Back in 1927 coming from the completely flat and almost treeless plains of Hoopeston, Illinois, Clark Sennett’s grandparents, Clarence and Blanche, first saw the soft rolling grasslands interspersed with woodland outcroppings that now make up the holdings of Sennett Cattle Company near Waynetown. Could it be that they found their future farm, one that now spans five generation, a welcome change of scenery or just the new opportunity they sought? Whatever their reasons, the roots they set have been well care for by Merle and Izetta Sennett, and now Clark and Nancy Sennett, who along with their son Lance and his wife Margaret, are the current keepers of the family legacy. Truly many children and cows have been raised up on this property. Clark raised his son and daughter Jill (now married to a farmer and cattle producer and living in nearby Wingate) here, and Lance raises his two children, Ellie and Emily on the farm.
Clark Sennett is a full-time farmer and cattleman who has seen the ups and downs of the livestock business and, through determination and strong work ethic, has continued to prosper on his land. In fact, many farmers of Clark’s generation have decided to forgo animals and have gone strictly to raising crops. Clark, raised with beef, hogs, and dairy as a youngster, thinks differently. “We feel livestock adds to our income, and it takes up the slack during the times when we’re not busy in the field,” he began. Then he thoughtfully added; “It also creates the opportunity for future generations to come back.” Lance Sennett is an example of future generations coming back to the farm due to the influence of livestock. “Lance went to Western Kentucky (University), then he chose to raise cattle and farm,” Clark says of his son’s time at college.
The operation today consists of crops (corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, and alfalfa) and also boasts some 250 cows. The Sennetts contract feed hogs, as well, which means they do not own the hogs, they are simply paid to conduct labor and grow the pigs housed in their buildings. The cattle operation is focused heavily on the Limosin and Angus breeds and the resulting cross between the two called Limflex. By combining two distinctly different breeds, Limflex cattke can be black or a russet red color and are known for the characteristics of both maternal ability and good carcass merit such as leanness and marbling. The Sennetts market all of their cattle private treaty, meaning that buyers come to their farm and select bulls and females for purchase father than the Sennetts consigning their cattle to sales or other venues. One market they see a demand for is yearling bulls. “Believe it or not, we could sell a lot more than we do, but we sell about 20 – 25 bulls a year,” Clark explains to his strategy.
Besides raising calves and selling breeding stock, the Sennetts see many animals through to their end point as they operate one of the largest feed lots in Indiana. Around 1,500 – 2,000 head of cattle are fed out each year between two sites. Keeping current on both maternal and carcass traits keeps Clark and Lance at the top of their game. The family also exhibits cattle. “Lance really looks after the showing,” Clark proudly adds, “He had Reserve Grand Champion Limflex Female at Denver this year!”
Winning at a big show is supremely important for merchandising stock from breeder to breeder and national-level shows allow breeders to see and evaluate animals from all over the country. However, while the show ring helps promote a farm’s animals among fellow breeders, it is putting a quality beef product out to the consumer that occupies much of Clark’s time. For the past 12 years, Clark has served in some capacity with the Indiana Beef Cattleman’s Association (IBCA), a 1,500-member group serving Indiana’s beef producers. He is a Past President of the IBCA and is currently membership chairman. Clark is also nationally as well and serves as a Director on the National Cattkeman’s Beef Association. Lance is also heavily involved in industry work and is currently on the national board for the North American Limosin Foundation. While both Sennetts enjoy these commitments, it takes a lot of time away from the farm. “When you believe in something, you do it,” says Clark of his dedication to industry involvement through time and travel. “It’s a belief that you’re helping not just the present but the future and you can manage your way around the time.” While it is difficult to allocate the time, Clark is proponent of all producers taking every opportunity to not only educate consumers about beef, but also help allay consumers’ concerns about meat, animal welfare, and the environment. “Every time we get a chance, we need to get involved and provide a positive (experience) to the public.”
Though always involved in consumer education, recently the IBCA has reached out to include a website where producers can access (by zip code or county) beef producers that retail product directly off the farm; the Sennetts are one of the beef producers listed on this site. The site is located at: www.farmfreshbeef.org. Clark has also aided in the creation of Heartland Premium Aged Beef (www.heartlandbeefonline.com) a consortium of Indiana producers that supply beef directly to retail outlets and restaurants. Marketing directly to the consumer is something new for many beef producers, but Clark believes that consumers’ surging interest in local foods is important. “It’s good to know where your food is raised and to buy locally grown,” Clark explains. “Knowing where your food comes from gives you satisfaction,” he adds. As consumers continue to drive an increased interest in all things local, Clark feels that is a benefit for both consumers and producers. “This will add value to our product and when consumers understand where their beef, or any food comes from, they’ll just feel more secure,” he says confidently. “In general it’s good for both entitles.”
When generations occupy the same land for years and years, true stewardship becomes evident. That is why Clark feels so strongly that urban dwellers and beef consumers realize that livestock producers want what is best for the environment. “We are stewards of the land and take very good care of it; we want people to know that we’re honest, hard working people that care for the environment as much as anyone,” Clark says. What many people may not realize is that keeping land in grass for use in grazing and hay production is sustainable agriculture. “Grass and hay production is friendlier to the soil and keeps the soil from eroding. It’s a good management practice to rotate hay and grass into production.” While the Sennetts have quite a bit of grass and pasture, they still move cattle around to allow the land to rest and naturally grow back. This is called rotational grazing and is employed by most cattle producers.
No matter the work of the weather, the actual opportunity to live on the farm is something that seems to universally be held in high regard among beef producers. Clark Sennett is no different. “Naturally our values are faith, family, and work - and teaching the younger generation that. Working on the farm, making it your career, it’s an every day event for making that happen; and we feel very fortunate to be in that situation.” Future generations are already beginning to enjoy their life on the farm as Lance’s two daughters have begun to work with the calves. “They’re six and eight, and the eight-year-old is showing at national shows already,” Clark chuckles fondly. “They seem to be really interested in the farm.”
As they say, what goes around comes around; then again it is all just part of the cycle of the seasons when you live on a farm.
Listen to Clark Sennett