Abbey to Angus
On a hill not too far away settled in the foothills of Huckleberry Mountain, in the Arkansas River Valley, sits a community of beautiful buildings, a church and a farm.
Built on the foundation of local rock and the love of Christ, the Subiaco Abbey is home to approximately 45 Benedictine Catholic monks and also houses 200 students in the prestigious private boys’ prep school (grades 7-12), Subiaco Academy.
In the Abbey’s beginnings, in 1878, farming meant food for its occupants. Up until the early 1960s, operating a dairy provided milk for the students. Now, with pastures full of pure bred, registered Angus, the goal is to give.
“We got our first three Angus heifers donated from David McMann at Belle Point Ranch in 1999,” explained Brother Joseph Koehler.
For the last 18 years, the Abbey has developed a herd of approximately 370 head of cattle.
Remarkably, only Brother Joseph, and farm manager Craig Layes work the Abbey farm on day-to-day operations.
“Brother Joseph takes care of the registration and computer work while I do all the gathering,” stated Craig looking at Brother Joseph.
“(Craig’s) got to keep up with what’s happening on the field and keep ahead of the pack,” Brother Joseph added.
They share with the load part-time employee Kenny Tencleve.
Craig started working at the Abbey in 2008. He balances the Abbey Angus operation and his own laying house business.
Brother Joseph, originally from Searcy, Ark., described himself as a “teacher/ coach all my life.”
Although Brother Joseph no longer teaches in the classroom, he still “(likes) to get out and move around.”
In addition to helping Craig with the cattle, he takes care of the vineyard that supplies wine for both “the table and sacrament”.
“I have a little garden too. I raise tomatoes, onions-nothing big. It’s more a hobby than anything else. I use it to keep me out of everybody’s hair,” he said.
Craig wittily replied, “That garden’s not big enough.”
When it comes to helping Craig and Kenny, Brother Joseph believes he has the “most educated fingers around” and points in the right direction of where cattle or hay should be placed.
Of the approximately 1,200 acres that the Abbey owns, the Angus graze 500 acres and the hay covers another 200 acres.
“Back in the old days, a lot of (monks) came from agriculture type backgrounds so you would have members more induced to working (on the farm),” explained Brother Joseph. “But now, many young members are more teacher type oriented.”
All of the Abbey Angus cows are AI bred, and genetically tested upon birth. The value of producing quality cattle lies heavily on the men.
Although both Craig and Brother Joseph find great value in their cattle, the bottom line is not to gain profit.
“It’s an apostolate,” Brother Joseph simply stated. “(The benefit) is not so much to have milk and the meat for the table anymore, but to help the neighbors and the community. That’s what the Abbey’s all about – serving and helping our neighbors and it just so happened that we got into this type of business to help the neighbors out.”
Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
In the quiet valley in a small community built on the bones of a church, compassion, and a farm, both quality Angus cattle and humility are found in abundance.