Richard Porter

When Richard Porter, Reading, Kansas, once complained about the price of corn, his dad, Walter Porter, gave him some advice: If the market value of corn is 10 cents a bushel, then you better find a way to produce it for 9 cents or don’t grow corn. Porter took his advice and applied it to his stocker cattle business and farm. (Journal photo by Doug Rich.)

Richard Porter, Reading, Kansas, has been described as frugal. He’s also been described as a philanthropist. Those two attributes don’t always match up, but they fit perfectly into Porter’s philosophy for business and his philosophy for life.

Porter would describe himself as being cost-effective rather than frugal, though.

“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 a great use of their resources. Cheap means failing to spend a dollar that would give a positive return.”

With degrees in chemical engineering and law, Porter had a variety of options when it came to what he could do with his life. In 1979, he chose to return to the family stocker cattle business in Lyon County. This was right at the end of agriculture’s roaring 70s, and the beginning of an out and out depression in agriculture during the 1980s.

“Looking back I think this was the best thing that could ever have happened to me because 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.”

“Today is a similar time for those in crop production,” Porter said. “I am sorry they currently have very low income, but they have an opportunity to learn what really makes economic sense.”

What makes economic sense for Porter is bringing in lightweight (350-pound average) calves from the southeast. Most are bulls, have never had a shot and are from the lower end of the price range.

“Our main operation is to receive about 8,000 head of these calves every year,” Porter said. “We took everything to finish weight here at home but when they closed the Tyson plant at Emporia, we switched to selling them as feeder calves averaging around 850 pounds.”

There are no silver bullets for handling these high-risk calves, but one thing that has been beneficial for Porter is the ability to get them out on grass as soon as possible. Porter has 16 grass traps with 300 feet of bunk space and 10 to 15 acres of grass in each trap. Each one of these grass traps can hold up to one semi-truck load of cattle.

“We are trying to combine the best parts of completely locking them up and having them on grass fulltime,” Porter said.

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 on to larger native bluestem or brome/fescue pastures where their grass diet is supplemented with wet distillers grains at about 0.6 percent of body weight.

“This allows us to buy calves almost year round and not have to buy them all in the spring to be turned out on May 1,” Porter said.

Porter prefers to have long-term business relationships with the buyers and vendors he works with and his employees. Many of these relationships have lasted for more than two decades. Long-term relationships are a huge advantage because you build a long-term trusting relationship so you don’t have to keep explaining things or closely monitor others.

“Being frugal and making the money count does not mean trying to minimize the other side of the transaction,” Porter said. “It is actually maximizing the return for the other side so they in turn will try to maximize the return to me.”

This approach to business has worked for Porter and makes it possible for him to give back to his community.

“This is what makes all of the hard work worthwhile,” Porter said. “To help good projects go ahead and occur.”

Porter believes his parents would have done more giving had they not been trying to transition the family business to him.

“I think I am fulfilling what my parents would have liked for me to do,” Porter said. “Helping great things happen whether that is at K-State, here in Lyon County or projects nationwide.”

Some of the donations are given in memory of someone close to him that has passed away. Porter thinks this is a terrific way to honor that person, the money goes to something great and it is an efficient way to make a donation.

Porter said he has the opportunity to give back thanks to the efforts of his long-term employees, the people he does business with and a long list of others who have helped him through the years. He makes these donations on their behalf, as well.

“I did not do it all by myself,” Porter said.

Doug Rich can be reached at 785-749-5304 or drich@hpj.com.

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