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Macon memories

Lafayette’s Darrel Law and sons Clint and Brad have steadily built their cattle and tobacco farms into a larger enterprise
Story and photos by Chris Villines 3/23/2017

 

A group of hungry yearling heifers are happy it’s feeding time at 4L Farms in Lafayette.
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Anyone who’s had his or her own parent as a teacher can relate to what brothers Brad and Clint Law say it was like having their father, Darrel, at the helm of agriculture class at Macon County High School in Lafayette.

Brad graduated in 1994 and Clint in ’98, and both agree there were some seat-squirming moments associated with the family dynamic of having your father as your teacher.

“Sometimes, people would say embarrassing things out loud,” says Brad. “That made me a little uncomfortable.”

Darrel, who spent 30 years as a teacher and coach at MCHS before retiring in 2007, stresses that it was “a different period of time” for vocational ag when his sons were in the classroom. There was only one ag teacher at MCHS back then; today, there are three.

It’s a much more comfortable scenario these days for the Laws, who together operate their 1,100-acre beef cattle and tobacco business, 4L Farms, on multiple properties scattered throughout Macon County and neighboring Allen and Barren Counties in Kentucky. They’ve steadily built their enterprise from three acres of burley tobacco to 120 and 30 head of commercial cattle to a mixed commercial/registered herd that includes more than 300 cows and calves.

“We started out on 40 acres that my grandfather, Jim K. Jent, owned,” says Darrel, who lives on the Lafayette farm with Connie, his wife of 47 years. “He was just a small farmer who had some tobacco, a few cows, a sow, and a mule. His house sat right where one of our barns and shop are now. He’d strip tobacco on the front porch and watch baseball [on TV]. He loved baseball.”

It was through both his grandfather and father, Cillous, that Darrel developed a lifelong love of the cattle industry.

“Daddy worked for almost 60 years as a maintenance man in the apparel business, and he always had a few cattle, too,” Darrel says. “He loved the Angus breed. We purchased our first registered  Angus in the 1960s. I grew up showing them in 4-H, and Clint and Brad showed them when they were in school. Angus are still at the heart of what we do today.”

Clint, who also showed champion market lambs and hogs as a youngster, began farming fulltime straight out of high school. He serves as 4L’s farm manager while working side-by-side with Darrel and Brad. It’s a fluid family operation, says Clint, who professes that he knew at an early age that agriculture was his calling.

“All I wanted to do when I came home from school was work on the farm,” Clint says. “I’ve always liked all aspects of the cattle business. It’s more enjoyable to me than tobacco, but in my opinion you potentially stand to make the most money in certain years with tobacco.”

Brad admits that he took a bit of a different route before deciding to make the family ag venture his life’s work.

“I grew up playing sports and didn’t take much interest in farming, to be honest,” he says. “Then I ‘played’ college for a while and came back to farm with Clint after he graduated high school. I’ve learned a lot. I think people who can be successful at farming can be successful at anything.”

For the Laws’ cattle operation, Clint says that using Brangus bulls to breed to their primarily Angus-based herd results in a high-quality, highly marketable animal. Darrel and Cillous introduced Brangus into the herd in 1982, and these genetics have become important to the operation.

“We buy as good a herd sire as we can afford,” he explains. “We’ll put those bulls in with our Angus cows to make the straight, ultra-black calf. But we still have some Angus bulls that we use on our registered cows to produce more purebred Angus and keep that market going as well.”

Interest in the Laws’ ultra-black bulls, Darrel reports, has been high.

“Last year, we sold more of the ultra-black than we ever have, and I’ve already had one of the guys who I sold to last year ask if there were any more he could buy this year,” he says. “Most of our sales are by word-of-mouth or repeat customers.”

And, Clint adds, 4L’s reputation has been earned through their careful selection process come purchase time.

“A lot of times, daddy and I will look through a catalog and pick out the same bulls,” he says. “We know what we like. That makes a world of difference because what you pick stays with you. Cows are at least 50 percent of the equation but if you are keeping replacement heifers, that bull makes a lasting impact on your herd.”

The Laws also agree that their local Co-op, Macon-Trousdale Farmers Cooperative, is an indispensable partner in helping them be successful. Darrel is a past Macon-Trousdale director and also served briefly as an outside salesman for the Co-op during a short hiatus in his teaching career.

“We have a close, personal connection with the team at the Co-op, and that’s important to us,” says Darrel. “If it wasn’t for our local Co-op, we wouldn’t have a one-stop shop to get fuel, fertilizer, and a lot of the other things we need for the farm. All the items we’ve added through the Ag Enhancement Program were purchased through the Co-op, so we both benefit from that. They’re good folks who treat us like family.”

“The Co-op has spoiled me,” Brad confesses. “If I go somewhere else, I feel like the service isn’t as good because they don’t know me by name.”

It’s a relationship that works, much like the cohesiveness that’s existed among Darrel, Brad, and Clint since they’ve steadily built upon what prior generations began.

“Today, having a larger-scale farm is all about time management,” says Clint. “We have many important responsibilities, but we have to prioritize them with raising our families. Family comes first.”

 
 
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