When Bill and Shelby Hunt accepted the 2013 Cleburne County Farm Family of the Year award, Shelby said she was in awe, first for being considered, then for winning the award. “I’m not used to all this attention” she said posing for another picture. But when the family gathered together for pictures to celebrate the award, you could see the pride in the entire family, not from winning the award, but from the years of hard work they did together as a family.
And that hard work continues, one of Bill and Shelby’s son’s John, and John’s son Aaron were working at the ranch the day photographs were needed and were anxious to get the photos over so they could get back to work, bailing hay. “Make hay while the sun still shines” said Bill meaning make the most of one's opportunities while you have the chance. And they did, working almost 16 hours a day they’ve put up more hay already this year than they did in 2012.
Bill and Shelby Hunt began farming in the small community of Greers Ferry in 1963. Bill’s father had given them the land which they cleared, fenced and cross fenced. Soon Bill and Shelby bought 14 head of Hereford cows and the Star H Ranch was born.
During their first year of farming they began with 106 acres. Now 50 years later, they own 1,933 acres and rent 200 acres. They have 11 bulls, 420 cows and 350 calves. After experimenting with different breeds their herd is about 85% Black Angus.
During the early years on the ranch, like most of the Arkansas land, it had to be cleared of rocks and trees to start their pastures. The Hunt family improved their pastures by planting Bermuda grass, clover and winter wheat for permanent pastures. Bill and Shelby continue to fence and cross fence the pastures for rotational grazing to this day. They have 50 pastures now with 48 ponds they’ve constructed themselves. The farm is totally family run and the goal is to have a pond in every pasture. “We want to improve and preserve the land for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren” said Shelby. “And pass on to them a love and respect for the land and for ranching” said Bill. “We want to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us” commented Shelby. So being good stewards of the land started with the Hunt’s four boys Mark, Daniel, John and Garth clearing rocks saving them for a special project. Then in 1972 Bill and Shelby planned, designed and built their new home using the rocks they cleared from the land. They even used logs the late Don Stark of Greers Ferry hand-hewn for the front porch beams. With so many rocks and trees to clear Bill jokes that they may as well make good use of a natural resource. So Bill and his son John decided to make rock fences standing the large rocks on edge, end to end. Even the loading chute and the alley way for the cattle are constructed of rock. Shelby says the ranch looks like “Stonehenge”. Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is the remains of a ring of standing stones.
Page 2 of 3 - But over the years major problems challenged the Hunt family. During the severe drought of 1980 they did not have enough ponds for the cattle. Since then they learned from that experience and had enough ponds dug to provide enough water during the 2012 drought. In 2008 a tornado hit the ranch. No cattle was killed or injured but structures were damaged and one and a half miles of fencing was down. It took two years to replace that fencing and clean up the debris from the pastures. But the biggest challenge said Bill and Shelby happened in 1994 when Bill suffered a heart attack and stroke which severely limited his reading and teaching ability, Bill was an educator while ranching and could no longer teach math. Since then Bill has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and has turned the operation over to his wife and son, John. But that hasn’t stopped Bill; he is still out driving the pasture lanes looking over his operation. The other children, now grown men with families, help out during vaccinations but most work off the ranch now. Garth lives in Bergman teaching Art and History and has three children. Daniel, Mark and John live in Brownsville. They help build and repair fences, put up hay, clear more land and take care of orphaned calves when needed. Shelby does all the bookkeeping and maintains the cattle records. Shelby reads several publications to stay up to date and talks with Bill if something might affect the ranch.
So now that the Hunt Family Star H Ranch is famous for being the Cleburne County Farm Family of the Year. The Hunt family will join 74 other county farm families vying for district and state recognition as the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year. The Arkansas Farm Family of the Year will be announced December 12 at a banquet at the Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock. If you see them, wish them the best.
Star H Ranch Goals and accomplishments; Farm Management goals for the livestock on the ranch is to improve genetics using DNA marker technologies such as EPD: (Expected Progency Differences) focusing on feed conversion, growth and calving ease and carcass quality to identify genetically superior livestock for maximum profitability. Each year the cows are pregnancy checked and open cows are sold at a local sale barn. Steers and non-replacement heifers are retained on the ranch until they weigh approximately 650 pounds. Then they are shipped to Oklahoma where they are fed a special feed ration. When the weight reaches approximately 1,500 pounds they are sold to a packing house. Star H Ranch retains ownership while they are at the feedlot.
Page 3 of 3 - Star H Ranch continues to improve pastures by planting and experimenting with native grasses to increase hay production and quality. Star H Ranch does not use herbicides but control weeds and thistles by practicing grazing management. Soil testing is done to determine proper fertilizer and lime applications. Erosion is controlled by plating Bermuda grass, clover that they over-seed with wheat and rye grass. Pond banks are seeded and critical area planting is implemented on highly eroding soil. Pipes are installed to control pond run-off. Controlled burns are part of the process to improve woodlands and provide a habitat for wildlife.