Led by CALS grads (and eldest sisters) Brooke and Catherine, the five Harward sisters have already learned the keys to running their own business.
It all started with a cow named Blackbird. BB for short.
Ten-year-old Catherine Harward showed BB at a county fair in the fall of 2005 – her first foray inside the ring. It would spark a lifelong passion in her and her sisters, who all began showing cattle by the following spring.
Fast forward 13 years, and the sisters not only show at nearly 30 events each year all over the state and country – they also run their own registered Angus beef operation, aptly named Harward Sisters, out of the family farm in Richfield, North Carolina.
Bottle the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of these five young women – Brooke, 25; Catherine, 23; LeAnn, 20; and twins Mattie and Marcie, 16 – and you’d solve a lot of the world’s problems.
They’ve driven long nights packed into one pick-up truck to make it to early-morning cattle shows. They work together every day, love each other fiercely and finish each other’s sentences. And they’re one of the most competitive families on the North Carolina show circuit.
They also manage a purebred herd that’s grown steadily since their father helped them get started eight years ago.
Older sisters Brooke and Catherine – a Park Scholar – both went to CALS, following in the footsteps of their father and grandfather. They graduated with degrees in agricultural business management and animal science, respectively. There was never a question in their minds about returning to the family farm, armed with new knowledge and the confidence that comes with an NC State degree.
Along with their three younger sisters, the five former 4-H participants are determined to “go big” and take their burgeoning business to the next level.
We sat around the family’s enormous kitchen table for a boisterous conversation about their growing business, how CALS has played a role in their success and their dreams for the future.
When did you first become involved in showing and tending to your family’s cattle?
Our family has been in the cattle business for a long time. Our dad raised cattle for as long as he can remember. But he never had the opportunity to show, so we really hadn’t heard about it until a family friend told us about the junior youth division shows. I was only 10 years old when I started. LeAnn came with me a few times to practice. Then she decided she wanted to try.
The first show I went to with her, I got a water bucket for participating. I came home and said, “Hey guys, look what I got for doing this.” And then Brooke got jealous.
LeAnn and both the twins, who were only four at the time, really did grow up with it. They all participated in a show together and all three of them came home with buckets. And they were talking about how great of a time they had. It was so much fun. They really enjoyed it. I was like, “Well, I want to try this out.” So I started working with them the very next weekend. That was fall, and by that next spring we were all involved. It did catch on really fast.
And you did it by yourselves, wrangling these huge cows?
Yeah. We had one cow one year and she did not like any of us. She wouldn’t cooperate. And then Mattie got on the halter, this little seven-year-old-girl, and the cow acts perfectly. I was so mad. So Mattie went in and did great with her, won the class and everything. She was so little that she had to look underneath the cow to see the judges’ scores.
How did your business begin?
Our parents purchased the cattle initially. … But a few years ago, Dad wanted us to really understand how it was to run a business.
From that point on, we had to buy our own cows and bulls, cover our feed expenses. He doesn’t charge us rent for his land that we use, but we pay all the other expenses. We have about 70 cows now. We sell our purebred cattle in about three sales a year. We use his advice every day, don’t get me wrong. But at the end of the day, he says, “I’m not making a decision for you. It’s your decision.” With five people, that can be tough. You learn teamwork and compromise.
Catherine and Brooke, did you go into CALS knowing this was what you were going to come back and do?
At that time, we had this as a small-scale business. It was more of our show business. But we never really imagined taking it further. When I went to NC State, I knew I was coming back to the cattle farm. What I learned through my animal science degree has been applicable to the business and helped us figure out how we could make it efficient and profitable.
I went to State for ag business management. I knew I wanted to come back and work on the business side of the farm. I liked the cattle and knew we always wanted to have some cows of our own but didn’t know how big we wanted it to be. So I think since we’ve come back from school, we’re better prepared to make our business something that is profitable on its own and can really sustain itself.
How do you manage all this while maintaining your studies?
We get up at about five in the morning, feed, water, tend to the cows. Then we go to school, come back home and we’re at the barn until that night. … We come up for dinner, then we’ll go back again. … Then we come back up for the night and start homework. If we’re in bed before midnight, that’s a good day.
I’m a biochemistry major and a neuroscience minor at Carolina. I’m busy with my studies, but I don’t feel too detached from home. We talk all the time, and I come home to help out.
Which part of your experience in CALS really helped prepare you for this career?
Learning the business side for sure. I already knew a lot about livestock, but still didn’t know everything about running a business. I also did a minor in accounting. A lot of my professors helped me relate huge corporate concepts back to us on our farm.
I minored in ag business management and ag leadership. What I took away was the “why” behind the things we do on the farm. What is the reason behind, the science behind the things we do? … It was just so transforming to be able to see that.
Also, NC State’s so large, but CALS has that small community feel that you really got to learn how other people do things on their farms. You got to meet people from all over the state.
Mattie and Marcie, you’re about to start your junior year of high school. Do you see yourselves pursuing this in college, coming back to the farm?
Yes, I definitely want to go to an agriculture school. I’ve thought about ag marketing, or ag nutrition, or ag business. But I plan on coming back and running Harward Sisters.
Yeah. Go big.
We want Harward Sisters to expand.
What do you see as the future for the Harward Sisters operation?
Right now, we sell 15 to 20 bulls a year. If we can get it to the point where we can market 40 to 50 bulls, I think that would be great. So cow-herd wise, that’s probably about 250 cows. That’s where we’d like to be in 10 years.
I really just love all of it. I really love going to all the shows. Also just the whole operation – I can’t imagine myself living a different life.