The James W. Smith farm is family-owned and -operated.
The Smiths were selected as the 2012 Lonoke County Farm Family of the Year by Arkansas Farm Bureau.
Since 1947, the Arkansas Farm Family of the Year Program has served as a vehicle to recognize outstanding farm families throughout the state, according to the AFB website. The objectives of the Farm Family of the year program are:
—To give recognition and encouragement to farm families who are doing an outstanding job on their farm and in their community.
—To gain recognition of the importance of agriculture in the community and state.
—To disseminate information on improved farm practices and management.
"It is a real humbling experience, said James W. "Bill" Smith, "because there are a lot of good farmers in Lonoke County, so I am humbled to be considered."
The Smiths operate a 520-acre dairy farm with 250 to 275 milking cows.
From the age of 12 through college, Bill Smith grew up working on the Arkansas State University farm in Jonesboro, where his father, W.L. Smith, was a teacher. Smith graduated with a degree in animal husbandry in 1957.
While in college, Smith met his wife, Linda, when he went home with her brother from college. The couple was married in 1959.
Smith was in the Army for two years, and then worked at a couple of jobs, including as a herdsman in eastern Arkansas. He then worked for Linda’s father, who was a cattle dealer. Smith received a Farmers Home Administration loan in 1963 to start operating 120 acres with a small beef herd and did artificial insemination for other farmers. He started dairy farming in 1966.
"I always wanted to be a farmer since I was a little kid," Smith said.
Bill and Linda have one son and two daughters. Family members are:
•Their son, James, and his two children, Jennifer, 21, and Will, 18;
•Their daughter, Belinda Horton, and her husband, Chuck, and their children, Scott, 18, Kelli, 14, and Kyle, 7; Tara Watson, 27 (Belinda’s daughter by a previous marriage), and her daughter, Haylie, 6.
•Their daughter, Susan Smith.
Son James followed in his father’s footsteps. After receiving a degree in dairy science from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, he went to work on his father’s farm. James said he has been interested in farming since he could walk.
"I enjoy cows, showing cows, going to county fairs at the county, state and national level," James Smith said.
Linda, who received an accounting degree from the University of Central Arkansas, does the farm bookkeeping. When the children were little, Linda said, she also milked cows. Grandsons Scott and Will both feed and milk cows, drive and work on equipment and whatever else needs to be done. Granddaughter Kelli feeds the baby calves.
James said the herd is milked nine to 10 months a year, then the cows are dried to become impregnated with baby calves.
James said the farm has three hired milk hands that milk the cows twice a day from 3:30 to 8 or 9 a.m. and again from 3:30 to 8 or 9 p.m. Since the milk hands work long hours, James said, they work two days on and one day off. There is also a hired mechanic.
James said his day starts between 6 and 6:30 a.m. by first checking on the milk hands, then spends one to two hours checking on the cows, spends two and half to three hours loading feed and feeding the cows. Finally about 11:30 a.m., he said, he eats breakfast. Then, he said, he does the farming in the fields, where he has hay, and he plants and waters corn and sorghum, which they harvest into feed for the cows. He also said he moves the cows from field to field, giving vaccines and doctoring them. He said every day is different on a farm. His day ends between 8 to 8:30 p.m.
James said that milk is stored in a cooling tank and every two days, a tanker truck picks up the milk. He said the Arkansas Dairy Cooperative Association takes the milk to different processing plants such as those of Coleman Dairy. Then the association markets the milk and then pays the Smiths.
Besides dairy farming, the Smiths also do artificial insemination.
James explained that breeding companies, who own bulls, collect sperm from the bulls, and then freeze it in nitrogen liquid. Once received, James said, the family thaws out the sperm that is then placed into a plastic tub that impregnates the heifers. He said they raise the heifer babies to become replacements and sell the bulls.
James said what he enjoys most is breeding cows to improve the quality of the head to produce more milk and of a better quality.
Challenges, James said, are disease control for the cows, animal health and dealing with the weather. Another challenge, he said, is needing to produce a good crop to make a good feed to keep milk production up.
Future plans, James said, are to have 350 cows in the milk herd and every other day be able to sell a tanker load, which is 50,000 pounds.
Asked about life as a farm wife, Linda said she doesn’t know anything different, since she has lived on a farm her whole life.
"I like living with family all around me and working together," she said.
Bill has served on the Prairie County Fair Board, Southern Marketing Board, Dairy Cooperative Marketing Association, Lonestar Milk Producers Board, Southeast Dairy Association, the Association Milk Producers Board, Arkansas Dairy Cooperative for 19 years (and president for 15 years), Arkansas Agriculture Board, Arkansas State Holstein Board, Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Committee for about 10 years (and chairman twice) and was a delegate at the National Holstein Convention once. Bill also has served as a 4-H leader.
James has served on the Lonoke County Fair Board for 17 years and was president for eight years. He has been on the Arkansas State Holstein Board and was a delegate at the National Holstein Convention four times.