale.

“It’s not an easy life, but it’s fun.”

The Farm Family of the Year program was established in 1947. Haller said White County is unique in that there have been no repeat winners for Farm Family of the Year.

“Some counties have to name families over again, but not consecutively,” he said. “It’s pretty unique to have a county with that many farm families that we don’t have to repeat.”

The Cosseys have three sons: Daniel, 35, and twin sons, Thomas and Michael, 32.

Daniel is a commercial pilot, operating Flying C Aviation at the Searcy Municipal Airport. He and his wife, Hallie, have one son, Joseph.

“He has been able to fly us to view cattle at other farms that are out of state, to cattle sales and cattle shows, which minimized our time away from our farm,” Ouida said. “We still couldn’t figure out how to get that cow on the plane.”

Additionally, the family started T&O Termite and Pest Inc. in Searcy. Michael is now the co-owner with Tammy Whiteman. Michael and his wife, Elain, have two children: a son, Cole, and a daughter, Aimsley.

Thomas is in the Arkansas Air National Guard. He and his wife, Aimee, have one daughter, Libby.

The Cosseys also have 40 to 80 laying hens on their farm.

“They not only provide fresh eggs for our family, but we have eggs that we sell to our friends and neighbors,” Ouida said. “We purchase all of our chickens through the 4-H Pullet Sale at the White County Fair each year. The 4-H youth of White County receive these chickens from our extension service.”

While Ouida runs the farm, Lester has been busy with his own career. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Arkansas Air National Guard.

“I retired from the Air Guard in 2005,” Lester said. “I was full time at Lockheed Martin for 14 years. I’m a navigator.”

Three of the Cosseys’ grandchildren show animals at the White County Fair and the Arkansas State Fair. They are grandsons Joseph, 11, and Cole, 10; and granddaughter Aimsley, 8.

“They have been showing cattle for several years,” Ouida said. “They are members of White County 4-H.”

Haller said the Cosseys are big supporters of the White County Fair each year.

“Their family has been very influential in the White County Fair,” he said. “Ouida serves as the beef superintendent. When I came to White County 24 years ago, she was on the committee. They are very dedicated to the fair.”

Ouida has been a member of the White County Cattleman’s Association Board for two years. She’s been a member of the Arkhoma Santa Gertrudis Association since 1990. She has been the Santa Gertrudis superintendent of the Arkansas State Fair since 1998.

Cossey said raising her family on a farm has been wonderful.

“After school, our boys would come home and help feed and tend to the needs of the farm,” she said. “During the summer months, they would rake the hay and pick up square bales. They would drive the truck and trailer to the barn and help unload the bales.

“It was not easy work, but they never complained. A farm is the perfect place to raise a family. It teaches work ethic, responsibility and teamwork.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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