Showing cattle is family affair
HOOPESTON, Ill. (AP)--The Leemon Stock Farm has been in existence for 119 years, breeding Shorthorns, a few Maine Anjou cattle and a crossbreed of Angus and Shorthorn cattle for sale or show.
"We sell cattle, which is the object of having them,'' Chuck Leemon, the patriarch of the family, said in an interview earlier this year, "and started showing them in 1911.'' He died Aug. 1.
John Leemon, Chuck's grandfather, arrived in this country from Ireland early in the 19th century. He served his new country during the War of 1812 as a sergeant in Capt. Pritchett's Company 4th Virginia Regiment. For this service, he received a bounty land warrant for 80 acres signed by President Franklin Pierce.
John Leemon received his warrant and came to Illinois for land. The original warrant is proudly displayed in a frame on the wall of the elder Leemon's home.
John Leemon arrived in this area about 1854, 17 years before Hoopeston's existence.
He spent a few years working in Jerseyville and Taylorville, then for Thomas Hoopes until he purchased his own farm.
The "History of Vermilion County'' stated: "John Leemon came to this county in 1857, locating on a 444-acre farm of unimproved land near Mr. (Thomas) Hoopes in the northern part of Vermilion County. He lived here alone, improving his farm and boarding at Mr. Hoopes.'''
"Originally he (John Leemon) settled across the line in Iroquois County at Fountain Creek,'' Chuck Leemon has said. "He got this place in 1890. It sure wasn't easy then.
"He had no house, barns or fence around the property. Plowing was terrible with prairie grass as high as a horse. The land was wet and swampy and they had to tile it (to remove the water). Everything was done by hand.''
Chuck Leemon started working on the farm in 1938 and traveling with his Uncle John at age 11, riding the rails during the next four years. Each competitor rented a boxcar for the summer during the season and traveled and lived on the cars with their cows. Leemon later rode the boxcars by himself to show cattle.
"When your car pulled up, you had to be ready to board, otherwise the train left you,'' Leemon has said. "I rode more in the boxcars than I ever did a tractor.
"You ate what you had until you got to the next stop. There were no stops along the way. No fast food places.''
Although some bulls became show animals, most were females because they were easier to work with.
Show cattle are fed a special feed, kept brushed, clipped, and washed every day. They are also kept in air-conditioned barns.
"(Cows) are very well-cared for. Lots of TLC,'' said Leemon's wife, Elaine. "Lots of time and money spent on show cattle.''
The bull that made the farm what it is today, according to the family, can be attributed to a white shorthorn by the name of LSF Cer. Sutton. He was grand champion five times at the International Livestock Show in the Chicago stockyards and 44 times at the Illinois State Fair.
Cer. Sutton, the breeding bull for the farm until he died at age 11 years, had part of his hide made into a pair of work gloves, which has since been framed, along with a photo which hangs on the living room wall of the elder Leemon's home.
After Leemon's retirement, son, Scott, his wife, Janet, and grandsons Cody, Clint and Wes now run the farm. Leemon still dabbled in the business until his death last summer.
Janet Jordan, an experienced hand when it comes to working with cattle, and Scott, the fourth generation to run the Leemon Stock Farm, met while showing steers at one of the fairs. Janet was a competitor in the show ring and both served on the National Junior Shorthorn Association board.
Along with raising kids and cattle, Scott and Janet farm about 2,500 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, and hay. Scott farms 1,500 acres of land around Hoopeston and 1,000 acres in Rensselear for the Jordan family.
The Leemon Stock Farm is very definitely a family affair, Elaine said.
The Leemon family shows at least 10 times a year, sometimes more. Their two biggest shows are the North American International Livestock Exposition in November of each year in Louisville, Ky., and the National Western Stock Show which takes place in January in Denver, Colo.
It takes at least an hour to prepare an animal to show at a fair, according to Scott Leemon. But it takes longer to get an animal ready to be shown.
"It takes countless hours,'' Scott said. "Some (cattle) from last summer, we work with daily to get ready for (this) summer.''
Scott and Cody are the best at clipping and getting the animal ready. When done, Janet and Clint take the animal to the show ring, and Wes shows the animal.
Elaine said all the children and grandchildren were in 4-H, adding, "It gives the kids lots of experience working in front of people, especially to go out and show an animal.''