Loyal, humble entrepreneur, Lyon County cattleman to present Prairie Talk

First impression from a distance or even passing conversation, one gets little inkling of Rich Porter’s diverse generous life. Certainly the humble cattleman from Reading won’t readily reveal all he’s done and continues to do for so many.

Yet, listeners will be all ears when always soft spoken Porter presents a Prairie Talk at Pioneer Bluffs July 6.

“We’re pleased Rich Porter will share his most unique life’s story Saturday afternoon at 1:30,” said Lynn Smith.

Gentleman cattleman Rich Porter.

Executive director of the historic ranch near Matfield Green, Kan., Smith welcomed everyone to the free educational, entertaining program.

“Rich Porter is loyal to his workers, suppliers, alliances, and especially, to the community,” Smith acknowledged.

“An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness,” Porter said. “Do unto others better than you would have them do unto you. If they don’t respond in kind, merely walk away, but don’t retaliate.”

Porter’s education began with a 1972 bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Kansas State University, in Manhattan. He then pursued a law degree at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

While in law school, Porter worked for the Environmental Protection Agency enforcement division. After graduating from law school in 1975, he was employed by Bethlehem Steel in air pollution control four years.

With diverse career opportunities, Porter returned to his family’s cattle backgrounding and farming operations near Miller, in Lyon County.

Forever eager to learn, Porter was in the inaugural class of the K-State Agricultural Economics’ Master in Agribusiness program in 1998. His thesis on economies of scale in finishing cattle is now put to use at Porter Cattle Company.

Each year, Porter purchases about 7,000 high-risk calves, and grows them from 350 pounds to 850 pounds. The operation also includes 2,600 acres of corn and soybeans.

Successful business must be credited to Porter’s strong values of loyalty and simple lessons learned in life.

He never forgets the advice from his dad Walter Porter: “If corn is 10 cents a bushel, then you better find a way to produce it for 9 cents. Or don’t grow corn.”

Porter works for a most efficient operation, “There is a total distinction between trying to be cost effective and being cheap,” Porter said. “Cost effective means only spending a dollar when it will return more than a dollar. This is true for inputs for our ranch or when giving to charities that make great use of their resources.

“Cheap means failing to spend a dollar that would give a positive return,” he pointed out.

Porter returned to the family farm in 1979, at the end of agriculture’s roaring ‘70s. It was the beginning of the agriculture depression during the 1980s.

“Looking back I think this was the best thing that could ever have happened. It forced me to find ways to do things efficiently,” Porter said. “It was really a terrific opportunity, though I did not think so at the time.

“Our main operation is to receive southeastern, lightweight, lower priced, mostly bull calves,” Porter explained. “We used to take everything to finish weight. But when they closed the Tyson plant at Emporia, we switched to selling feeders at about 850 pounds.”

It’s beneficial to get the calves on grass as soon as possible, he said.  There are 16 grass traps with 300 feet of bunk space and 10 to 15 acres of grass in each trap. Each one of the grass traps can handle up to one semi-truck load of cattle.

Typically, calves are locked in the smaller pen with the feed bunks for three hours a day for feeding and observation. The rest of the time they have access to the grass trap.

Eventually the calves are turned out to larger native bluestem or tame grass pastures and supplemented with limited concentrate.

“This allows us to buy calves almost year round. We don’t have to buy everything in the spring to be turned out May 1,” Porter said.

Strong supporter of worthwhile efforts, Porter stepped forward in donation development of the K-State Livestock Marketing and Learning Center. It was named after the late Stanley Stout, well-known auctioneer and loyal K-Stater.

“I wanted to do something that would make a real difference at K-State,” Porter said. “It helps to better serve the faculty and students there who are doing so much good for society.”

Among his recognitions, Porter received a National Stocker Award from Beef Magazine and a KSU Ag Economics Distinguished Alumni Award. He has conducted numerous cattle research trials with K-State.

“Success, when interacting with people, is simple,” he said, using the analogy of a world champion high jumper. “When the jumper was asked the secret to his success, he said he merely throws his heart over the bar. The rest of his body follows.”

After Porter’s Prairie Talk will be an ice cream social at about 2:30 p.m., as a Pioneer Bluff’s fundraiser benefit.

Pioneer Bluffs, located 14 miles south of Cottonwood Falls, is a nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve ranching heritage of the Flint Hills. Information is available from Smith at 620-753-3484 or email [email protected].


030615-franksmug2Frank J. Buchman is a lifelong rancher from Alta Vista, Kan., lifetime newspaper writer, syndicated national ag writer and radio marketing consultant.


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