There is no question that through the years the emphasis on agriculture in our society has given way to a more urban culture and the family farm has become somewhat of a rarity. More and more young people are leaving the family farm in search of bigger and better things in corporate America.
But Kevin and Lydia Yon, owners of Yon Family Farms, are the exception rather than the rule. Despite those naysayers telling them that there was no way anybody could start a farm without inheriting one, the Yons bought 100 acres in west central South Carolina eight years ago and started the process of building one of the most impressive Angus operations in the country. Today, Yon Family Farms in Ridge Spring, S.C. is home to over 350 Angus females plus a commercial cow herd that numbers around 250. “Lydia and I are probably two of the hardest-headed people you'll meet,” Kevin explained in a June/July 2000 Angus Journal article. “I've heard all of my life you just can't start farming. I've never ever wanted to do anything but farm. Never, ever.”
Kevin and Lydia met while they were both attending Clemson University. When Kevin graduated in 1988 he began managing Congaree Angus Farm outside Columbia, S.C. When Lydia received her degree in 1989 they married and she joined Kevin at Congaree where they became managing partners. When the owners of Congaree decided to disperse, the Yons began looking for an area where they could start their own operation and raise a family. They settled on Ridge Spring for several reasons, including location, availability of farm land and above all the reception and support they received from the people of Saluda County, S.C., an area that is still deeply dedicated to and dependent on animal agriculture. By accepting cows as part of their salary, they had already put together a herd of about 20 cows. They purchased 80 more and these cattle became the foundation on which the Yon herd was built.
During their time at Congaree the Yons started their family, which now includes three children who have become an integral part of the Yon Family Farm operation. Sally, 14, Drake, 12, and Corbin, 10, were introduced to farm life from birth. In the Angus Journal article, Lydia explains how they managed the farm and the children in the early days.
“We were fortunate that the people who owned Congaree were agreeable to them being with us. All three of them went to the barn with us from the start,” Lydia says. “I've got pictures of them in the baby seat in the feed cart.” Whoever got the cab tractor also got the baby and the baby seat. An empty cattle pen housed the playpen.
Today all three of the Yon children have become “number one hands” on the farm, and as they have gotten older, their responsibilities have grown as well. The Yon children are part of the crew and help with all phases of the operation, including helping with checking heat, feeding and working calves. They also help in the summer by raking hay, and are paid for all of their hard work. More recently they all have participated in a loan program for youth provided by the Farm Service Agency. The children have borrowed money to purchase their show heifers and build their own herds through the program. “As they pay these loans back the children are learning real world responsibilities through the farm,” Lydia explains.
In the Angus Journal article, Kevin says having the kids with them on the day-to-day operation of the farm adds another level to their enjoyment of it and helps soften the not-so-good times. He says, “things like the satisfaction of planting a seed, watching it grow, and harvesting it; watching a baby calf – not only do we get to enjoy it, but they do, too.
“They see that cows do die. Some calves come alive and beautiful, and some come dead. They understand that a dead one is one less to sell. And they understand what happens when it doesn't rain. Sometimes they have a better perspective than we do.”
“Even if they don't go into agriculture, they can take the lessons they learned on the farm and apply them anywhere,” Lydia says. “Whether all three of them want to be rocket scientists or computer engineers, or choose to do this, we're convinced there isn't a better place to raise children.”
The children truly have excellent role models in their parents who have taken their team approach to the next level and established themselves locally and in Angus circles with some of the most popular genetics in the country. Their commitment to the industry is apparent by their involvement in both local and national organizations including the South Carolina Cattlemen's Assoc., NCBA, the South Carolina Angus Association, the American Angus Association and Kevin was recently elected to the board of directors of the Beef Improvement Federation. The Yon children are also active in 4-H, as well as the South Carolina Junior Angus Association and the American Angus Junior Association.
They also bring large crowds of bull buyers to Saluda County twice each year. On the third Saturday in February, the Yons hosted their 15th Annual Performance Bull Sale on the farm where 112 yearling Angus bulls averaged $2,942. Buyers came from eight states, with the majority of the bulls staying within a 250 mile radius. Over 64 percent of the bulls sold to repeat buyers from the Yon performance program, with 18 of the top 25 selling bulls going to repeat customers. “We feel like we are doing something right since we do have so many repeat customers,” Lydia explains. “That is important to us. We try to stay in contact with all of our customers…if they have concerns we want them to let us know.”
“Everything we do revolves around producing commercial bulls for the commercial producers,” she continues. “Our number one priority is to produce bulls that will work in the real world and ultimately put a great steak in the grocery store.”
Last year the Yons made a major marketing decision that added a fall sale on the first Saturday in November in order to accommodate bull buyers who were looking for two-year-old bulls.
“We had only sold long yearlings in our production sale,” Lydia explains, “but we realized there was a demand out there for two-year-olds, as well. So we held some bulls and put them in a fall sale. We were pleasantly surprised to find that we were dealing with a whole new set of customers and meeting the demand for a whole new market.” They also decided to offer some females for the first time in their fall sale, and were extremely satisfied with the results. According to Saluda county agent and friend Phil Perry, the Yon's continued commitment to the industry has not only put the Yon program in the forefront, but has also in his words, “raised the bar in Saluda county.”
“Kevin and Lydia are so committed to this industry,” Perry, who was there to help from the beginning when the first cattle stepped off the trailer eight years ago, says. “They have encouraged everyone else around here to do better, because they do such a good job….We are working together more than we ever have in this area.”
Obviously, the Yon's family-first team approach is paying off in a big way, and they are definitely proving those who said there was no way they could build a family farm from the ground up wrong. With hard work and family values they have also proven that there is still no better place to raise their children than on the farm, establishing values that will stay with them, no matter what course they choose in life. Kevin explained the Yon's ultimate goal five years ago in the Angus Journal, and it still holds true today.
“I want to leave a legacy to the children,” he said, “not of a lot of land or nice things, but we want people to say we had a good program, good cattle, took good care of the land, were honest, and contributed to the community and industry.”