Shirley Williams is a full-time cattlewoman, while her husband Fred manages their land

Blind dates are often criticized and sources of humor, but the truth is they can work as one did for Fred and Shirley Williams of Van Buren, Ark.

“When Fred started to talk tractors, I think I fell in love,” Shirley said with a laugh.

Fred and Shirley take care of 439 acres out of a 700-acre family owned property. They raise and sell registered Angus in addition to Angus/Waygu cross cattle used for family consumption. Fred has a more than 30-year-old ad agency named Williams/Crawford & Associates in Fort Smith, Ark.. Shirley, on the other hand, is the full-time rancher.

“We make a good ranch team because she’s a whole lot better at cattle than I am, and I’m better with the land,” Fred said.

The Williams family has been in the cattle business since 1898. In 1935, during the Great Depression, a set of brothers separated and Fred’s grandfather, Warren Williams, bought the first parcel of the family homestead for a dairy herd. That land was close to town so milk could be delivered by wagon. When Fred was a boy, he milked twice a day with his father, Joe Williams. After completing two years towards a degree in communications at the Univeristy of Arkansas in Fort Smith, where he attended classes between milkings, he left to go to Conway to finish his undergraduate degree. At that time, his father transitioned from dairy to commercial beef, mostly backgrounding steers. Shirley and Fred started out the same way but saw a good friend named David McMahon every Wednesday at their local Rotary meeting who led them into the registered Angus business happily coinciding with Shirley’s desire for a cow/calf operation.

The change in operation also caused a change in facilities. Fred designed everything for a one-person operation making sure it was ideal for a female since Shirley was going to be taking care of the animals with AI as the only method of breeding. Fred refenced the whole property, including a 150-acre plot of wildland because they didn’t need any more pasture and didn’t want the cattle in Flat Rock Creek, which borders the property for 2 1/2 miles.

“Land needs to be watched as carefully as cattle,” Fred said.

To accomplish this, Fred upgraded ranch roads so he could access every pasture area on the farm easily. He scrutinizes both pasture and trees. He looks at color, height, density and weeds in the grass while checking tree health because, according to Fred, “If the trees are not doing well, neither is the land.” Land practices include soil testing every year in various locations and having the local co-op custom make fertilizer for each area. Vegetation is mostly Bermuda, with other natural grasses such as dallisgrass and crabgrass. Because clovers are so important, the land is over seeded with clover and contains Ladino, arrowleaf and one pasture with red clover. Shirley sprays for weeds and spot sprays particularly stubborn weeds like buttercups in the spring and horse nettle in the summer. Because thistles have been dug up for 70 years, they are not common, but are still dug up as soon as one appears.

Fred partners with a neighbor on 40 acres which is used as hay ground.”

“We are just caretakers responsible for God’s handiwork, and our job is to pass on both the land and the love of the land so it will continue as a family legacy,” Fred said. “Fortunately, there has always been one or two in each generation with that special passion, and for us that is our daughter Elizabeth Jane and her husband Joshua. These 700 acres accommodates much of our family and contains seven residences with a new one in the offing for Elizabeth Jane.”

The Williams’ herd consists of 40 registered Angus mommas in addition to four 50/50 Angus/Waygu crosses.

“We like the cross for our personal use better than pure Waygu because the meat is more muscled while still highly marbleized and tender,” Shirley said.

Taste and tenderness are also supported by graining the last 90 days while the cattle are still on pasture. Shirley’s stepfather, John Yeomans, who was born and raised in London and lives with the couple, named the tasty cross Wangus, a clever and persistent description.

Shirley performs the AI having received training 25 years ago at Bovine Elite in College Station, Texas. She has an 89 percent pregnancy rate on first service. She breeds all on natural heat cycles, without hormonal synchronization to bring the cattle into heat. She also pulls DNA on every calf to improve her ability to select the best sire/cow mating’s when purchasing semen. Traits such as low birth weight, maximum growth, fertility and docility are at the top of her list, with carcass traits also being very desirable such as marbling, ribeye and fat thickness resulting in a good beef value index. She maintains a 45- to 60- day calving season in the fall. All of the bull calves are sold to the Raymond Moore family in Lufkin, Texas at weaning. Average weaning weight is around 700 pounds when Moore Farms hauls them to Texas and they raise them to a productive 18 months old before being sold and put to work, mostly by commercial ranchers.

Shirley has a very simple feeding program. Replacement heifers and first calf heifers are fed grain until they are bred, all adult cows, 3 years and older, are on grass and hay only. Replacement heifers are bred at 14 months of age to calve at 2 years of age. You are asking a lot of a growing heifer to get pregnant at 14 months, calve at two, raise a calf and breed back. So their nutritional needs are higher than that of the older cows.

Shirley works closely with her 25-year friend and veterinarian Dr. David Ford at Hubbs Animal Clinic in Van Buren, Ark. He is an Angus breeder and knows exactly what vaccination protocol is needed each time. The herd is vaccinated twice a year, in April and October. The calves are vaccinated at approximately 3 months of age and then receive a booster 4 to 6 weeks later.

Dr. Ford’s health protocol has been so successful on Fair Oaks Farm that Shirley hasn’t had to treat a calf for anything in the last 15 years. She even removed a gate that Fred had added in the creep lot to pin calves to make it easier to give them shots because she never used it.

Fair Oaks Farm is a beautiful and productive spread bumping up against Van Buren, just as Fred’s grandfather intended. He selected well because the trees after which the Homestead is named seclude this hidden corner. RoppArkansas NeighborsNeighborsArkansas,Cattle,Fred Williams,land,Shirley Williams,Van Buren,WilliamsShirley Williams is a full-time cattlewoman, while her husband Fred manages their land Blind dates are often criticized and sources of humor, but the truth is they can work as one did for Fred and Shirley Williams of Van Buren, Ark. “When Fred started to talk tractors, I think I fell...The Ozarks' most read farm newspaper, reaching more than 58,000 readers in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma