Silver Springs Ranch, just southeast of West Plains, was a stop Monday afternoon on Missouri's 8th Congressional District U.S. Rep. Jason Smith’s 2023 Farm Tour.
Smith conducts the annual tours in order to speak with constituents who are agriculture producers and hear their concerns about laws and regulations that affect their profits.
At Silver Springs Ranch, however, the conversation was less focused on legislation and mainly focused on the dedication of a portion of the ranch to create a retreat for ministers.
The idea was prompted by a conversation owner Ruth Graber-Wilcox had with her son, a pastor who lives in Los Angeles, where Graber-Wilcox is originally from. He asked her to consider creating a space where pastors could go as a retreat, in the quiet and serenity of the Ozarks.
She prayed about it over that weekend, she said, and then when she was approached by her assistant Chelsea Brawley the following Monday about the possibility of a retreat, she took it as a sign.
There hadn't been communication between Brawley and Graber-Wilcox's son about the subject and that was more than a coincidence, Graber-Wilcox said.
"It was the voice of the Lord telling me what to do with the next phase of my life," she asserted.
The project, which she said will also have an event venue, will be called Refinery Ranch as a nod to its purpose as a place of spiritual restoration; Smith agreed the Ozarks are "God's country."
The ranch is about 16,000 acres of rolling hills, much of it cleared for growing hay and grazing, and a small lake where a flock of Canada geese and a handful of egrets congregate at the water's edge. The future retreat site is on a hilltop overlooking the lake, and it's there where Smith, county government officials and ranch employees met to talk about the plans.
The farm is also a cow-calf operation, but Graber-Wilcox and her husband and ranch co-owner Byron Wilcox plan to expand into a niche market by breeding micro-mini cattle, having bought a bull that is very petite, about the height of a medium-sized dog, at about 2 years old. They anticipate making most of their sales online.
The reduced-size ruminants are planned to be sold as pets, likely as bottle fed calves so the animals can be tamed and handled as such. It's a hot market right now, ranch hand Tarra Hackworth said, adding the pets are often called "yard puppies."
To be considered a micro-mini cow, the bovine generally needs to be 3 feet or shorter at the hip. The Silver Springs Ranch micro-mini bull shares a corral with calves that have already outgrown it.
As the visit drew to a close, Smith mentioned he was on his way to Poplar Bluff to make another stop for the day. On Monday he had already made stops in Phelps, Texas and Butler counties prior to arriving in Howell County.
The districtwide tour began Aug. 10 with stops in St. Francois and Jefferson counties and will continue through September.