SALEM, Ohio – As a young 4-H’er in the 1950s, Jan Ferguson spent summers helping on the family farm in southeastern Columbiana County, baling hay and minding the cow herd.
Come August each year, she and her siblings would close out the summer with a parade of their projects before judges at the fairgrounds in Lisbon.
An 11-year member of the Helping Hands 4-H club, she amassed ribbons and trophies with the Angus steers and heifers – always her favorite breed.
And though she always knew she wanted to have her hand in the cattle industry, Jan never thought she would stand in the position she does today.
Next week, the Columbiana County native will take over presidential duties for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Far and away. Harold and Mary Ferguson settled and started their family – children Rod, Jan, Linda, Paula, Bill and Mary – on a diversified crop and cattle farm near Wellsville.
When Jan was a senior in high school, the family moved to a farm on Old Fredericktown Road, today known as Calcutta Farms.
A young man named Frank Lyons lived on a small farm nearby. Though he and Jan went to different high schools, the two were acquainted and soon fell in love.
Leaving home. Jan graduated from high school in 1963 and the couple enrolled at Ohio State University.
In the fall of 1963, during her first semester at Ohio State, the young woman signed up for an animal science course. At the time, she was committed to becoming a herdsman.
Her academic adviser recommended she take up other classwork and goals, something more suitable for a woman.
“It’s funny that I’m now doing exactly what I said I would,” she said.
Traveling together. Jan and Frank came home and married in Wellsville in 1965.
Soon after they both graduated from Ohio State, Frank enlisted in the Army for his medical residency and was sent to Fort Riley, Kan., in 1974. He was promised a two-year stay.
“We heard ‘Kansas’ and thought ‘Oh no,'” Jan admitted.
But they soon learned their new home in the rolling Flint Hills of east central Kansas was similar to the Appalachian foothills that cradled their childhood homes.
Setting up. Two years passed and Frank’s military commitment was up. The young radiologic physician set up a practice in Manhattan, Kan.
Jan, now armed with a master’s degree in counseling from Kansas State University, got back to basics and her youthful dreams. She started a ranch.
Dad’s help. It was 1976, and Harold Ferguson volunteered his valuable help in selecting bred heifers from farms on the Plains. Jan planned to slowly add genetics from the Calcutta operation to her new effort.
The native prairie proved a good place to raise the commercial and registered Angus herd.
The ranch’s Georgina bloodline has produced Roll of Victory champions and contenders for bull, show heifer, junior heifer calf, junior champion female and senior champion bull of the year awards.
Sharing the wealth. But Jan and her family don’t hoard their herd.
Stock has been trucked cross-country to build winners at Champion Hill in Bidwell, Ohio, and Chippewa Valley Angus Farm near Rittman.
The Rittman farm is owned by Rod and Laurie Ferguson – Jan’s brother and sister-in-law. Performance females developed by Jan and Frank serve as the basis for Rod’s herd.
Other siblings caught the beef bug, too.
Jan’s brother, Bill, is still involved in the family farm in Columbiana County. Her sister, Mary, was strongly involved in Ohio’s Certified Angus Beef program before moving with her family to a ranch in Kansas.
All helping. In the early days of Lyons Ranch, Jan managed the herd with young daughters Debbie and Amy underfoot.
The girls both shipped off to Kansas State University and earned degrees in agriculture. Truly their mother’s daughters, they, too, wanted to stick with the cattle industry.
Both daughters married and took over operations of Lyons Ranch satellites.
“It’s so neat to have the family all take an interest and want involvement” with the ranch, Jan admitted.
Three locations. The south ranch, used for calving and embryo work, is managed by Amy and Karl Langvardt and their sons Tanner and Trey.
Daughter Debbie and her husband, Duane Blythe, are helped by their own children, Meghan, Allison, Trenton, Tyler and Eric, at another location. The family manages 200 cows year-round, calves and breeds artificially.
Back at the headquarters, Frank and Jan watch over heifer calving, bull development and all replacement heifers.
All said, the seedstock operation includes 500 cows on more than 6,000 acres.
Getting involved. Up against the stresses and worries most cattlemen face, Jan wasn’t willing to watch life pass her by.
She served on 4-H and Extension committees as her daughters moved through the 4-H ranks.
She led a committee to stop the Army from taking 100,000 acres of pastureland by eminent domain to expand Fort Riley.
“I learned from a young age to get involved in activities when things affect you,” she said.
Female firsts. She went on to be the first female to lead both the Kansas Livestock Association and the Kansas Angus Association.
Her peers voted her to represent their state on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board. She chaired that group in 1996.
As the next big step, Jan will take over full presidential duties of the organization next week in Phoenix.
An easy job. A believer of the strong voice NCBA gives individual producers and an industry strong in numbers, Lyons said it’s an easy role to accept.
“I do this to contribute to the industry that I feel has done so much for me,” she said.
She’s the second woman to hold the association’s top post, a move she proudly credits to a shift from traditional thinking.
“The fact that I’m a woman is something I’ve never even considered. I always see myself as a producer representing producer interests,” she said.
In all her years, she has found at least one common theme among the cattlemen she represents, whether they live in Columbiana County, Ohio, or Riley County, Kan.
“[The people] are all the same, salt of the earth type people,” she said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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