At Calyx Star Ranch, the family roots run deep in the Mississippi soil where eight generations of the Field family have lived and worked the land for over 180 years. Through the generations, the focus and crops have changed as they have moved from an emphasis on cotton and later soybeans, to the present, where cattle, timber and hunting are the lifeblood. Today, over 300 head of registered and commercial Brangus cattle call Calyx Star Ranch home, as owner Robert Field and his family continue to build on the family legacy started almost two centuries ago.
Located near Shuqualak, Miss, the Field family originally moved from Virginia to the area in the 1820's when cotton was king in the South. They began farming cotton and continued to do so until the 1930's, when Field's great-grandfather began looking for something less labor intensive. "My great-grandfather was a smart man," Field says. "He saw the end of the Civil War, he saw the end of cotton, and he knew that he had to find something that was less labor intensive."
He turned to cattle and began to phase out cotton production with the purchase of a train boxcar load of cattle from Texas, which consisted of 49 cows and one bull. From that point on, cattle have played a big part in the family operation.
Field himself was raised on the family farm, but didn't initially pursue agriculture as a career. After graduating from Mississippi State University with a degree in Chemical Engineering, he left for Texas to work in a chemical plant. As destiny would have it, that is where he met his wife Margie.
For Field, the pull of the old home place was strong, and it wasn't long before he felt the need to get back to his roots. In 1973 he made the decision to give up his career in Chemical Engineering and moved his family back to Mississippi to continue to build on the successes that his great grandfather had started so many years before. He purchased commercial cattle in 1973, but it wasn't until 1977 that he purchased his first registered Brangus at the suggestion of Dr. Bill Turner, who was then a professor at Mississippi State. Field also began the task of educating himself on the cattle business. He took classes and attended meetings on cattle production in order to learn more about all phases of the cattle business. While he was building his herd, he purchased some cattle with the Brinks bloodlines and was so pleased with the performance and results that he made the decision to build his herd around this genetic line.
Today, the Calyx Star herd consists of over 325 head of registered and commercial Brangus cattle. Field estimates that about 46 percent of his herd is registered and the remainder make up his commercial herd. But Field explains, at Calyx Star, those percentages don't really mean much. "Even though a large percentage of the cattle are commercial, you can't tell much difference," he states. "They are handled the same way and bred the same way. The bottom line is we sell genetic quality across the board. The papers are just proof of that quality." Because Field puts emphasis on both his registered and commercial herd, he is excited about the introduction of a new Record Program by the International Brangus Breeders Assoc. that will keep track of EPDs and provide papers on commercial cattle as well.
Field estimates that they market between 25-35 bulls private treaty each year. Half of that number are registered and the other half are commercial. Bulls are available on the farm from October 1 - March 1. He defines his culling process as strict, with only the very best marketed as herd bulls. "We cull real heavy around here," he says. "That way I feel a whole lot better about the job they are doing when they get out there working in the pastures." Carcass data and EPDs are emphasized, with all bulls and heifers ultrasounded as yearlings, and records kept on all animals from the time they are born. Field has been utilizing the ultrasound technology for almost two years and has been tracking this information in order to identify sires with acceptable carcass traits. Even though he recognizes the need for carcass data on all of his cattle, he still emphasizes balance in his herd. "I am a big believer in balance between the masculine traits and feminine traits," he explains. "If you put all the emphasis on carcass, then at some point you lose some milking ability in your females." He produces most of his replacement heifers as well, and holds them to the same high standards as his bull calves.
With such strict guidelines in his culling process, Field had to find a market for the bull calves that didn't make the cut as herd bulls. He has found success by participating in both the Mississippi and Alabama BCIA Pasture to Rail Programs. Most of his steers are sent to Decatur County Feedyards in Overlin, Kansas as part of a retained ownership program. The cattle are tracked with ultrasound and sold individually, with most of his steers grading High Select.
Another marketing decision that has proved successful is Field's decision to put his operation on the Internet. Up until that point, most of his bulls were sold in a small area to producers in adjoining counties. That all changed when he put his operation online. "We have had numerous buyers from the Internet," he says, "that is how they found us.... I had a guy contact me from Fayetteville, Tenn. after he saw my website. He had not been able to find the bull he wanted in his area, but he came to Mississippi and went back to Tennessee with the bull he was looking for." In fact, Field says his marketing efforts have paid off so well lately that he hasn't been able to keep up with the demand. "A year ago, we sold all of our available bulls in the first month," he remembers. "In the spring we had them all gone in about two months. I guess that is a good problem to have."
Fortunately, the emphasis on a family run operation continues, with Field's children heavily involved in the operation as well.
Son Walter is currently attending East Mississippi Community College in Scuba, Miss. and plans to major in Agronomy, but still manages to help full-time during the summer and part-time during the school year with the A.I. and pregnancy checking duties. Daughter Michelle Elmore is the director of the Alabama BCIA Program and is also still involved in the family operation. Her dad credits her with help on many of the marketing decisions, especially with the cattle that they have retained ownership in the Pasture to Rail Program.
Through hard work and a commitment to build on what was started by his ancestors over 180 years ago, Robert Field has established his place in the ongoing story of this dedicated family. As a knowledgeable cattleman, and a steward of the land that has played such a big part in the history of the Field family, he continues to preserve the legacy that will be passed down for generations to come.
"When I retire or die, if the place is in the condition it was in when I was born, I will have done alright," he concludes.
For more information on the Calyx Star operation, visit them online on their website at www.cattletoday.com/calyx_star.