ORWELL, Ohio – Mark Stackhouse squints in the midmorning sunshine that blankets his Ashtabula County homestead.
Standing, arms crossed, on the cement apron that guards the overhead doors to a red shop, he is surrounded by two businesses: cattle and construction.
He owns both, he works both, he lives in both worlds.
Farming. His father, Walt Stackhouse, pulls up the gravel driveway on a Gator, toting corn seed he’s cleaned from the planter.
The corn crop is all in. Walt is his son’s right-hand man, the guy who helps keep the farm going while Mark’s managing his other business, he says.
His father and a neighbor, Carl McElroy, came to his rescue on the farm more than once, he says. He relies on them both to keep the farm growing.
Just a few steps away is the shop that houses the offices of SCI, Mark’s construction company.
Both run full-tilt this time of year, stretching him thin.
Both demand his time, his knowledge, his expertise. And both get it.
History. Mark Stackhouse, 42, grew up around crops, not cattle. But he always wanted to have a herd.
Now, on his 150 acres just north of Orwell, he’s got the space to live that dream. He figures it was about eight years ago he built these two barns and a cement feedlot connecting the two.
He wanted his children to grow up with cattle, learning responsibility and having fun.
He and one of his employees went in together on a handful of cattle. Today there are about 70 head of Angus, Maine and Limousin crosses here, most now owned outright by the Stackhouse family.
That number is down from the family’s typical herd size, about 110. A big group of fats and feeders went out the door in the past few weeks. Another 10 cow-calf pairs will be culled this week because they don’t fit the mental mold Stackhouse keeps for efficient and quality cattle.
One cow has horns; a few calves are red. Most of the herd on pasture is black.
They bunch around the base of a shade tree at the fencerow. A few wander from the tree’s shade into the grass, taking their calves with them.
Stackhouse smiles. This is the part of this farming business that brings him joy, watching the calves and cows and pastures grow.
Weeks go by. Weekdays, Stackhouse manages 15 employees who lift and replace fuel tanks and build stores for Shell gas stations from Akron to Toledo.
Originally a pipeline welder, he started this construction business 20 years ago. Back then he didn’t have four children, 70-some cattle, the businessman’s reputation he’s built today.
He didn’t have the baseball and softball games, the 4-H club meetings, the extras that demand his time.
He’s built his facility – a freestall-style barn with headlocks and curtains, plus another three-sided barn with open-air vents on the prevailing side – to maximize his efficiency and minimize his chore time.
Son Craig, 13, daughter Leanne, 11, and twins Brad and Brian, 10, can all help dad get chores done in about 45 minutes.
Everything’s been built to be automated and as easy as possible.
The main barn’s end gates swing open to scrape manure in one or two passes. All the bales are wrapped so Craig can spear one, bring it in, and help dad chop it to feed.
Every pen and paddock has an automatic waterer, pond or creek access. The fenced setup lets them load cattle from either barn without too many headaches.
They don’t bag silage anymore because it was too difficult – and often too muddy – to manage.
Even though the children have been raised around bulldozers and backhoes and tractors, they don’t have free rein of the farm. Mark and his wife, Denise, limit the children’s work to tractors with cabs and seatbelts, and teach farm safety.
Like it used to be. Mark says he thinks his place is the only beef farm left in Orwell Township, where he’s a trustee. There just aren’t farms here like there used to be, he says.
Still, he won’t be surprised if his children decide to keep farming once they’re grown.
Looking down the road toward that day, Mark Stackhouse sees his farm looking a lot like it does today: house in the middle, cow barns to the south, construction company offices to the north.
The operation, with its corn and wheat and Pro-Ton acreage – a mix of sudan grass and forage soybeans and peas – may need more pasture ground to support the herd more months per year.
They’ll continue to clear more pastures and buy ground that’s available, Stackhouse says. But under his watch, the herd won’t get bigger than 150 cattle, he says.
The construction business is primary, the cattle secondary to the family. Each is separate, but they coexist on this property.
Back at it. Mark Stackhouse answers the shop phone with a greeting from Stackhouse Construction, chats for a few moments and sets an appointment with the caller.
Back outdoors, he meets his father coming up the driveway in a tractor. Construction or cattle, there’s work to be done.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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