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April 8, 2021

Quentin Shieldknight was in the worst shape of his life — or so he thought. “Man,” he said looking at one of his field hands while working in the grain bins, “There’s got to be something wrong here. I can’t breathe.”

Tomorrow I’m hitting the gym, he thought as he struggled to distract himself from the pain in his legs. He finds the auger plugged up at the bottom of the grain bin and he and his team begin kicking it and hitting it with a long rod trying to break up the clog. He starts panting, then panicking as he struggles to bring breath into his lungs. “Quentin, man, you got to get out of here,” the hands yelled at him. He slowly makes his way to his pickup holding his head in his hands, willing himself to calm down so he can breathe normally. He sits there for two hours. Something’s not right.

Shieldknight Land and Cattle: It’s a Family Affair

Quentin Shieldknight, a fourth-generation farmer, runs a family business planting corn and cotton while raising commercial and registered Red Angus cattle in Spearman, Texas. His dad, Fred, still shows up to work every day. “I’ve told him to go enjoy his grandkids and semi-retire,” Quentin said. “But he’s still boss and shows up every morning to run the show.”

His sister, Kelly Jack and her husband, Ty, are both heavily involved in the operation.  Kelly is the accountant and office manager, while Ty handles maintenance and manages cattle.  Quentin’s cousin, Colby, also works on the farm helping run the cattle side of the business, while aunt Marcia takes care of life insurance and generational succession planning.

His younger sister Clara developed the farm’s website and her husband, Chris, manages the farm’s security and information technology operations. They live and work in Borger, Texas, but have two boys, Cy, and Cal, who love coming to help at the farm, while simultaneously throwing dirt and calling coyotes.

Quentin went to Texas A&M University where he met his wife, Kristin. “Literally sat on the bus next to her on the way to ‘fish camp’ as incoming freshmen,” he added. They will be celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary this year and have three children: Kinley (14), Hayden (11) and Logan (8). Kristin is the director of innovation and technology for Spearman Independent School District, and their children are heavily involved in FFA, 4-H, athletics and, of course, the family farm.

April 9, 2021

After going to bed with a fever, Quentin gets up the next day to work cattle. However, he finally gives up at lunch and heads to the hospital. They run some tests and he lets the nurse know he can’t breathe. Pulse oxygen reading is questionable so they take an X-ray of his chest. It’s probably because I’ve been in a grain bin for two days, he thinks to himself, that’s why my lungs don’t sound right. After the X-ray, hospital staff decide to do a CT scan and tell Quentin to go home and keep his phone close — they’ll call in four to five hours when they get the results. They end up calling him 10 minutes later before he’s even left the hospital.

From Corn to Cotton

After earning his bachelor’s degree in agronomy and plant and soil science, Shieldknight became a certified crop adviser. He provided crop consulting in the Spearman area through a private company, an experience that enhanced his success in his own farming operation. Shieldknight Land and Cattle farms 10,000 acres and has 650 cows in the herd (not including calves and bulls).

Cotton is up in the rotation for this crop season, having planted mainly corn and milo last year. In May, Quentin and company planted 2,800 acres of irrigated cotton and about 3,000 acres of dryland. “We had our first circle of cotton in 2011, and it fared better than the corn did,” he said. “In preparation for this year, we are planting more cotton than corn hoping to make a decent crop.”

The Shieldknight farm engaged in conventional tillage practices until 2003. “I think my degree helped me bring some conservation practices back to the farm,” Shieldknight added. “When I came back, we started strip-tilling and we’re now a strip-till, minimum-till farm.” They also implemented cover crops into their operation in the last three years. “We’re still learning on that, but I think we’ll eventually get it figured out and reap the benefits,” he said.

Learning to apply cover crops in a low rainfall area has its challenges. So far, the Shieldknights have tried tillage radish, rapeseed, cow peas and winter peas. This summer, they’ll be planting some millet blends in combination with cow peas, working with Jeff Miller, owner of ForeFront Agronomy LLC. Since they planted corn and milo last year, they left the stalks up for cover this spring. “We’ve had fields blow out so many times and really don’t want that to happen this year,” he added. “I guess you could call us trashy cotton farmers.”

April 9, 2021

All of a sudden, everyone is in the emergency room lobby looking for him. A nurse grabbed his arm, saying, “Mr. Shieldknight, you need to go back to your room right now and I suggest you call your wife.” He lays down only to feel a huge needle immediately jabbed into his stomach. His primary care physician was driving in from out of town, battling 65 mile-per-hour winds to get to the hospital.

The emergency department attending physician walks into Quentin’s room. “You have blood clots in your lungs, Mr. Shieldknight,” he said. “They’re really bad — I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a set of lungs with this many clots in them, ever.”

All he could think of was, are you kidding me? And then it hit him. His uncle died from a blood clot in 2011. This is serious. The nurse places an oxygen mask over his face.

Crap Spreaders and Community Savers

Not only does Shieldknight run the family business, but last fall, he co-founded a gypsum and compost business with Caleb Patterson serving Spearman, Perryton, and Gruver areas. He said they don’t really have an official business name, adding, “We’re the crap spreaders — that’s the nicest way to say it anyway.”

Summertime is also beef time. Shieldknight Land and Cattle sells beef from Spearman all the way down to south of Houston, making them a state-wide beef operation.

They project to sell 80 whole beefs this year — they also sell quarters and half-sides.  “We’re blessed to be able to feed people,” Shieldknight added. “And it’s important that we do it the right way and help communities.”

To advance this effort, Shieldknight Land and Cattle will be opening beef stores where small towns have lost their grocers. They opened their first one in Shelby’s Bridge Gift & Thrift Shop in Sudan, Texas, this May. They are in talks with other small communities to help them bridge gaps in their meat supply as well.

April 9, 2021

While he’s trying to gather his composure, his aunt Marcia bursts into the room. Everyone is trying to talk to him, but she says, “Stop! I’m going to pray.” Everyone stops. And she prays, “Father God, please heal Quentin’s lungs, dissolve the clots, and be with the doctors and nurses as they care for him. Please heal him in Jesus’ name.” As a community pastor joins his aunt in prayer, the care team is calling an ambulance — though they wish it were a helicopter. “I have medivac insurance,” he tells them, giving a nurse his insurance card. The doctor calls the helicopter staff who say, “We can’t get there in this wind.” The doctor decides to send Quentin’s scans to the helicopter staff. They call back. “We’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

They transport him from Hansford Hospital to BSA Hospital in Amarillo, Texas. As he’s in flight, his labored breathing begins to ease to the point where he no longer needs the oxygen mask. A calm comes over him during the helicopter ride. I’m going to be OK, he says to himself. I’m going to be OK.

To this day, Quentin’s hematologist can’t believe he’s still alive. Every time, he walks into a follow-up appointment, the doctor says, “I’ve never seen that many clots in a set of lungs ever and the patient survive.”

Quentin has Factor V Leiden Thrombophilia, an inherited blood clotting disorder. He will be on blood thinners for the rest of his life. While farming is tough, staring death in the face can shift your perspective.

“How do you survive if you don’t have faith in the farming industry?” he asked. “I don’t know how you do it without faith. Besides 2011, I don’t know if it’s ever been this hard to just get going, get the crop in and stay motivated.

“But every day, I’m still breathing. Every day, I still have something to look forward to. I used to be in the worst mood every evening when I came home — made my family miserable. But lying in a hospital bed thinking that I was about to meet my Maker woke me up. This life is hard. It’s unfair. But the reward is just around the corner if we just keep going. It’s going to be a great year, one way or another.”

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