It was no easy task for Patrick Stone to find his second calling.
In fact, he got knocked on his tail once as he was feeling his way along. Then there was an unpleasant experience in a ditch with a really foul liquid.
Even with a full-time job in the state Division of Highway Design, Patrick, 42, spent eight years learning the ins and outs of a business he first tried after buying a home and 43 acres on Quarles Road with his wife, Lisa.
But with trial and error, he’s found his niche.
His herd, which includes mixed commercial breeds of cows and calves along with an angus bull, numbers about 50 today, and Patrick has built a beef operation that not only supplements his family’s income, but also gives him a chance to stay busy outdoors after hours of sitting behind a desk at work.
“We just bought a couple to see how it went, and we liked fooling with ’em, so we bought a few more and a few more,” Patrick said at his home.
There’s also the satisfaction of biting into a hamburger or steak made from fresh, farm-raised meat.
“You know there’s nothing that shouldn’t be in the animal in there,” said Patrick, who also serves as president of the local Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association chapter.
“It’s Kentucky Proud-type stuff.”
Patrick started raising cattle on a whim. The farm, which belonged to Lisa’s family, was being parceled, but Lisa’s father and uncle left the house and a 43-acre tract untouched.
Patrick and Lisa bought the property, and her uncle raised cattle on the farm while they renovated the house. Most of the infrastructure, namely barns and some fencing, was already in place when they moved in.
Patrick decided to give cattle a try and bought four at first. He grew up a state trooper’s son in Rolling Acres, so handling even a small herd was foreign to him.
Patrick sought help from Roger Perkins, an experienced cattle farmer who lives nearby. Roger put him in touch with David Holt, manager of Bluegrass Stockyards.
David gave him a crash course in picking cattle.
“We went out to his farm and he showed me, ‘You don’t want one like this, her udders are all blown out, you don’t want one like this,’” Patrick said.
“Then I told him how much money I had, and it was like, ‘Well, you’re going to get one like this.’ Not much better than the mutt.”
As his herd grew and he bought more heads of cattle, Patrick learned how the work livestock auctions.
At first, he would wait until about 11 p.m., an hour before the auctions close, before making a bid. His logic, he said, was that cattle would be cheaper with less competition in the closing hour.
“I ended up buying some mutts,” he said. “They would have lice and be mangy, but you bring ’em home and clean ’em up.
“I’ve still got some of ’em. They look pretty decent, but back then I think they were selling for $600-$900, that was the range, and I was buying $500 cows.”
Though he learned about the business on his own, Patrick credits University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Agent Keenan Bishop and UK’s Cow College program with developing his knowledge of operating a cattle farm.
Twice a month for 6 to 8 months, Patrick learned how to properly manage his herd from a veterinarian, from castrating and dehorning bulls to administering vaccinations.
“It was great just knowing how to do it properly ’cause you get so much advice from people, and that’s the hardest thing,” he said.
Before he graduated Cow College, though, he discovered the importance of a quality bull the hard way.
“We hadn’t had the herd sire selection class yet, so I thought, ‘Well, that’s a black bull and that’s a black bull, I’m going to get the cheapest one,” Patrick said.
But when the owner tried to load it on a trailer after Patrick bought it, the bull ran him over. The man wasn’t hurt, and Patrick helped wrestle it into the trailer.
When Patrick got home and unloaded it, the bull went after him again.
Some would call that an ominous sign.
“I thought, ‘That was stupid. I never should have brought him home,’” Patrick said. “Then I had the vet come out and check him, and he said, ‘Well, this is an angus bull, but he ain’t much of a bull.’”
The next semester at Cow College, Patrick learned the important role genetics play in selecting a bull. Quality costs a bit more, but healthier calves translate to better paydays at auction.
Temperament is also important, Patrick said.
“I’m not ever buying another bull that you can’t go out and walk around the field,” he said. “That first one I had, he’d chase you.”
Some cows can be finicky too, he said. One will “run you down” if her calves are messed with, which makes tagging the newborns somewhat risky.
The cow, which Patrick says has recently developed that behavior, doesn’t need to be provoked, at least on one occasion.
“Keenan was up here helping me work ’em this summer, and she’ll usually run at you and stop, so I just hopped up on the gate,” Patrick recalled. “Well, that wasn’t enough for her because she stuck her head right under my tail and flipped me over the gate.
“He (Keenan) stood there laughing after I laid there for a minute. (He said), ‘Oh, are you OK?’ after he had a good laugh.”
Patrick has also dabbled in goats, but that didn’t last. He says they frequently escaped their pen, and one billy goat urinated on him while he was digging a ditch for a water line.
“If you got down below him, he felt the need to pee on you,” Patrick said. “That was his last day here, not in life.’
“… He only did it once and then we got rid of him. I had a friend who was looking for some goats, and I said, ‘Bring your trailer. I’m going to give you a better deal than you can nail on these things, buddy.’”
Though raising goats didn’t last, Patrick says he will probably always handle cattle.
Still, he learned to never name a cow.
He raised Henfred, a calf whose mother died after giving birth, for 9 months before taking her to auction. Henfred acted more like a pet around the farm, he said.
“That was probably the hardest sale,” Patrick said. “… It was just like a dog or anything else. It knew it got fed twice a day, and every morning at six, you walk out there in the dark, and she’d know you’re coming and run up right up to you waiting for that bottle.”
Patrick says he enjoys raising cattle. Not only is it another source of income, but it gives him something to do after hours behind a desk at work.
With sons Aaron, 16, Chase, 14, and Tyler, 11, going to college in quick succession, the extra money will come in handy.
“I get something to do every day,” he said. “We do get some extra income, and we’re going to have three kids going to college here not too shortly, but we have a 16-year-old, so we’re trying to save for college.
“We’re splitting wood and selling cattle and doing what we can to pay for some of that.”
But most of all, Patrick enjoys the farm life.
“I’d love to fool with cattle full time, but I make my money at the state so I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing.”