Aubrey Blackmon shares a passion with his father, who homesteaded in Arkansas and ran cattle on open government rangeland many years ago.
Now, Blackmon himself has 200 head in a cow-calf operation on nearly 1,000 acres of land just outside Little Rock. Blackmon’s operation and many smaller producers like his have made cattle the No. 2 animal commodity in the state.
“Nothing does more for me than getting out in the morning to see the calves bouncing around, seeing a newborn calf and being a part of Mother Nature,” Blackmon says. “You’ve got to love being part of Mother Nature to be productive.”
Blackmon bought land in 1968, and loves telling the story of how he got started with just one cow and one calf in his possession. Things didn’t start out well, as the cow died and the family decided to slaughter the calf. But Blackmon rebuilt his operation by improving the land and the genetics of the cattle he bought, all while raising five sons.
“You just have to start over and restock and reseed your ground,” he says. “You learn to improve and get better cattle that are easier to maintain.”
After the recent drought, many Arkansas cattle producers are doing the same. Blackmon had to reduce his herd by 20 percent, and many of his colleagues liquidated. He says this will make those who survive better managers.
Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Adam McClung says the state is down 15 to 17 percent. People saw the immediate effects watching the cattle be taken to town but ranchers who are still in the business are now figuring out the real costs, he says.
Those costs include burned, unsalvageable grass that will require an expensive amount of seed and fertilizer to rebuild the pasturelands. He estimates it will take two to four years for the industry to fully recover. It’s also tough to gauge the long-term effect, he says, because it’s unclear if older ranchers who liquidated will buy back into the business.
“We’re going to be playing recovery for the next few years,” he says.