Following in his father’s, John F. Kirk, Jr.’s footsteps, who won the award 40 plus years ago, the John F. Kirk, III family has been named the 2016 Farm Family of the Year by the Nacogdoches Agriculture Committee.
The eldest of three children, John Kirk grew up on his parent’s John and Elsie Kirk’s dairy farm in eastern Nacogdoches County with a brother, David Kirk and a sister, Carrie Annette Kenner. Life on the dairy farm was hard work, milking up to three hundred cows twice per day. While attending Nacogdoches High School, John was active in 4-H and FFA. When asked what being in these organizations taught him, he answered “Well, I didn’t like the lesson, but it taught me to work real hard.” John attended Stephen F. Austin State University and studied Agriculture and in the fall of 1980, just before graduating with a Degree in Animal Science, he accepted a position as the Beef Farm Manager for S.F.A.S.U. This job was the beginning for his new family, as John married his wife of 36 years Cathy Kojis, a Texas City girl, on August 1, 1980.
In April of 1981, John and Cathy began a new venture. They developed three commercial acre catfish ponds on John’s parent’s property. Their business, East- Tex Fisheries, sold catfish fingerlings to individuals throughout the County and East Texas areas. John developed a close relationship with Lone Star Feeds, who worked with him to develop a feed ration specific to grow out the catfish for production. This led to the first Commercial Catfish business in the area.
During the spring of 1982, the Kirks purchased a poultry farm and ninety three acres adjacent to the family property. John likes to joke that it was Cathy’s purchase. They grew broilers from 1982 until 2008. According to Cathy, “I had my hands full raising catfish, chickens, cows and kids.”
Early on in 1980, the earliest known artificial insemination business in East Texas started by his dad, John Kirk, Jr. in 1964 and operated by him for over 16 years was passed down to John, III where he expanded that business by signing on as a service representative for American Breeders Service in early fall of 1981. John’s A. I. sales and service business is alive and well today and holds National Recognition for sales of 150,000 plus units with ABS. As John puts it, “the business was built one customer at a time, with us learning as much from our customers as they do from us.” Around that same time, John traded his dairy cow herd to keep it in the family dairy production for the cross bred beef cattle on the dairy. Realizing the need to produce larger income on limited acreage, John quickly began A. I. breeding registered cattle of higher value. He bought a small herd of Registered Angus cattle bred to Chianina bulls. Their offspring were sold as show steers and replacement heifers.
Learning that the desired characteristics for show steers were constantly changing, the family eventually decided to strictly breed for registered Angus cattle. They received their Registered Angus membership number in 1983 and are ranked as one of the oldest standing Angus herds in East Texas. Today, many registered cattle operations are a hobby for people who have income from other sources. This is not the case for the Kirk family. Their cattle operation was built cow by cow and stands alone as an income producing enterprise for the family.
The small farm has helped raise four successful children, all who have worked on, helped build and know the ins and outs of the farm operation. John and Cathy’s oldest a daughter, Stonie Kirk graduated 2003 from Texas A&M with an Animal Science Degree and works for Texas Farm Credit in Nacogdoches and manages the herd breeding, calving and production records for the farm. They have three sons; John, IV who graduated from Stephen F. Austin 2011 with a degree in Business Administration, married to Charlsey Mackey Kirk and works for the in laws learning the business of M&M Sales in Timpson; Drew married to Emjay Jones Kirk manages all of the daily operations, cattle records and sales for the family farm and C.J. upon graduating from Stephen F. Austin 2012 with a degree in Agricultural Science, has been employed as an engineer for Haliburton and continues to help feed, hay and work the herd in his spare time.
The Kirks have been steadfastly dedicated to agriculture for the past forty years. Their passion to learn new things, improve the Angus breed, and diversify operations has allowed them to grow and become successful agriculturalists in Nacogdoches County.
John and Cathy give the credit for their success first and foremost to the Big Man Upstairs, the unwavering support of their families and hard work. It was the family that helped them grow their business and through thoughtful stewardship, they look forward to passing it along to future generations.
The Nacogdoches County Agriculture Committee will honor the Kirk Family as Farm Family of the Year at the Agriculture Appreciation & Awareness Banquet on Monday, April 11 at the Nacogdoches County Exposition & Civic Center. The award is sponsored by TIPTON Ford Lincoln. Gary and Sue Atkins Agricultural Scholarship Awards will also be presented to Nacogdoches County students
Banquet tables and tickets are available. Contact the Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce at 936-560-5533 for details. The event begins at 6 p.m., dinner sponsored by Mast Cattle & Timber Investments begins at 6:30 p.m., and the program with keynote speaker Roy O. Martin III of Roy O. Martin Lumber Company is at 7 p.m.