MASSILLON, Ohio – This spring will be the first in more than 75 years that the Horner family near Massillon isn’t tending to a strawberry crop.
Acres of berry patches were a mainstay for the family for generations, but these days, retirees Bob and Charlene Horner aren’t so interested in those fruitful labors.
Instead, they’ve used the lessons taught by the berries over the years – finding a niche, finding talents, and blending the two – to build their herd of Angus cattle.
The early days. Growing up, Bob Horner watched his father tend to a milking herd. But disagreeable milk prices and government regulations pushed Horner’s father to swear off dairying, and he liquidated the herd when the young Horner was just 10.
Fat cattle soon filled the feedlot, first Herefords and Angus and commercial crosses, and later Holsteins.
Horner went off to college, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He became a biology teacher.
Back to farming. The current farm off Sarbaugh Street was purchased in 1968 from an aging neighbor.
The property was just over the hillside from where Horner was raised, and his family had been farming the property since he was a child.
Newlyweds Bob and Charlene dug a pond on their farm and named this place TerrAqua, paying homage to their farm’s bounty of land and water.
They needed the pond’s fill to irrigate a 12-acre strawberry patch more immediately than they needed a house, since crop yields would bankroll the eventual construction of a two-story brick homestead.
The crop was good in 1968, and they dug the basement that fall.
During the days, Horner kept at it in the classroom. Evenings and weekends, he helped his father and brother farm their acquisition the same ways they had for years, fattening 80-100 head of cattle each year and expanding their till of row crops and berries.
Cattle addition. In 1964, Horner started growing his own cattle crop. Over the course of a few months, he bought three Angus heifers.
There were so many breeds he could have chosen to start his herd. As an educated farm businessman, he knew to look for the best buy and the best performer.
The British breeds – Angus, Herefords, Shorthorns – were popular among the 4-H’ers at the county fair, but the Angus consistently brought 1-3 cents higher at sale.
Choosing black hides was a no-brainer, and Horner’s quest to build a herd was fortified by several cattlemen nearby willing to help, advise, sell breeding stock and stop to visit about the latest happenings in the industry.
They talked about one of his first cows that had twins three years in a row. All lived.
They talked about his prized bull, Rocky, out of that cow from Virginia. Rocky isn’t around anymore, and Horner misses his guardian personality.
They talked about his respect for other cattlemen in the area, those who run big herds and small herds, and how they all seemed to work together to keep the eastern Ohio beef industry expanding.
Retirement. For the duration of his educator’s career, he kept only eight or 10 cows. He simply didn’t have time to tend to the herd while he worried about his own son and daughter and the hundreds of others he was in charge of in the Tuslaw school district.
Since his retirement in 1994 –
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