By Josh Shepherd, News writer
In a sterling illustration of why its often best to keep things simple, Chester McCauley’s acceptance speech for the 2013 Farmer of the Year award from the Cynthiana-Harrison County Chamber of Commerce consisted only of an appreciative “Thank you.”
At his Salem Pike home on a Thursday morning in April, he offered a plain explanation for his response. “My children said it all. There was nothing else to add,” he said.
His speech also revealed a keen sense of humor, an aspect of his personality that Chester evidently passed on to his children. All three, Christy McCauley Kinney, Åmanda McCauley Thornberry, and Stephen McCauley, related a series of “You know you’re a farmer if...” jokes before presenting him the Chamber award.
They were even funnier to Chester and Rose McCauley because every joke was true.
“You know you’re a farmer when there are more replacement parts than original parts on your machines. I’d say that one was pretty accurate,” McCauley said.
McCauley credits the family sense of humor to long hours spent with his kids in the stripping room back in his tobacco farming days.
“It’s not so much humor as it is stripping room philosophy. It’s the best way I know to kill all those long hours,” McCauley said.
His skill with small engines and mechanical repair is a factor in his success as a full-time farmer. In a business where cost-control is critical, keeping equipment repaired with spare parts is a valuable skill.
“He’s always been good at keeping stuff working,” Rose commented.
His mechanical skills were certainly valued by the United States Air Force. The only point in his life when he wasn’t farming was from 1969 - 73, which he spent as a weapons mechanic in the Air Force.
“Near as I can tell, a mechanic’s job in the air force was just to load bombs,” McCauley said.
Once his military obligation was complete, he immediately returned to his first loves - his wife and his farm.
Chester McCauley estimates that he’s been a full-time farmer for nearly 41 years and counting. That estimate, however, doesn’t take into account his years working as a hand on his father’s farm.
It’s safe to say that Chester McCauley has been a farmer his entire life. It is a job he has clearly loved to do.
He acquired his first farm at age 16. It was a plot of about 67 undeveloped acres along Salem Pike and his father had to co-sign the note on account of Chester’s age.
But it wasn’t long afterward that he proved that farming was a job for which he was uniquely suited.
He paid off the note on that farm and gradually expanded his operations over the next four decades. Now he oversees approximately 400 acres of farmland in his small area of Harrison County.
In the meantime, he and his wife raised three children who have gone on to professional careers in education and dentistry. But all three have also kept a hand in farming as well.
These days, though, it’s difficult to make the decision to be a farmer full-time. Even the McCauleys have delved into being landlords over a few rental properties as a way to diversify their income.
But Chester’s first love is farming and he has been flexible, and smart enough, to change with the times.
As with most Kentucky farmers, McCauley began as a tobacco farmer. But when the settlement time came up and the returns on investment were diminishing, he recognized that he needed to change gears.
Using the phase money available through the tobacco buyout, McCauley went into raising beef cattle at a moderate level.
Now that he has been in this market for awhile, he said he doesn’t miss working in tobacco.
“It just got too hard to find help every year. Especially when my kids grew up. Tobacco is time consuming and needs plenty of hands. Even if the market had not changed as it did, it wasn’t worth it to stay in,” McCauley said.
McCauley estimates that he has about 70 cows on his farm. Remarkably, especially to those unfamiliar with raising beef cattle, his herd came through one of the coldest recorded winters with just one lost calf. For those not familiar with raising livestock, it’s easy to assume that sustained subzero temperatures would have wiped out herds.
“My livestock has a harder time with the typical wet Kentucky winters and the temperatures above the freezing mark,” he said. Beef cattle has been hurt worst in the west where drought conditions are decimating herd populations.
With regard to cattle raising, McCauley said that he would like to see Kentucky develop feed lots for the cattle farmers. He observed how well that system works with California beef producers and it’s a niche market that might work well in Kentucky, too.
McCauley is also keeping an eye out for other opportunities in Kentucky. He seems far from willing to ever retire completely from the work that has defined his life.
People talk about work that makes their mark on the world. McCauley points to the land he has cleared, the structures and buildings, and the ponds and lakes he has installed for his farm and for other farms nearby.
In terms of his personal calling, McCauley’s farm work has made an indelible mark on his part of the world.