By Alexe van Beuren
D.R. Ingram is a cattleman. This becomes apparent when I cross the two cattleguards between the road and his house; one to keep the cows off the street, and one to keep them off his porch and out of his garage.
We don’t spend too much time in his living room, as comfortable as it is. Instead, we hop in his truck, and Ingram takes me cruising – past a herd of prime black Angus that he has spent the last two decades developing.
Ingram’s father was a farmer who also ran a cotton gin and a farm supply store, so Ingram knew, from early on, that he’d be on the land for the rest of his life. Like other farmers, they raised cattle, but “commercially, not registered.”
After graduating from Mississippi State with a degree in Animal Science, Ingram spent two years in the Army at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and Fort Campbell in Kentucky before heading back to Mississippi “as fast as I could get back.”
Ingram and his wife, Linda (also a native Water Vallian and Ingram’s childhood sweetheart) set up house and settled into farming. For the next twenty-plus years, Ingram spent his time on row crops and Hereford cattle.
And then, in the 1990s, someone offered to buy Ingram’s entire herd.
Ingram consented gladly. “I was getting a little disenchanted with some things about the Hereford breed,” he tells me. “I thought Angus would make the most sense, and I certainly have never been sorry for switching.” So Ingram contacted a few Angus breeders he knew from his Mississippi State days and bought about twenty-five cows. “That was the nucleus of the herd,” he tells me.
I turn away from the view of field after field full of black cows and quite a few small black calves. “How many do you have now?” I ask.
“Total population?” Ingram keeps his hand on the steering wheel of the truck. “Seven to eight hundred.”
When I ask what it is precisely that Ingram does with all these cattle, he smiles. “Some people are always asking me what I do. Linda said, ‘why don’t you just tell them you’re a cowboy? It’s what you always wanted to be.”
Essentially, Ingram is a breeder. He raises beef cattle, but doesn’t sell them for beef; instead, he holds markets where others buy his cattle because they know that Ingram breeds for superior meat product. In addition, he has quite a few Angus bulls (which he buys from a farm in Virginia and one in Alabama) whom he uses both to improve his own herd and to sell straws for artificial insemination to other breeders.
We pull over in front of the bulls, and Ingram opens a gate so I can view his prize bull, a four-year-old who goes by the sentimental name of Thirty-one Eighteen (his tag number).
He is a massive animal. Ingram estimates his weight to be between twenty-two and twenty-four hundred pounds, and he is black, shiny, and completely unperturbed by my presence inside his pen.
After viewing the bulls, Ingram takes me to view some of this year’s calves. We drive around trees that shelter lazy mamas and their tiny offspring while Ingram tells me that the cows are bred in November, deliver in September, and then begin the whole process over again in two months. A fertile cow might produce a calf every year for fourteen years. This year, because of the August heat, the calves came about two weeks early, but their birthweights were still acceptable.
“We’re very particular about our birthweights,” Ingram says. When he says ‘we’, Ingram’s referring to himself and his son John, who returned to the farm right after graduating from Mississippi State (daughter Julie and her family also live on the family property). As soon as John came back, Ingram tells me he handed over the row crop operation to his son without any regrets at all.
“Deep down,” Ingram says, “I just never did like farming.”
When we pull back up to his house, a feed salesman is there. He praises Ingram, saying that he should tell me about being featured in Progressive Farmer and receiving numerous industry awards, but Ingram waves his hand in dismissal as he sits at his desk to write out a check for the minerals and protein supplements he buys in bulk. He doesn’t want to talk much about being on the boards of Mechanics Bank and the Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association, and says he “got shed” of most of his other civic involvements. Instead, D.R. Ingram wants to talk about his life-long love affair with raising cattle.
“It’s all I know,” Ingram says, leaning back and crossing his cowboy boots.