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Content in the country

Blind date leads Greg and Donna Hutson to idyllic rural life together
Story and photos by Chris Villines 6/28/2018


A group of inquisitive heifers inch toward Greg Hutson as he prepares to give them Co-op feed. Greg and wife Donna have some 200 head of commercial beef cattle.
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There’s rarely any middle ground with a blind date. Either it (A) goes swimmingly or (B) becomes a night both participants would like to erase from memory.

Put Sparta beef cattle producers Greg and Donna Hutson squarely in category A.

It was 1985, two years after Greg had graduated from White County High School and Donna (Ashburn) from DeKalb County High, when the two first met, accompanying a friend of Greg’s and the friend’s date to a monster truck show in Nashville.

“I said I didn’t want a boyfriend and that he was too quiet,” Donna says with a giggle as she recollects the night. “Well, here we are 33 years later!”

Three years after that initial date — Donna jokes about giving Greg “three years to run the other way” — the couple married in 1988. Greg, a self-employed bricklayer, performed all of the brick work on the comfortable home in rural White County the couple built and moved into in 1991. The home and accompanying farmland are on 40 acres that once belonged to Greg’s grandparents.

“I would lay brick on the job all day, get home around 5:30, and then brick our house until about 11:00 at night,” Greg says of the building process. “Then I’d go to bed, get back up at 4:00 in the morning, and do it all over again. It was rough on me there for a while.”

But Greg adds that the short-term pain was worth the long-term gain. In the same year he and Donna built the house, he began his solo bricklaying business after having worked for a local contractor in Nashville for seven years.

“I’ve always enjoyed pulling up on a job where there’s nothing but a bunch of brick and turning it into something over four or five days,” he says, noting that about 90 percent of his jobs are within White County. “I try to do everybody right. I think that falls back on you and helps you in the long run. I’ve never wanted for work, and for that I’ve been blessed.”

As his full-time career took off, Greg also started steadily building his commercial beef cow/calf operation. Between their home property, another 45 acres across the road, and four other farms, the Hutsons own some 120 acres where they currently run around 125 mama cows and another 80 heifers and calves with both Angus and Brangus traits.

“Right after I graduated high school, I bought my first six heifers from my uncle, Clarence Tays,” says Greg, who as a high schooler was in FFA and raised about ½-acre of tobacco. “They were Brangus. I like that breed pretty well, but they don’t sell that well in this area. If you take them down South, they sell better.

“Those Brangus got me started raising cattle, and I’ve loved it ever since. I don’t know what I would do without them — the business has its ups and downs, but it tickles me to death to see a group of bred heifers that you have raised.”

Donna, who grew up in a farming family, has been Greg’s “right arm” with the cattle operation from the start in addition to tending to her own career. She spent 18 years at Wagner Lighting in Sparta, and since 2006 has worked at White County Farmers Cooperative, where she works at the fuel station. Given the convenience, it’s not surprising that the Hutsons purchase “everything pertaining to the farm” from the Co-op.

“It’s just part of our way of life to work during the day and check on the cattle at night,” says Donna, who also grows a raised garden of tomatoes, peppers, and squash in the summer. “We’ve got good neighbors, too. It’s a community effort with our cattle!”

One of those neighbors, Carolyn Murphy, is a retiree from the Tennessee Department of Human Services and a self-professed “animal lover.” Besides her interest in the cattle, Carolyn is also an occasional “babysitter” for the Hutsons’ “child,” their 2-year-old Australian Shepherd, Buster.

“She’s been real good to us,” says Greg. “I’ve got a group of heifers in a field that runs around three sides of her house, and she’s practically raised them. She loves to feed them and watches them closely. One time, a tree fell across the fence behind her house and some of the heifers got out. She just took a bucket filled with feed and walked those heifers back into the field. You can’t ask for a better neighbor than that.”

“We tease Carolyn that she’s Greg’s farm hand,” laughs Donna.

At 52, Greg says he hopes the next few years involve gradually scaling down his brick work and spending more time around the farm.

“When you’re young, you think you’re Superman,” he says. “Now, all those years of laying brick by myself are starting to catch up with me. I know some guys who are still laying brick in their 70s, but I hope I don’t have to. I’d be content to concentrate on the cattle.”

In addition to the cattle operation, the Hutsons, both of whom profess to be homebodies, also have the perfect “staycation” getaway: a rustic cabin at the back of their property that overlooks a pond fully stocked with catfish.

“On some Friday or Saturday nights, we’ll go down to the cabin with some food and just sit on the porch in the peace and quiet,” Donna says. “We’ll listen to the bullfrogs raise Cain. It’s pretty neat.”

It’s a tranquil, unrushed way of winding down after a busy work week, one that’s just a short side-by-side ride away.

“There’s no place like home,” Greg says. “We’ve got everything we need right here.”

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