Story and photos by Derek Albert
BOYCE-- Residents and tourists alike may have the opportunity to experience a unique spectacle in the mostly rural north-central portion of Rapides Parish—a family of jugglers. While you will not find Robert or Rachel Duncan under a circus tent—or even the Rapides Parish Coliseum—what you will find is a happy thriving family that has a distinctively diversified agricultural operation.
As for the first part of their act, the Duncans manage just shy of 200 commercial female cattle. Their calf crop is mostly sold through Superior Livestock in Rapides Parish while the remainder of their herd is sold directly to consumers—adding the first proverbial balls to the imaginary spectacle, beef cattle farmers and retail beef sellers.
“We retain ownership of most of the others thqtthat we feed out and sell assas butchered calves, whether it be quarters, halves [or] wholes, or whether it be inspected butchered meat that we sell straight to the consumer,” Robert Duncan explained.
Robert Duncan, a fourth-generation farmer in Rapides Parish, said raising cattle was always a component of his family’s farming history, but the retail side of the operation originated followingfrom a family grocery shopping trip, heexplained.
“In 2017, Racheal came homefromhome from the grocery store and was kinda in a foul mood …”
“I was not in a foul mood,” Rachel Duncan laughingly retorted from the background.
“…She said, ‘Why are we buying meat at the grocery store when we raise cows?’” Robert Duncan recalled. “So, that sparked a legitimate question.”
He said the retail beef operation started with two cows the first year and expanded to 13 cows the next with growing demand from family and friends. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic—while mostly detrimental to many sectors of commerce—propelled the operation further.
“That spring COVID hit,” he said. “So, we got into that window where all the national plants were shutting down, so you couldn’t buy meat at the grocery store. When people found out that we had meat, it was all of a sudden…gone.”
From 2headthe first experimental two head of cattle the first year, to, now, about 45 head annually, the operation has expanded. Prospective purchasers of the Duncans’ Boyce-raised beef can find them selling their products at the Alexandria Farmers’ Market.
The next figurative ball in the Duncans’ juggling act would be a nearly 500-acre tract of soybean production. As of early June, Robert Duncan said some of the early-planted crop looks promising, in early June, but a recent dry spell has led to him having to irrigate other fields.
“The early-planted stuff on some good ground is all looking pretty good, so far,” he said. “We’ve got some other beans on some heavier clay ground that are pretty stressed right now with the drought.”
Now, a third ball in the juggling act is the Duncans’ hay operation. They grow and harvest all of the hay that they need for their own cattle operation and when the supply allows, they sell some, as well.
If the cattle operation, the soybean production and the hay baling are not enough to juggle, the Duncans also manage a retail flower operation.
Rachel Duncan said the impetus for the flower business stemmed from an opportunity, while in college, to study abroad in the City of Lights—Paris.
“It’s amazing over there. Literally, on every corner, they have flower shops,” she reminisced.
“Everywhere you turn somebody is walking around with a bouquet of fresh flowers. So, that was always in the back of my mind.”
Fast forward a few years and a social media post of a fleet of Volkswagen vans converted into a Nashville flower delivery business fanned the flames of a flower business for Rachel.
“Robert thought I was absolutely crazy,” Rachel Duncan recalled. “We have a 1966 GMC truck and I said, ‘I want to have a flower farm. I want to grow fresh flowers and sell them out of the back of this truck.’”
Though completely skeptical and apprehensive, at first, Robert Duncan could not get behind the idea of adding a flower farm to their recently expanded operation. But some support from the Duncans’ Young Farmers and Ranchers colleagues made him change his mind and capitulate to his wife’s wishes. She explained, it was at the 2019 Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation Convention in New Orleans where he was further coaxed.
“Robert said, ‘Yes, y’all listen to this crazy idea that Rachel has,’” she remembered. “So, I pitched this idea to all of our friends and their jaws hit the floor. They said, ‘Robert, you have got to let her try this.’”
After some inter-familial negotiations, the business blossomed with some financial assistance from being 2019 Young Farmers & Ranchers Achievement Award finalists. Starting with Facebook posts, Bayou Petals Flower Farm began flourishing. Now, with a quarter of an acre devoted to growing flowers from seeds, Rachel Duncan sells flowers at farmers’ markets and direct to customers from the flower truck.
“It’s just kina boomed. AchEachEach year, it just kinda gets better and better” achel,” Rachel Duncan said. “That second year, we introduced the Flower Truck and before we knewitknew it, people were calling me to do private events.”
Now, a certified florist, Rachel oversees the flower operation from planting the seeds to selling the final products. She said she has aspirations of starting a “You-Pick” operation with a flower shop store front not too far in the back of her mind.
“We have the perfect spot on our farm where people could come and cut their own flowers—have an experience,” shesaid. “We could have an agritourism-type deal. Eventually, start with a store front and have my own floral shop.”
Robert Duncan said, right now, he is focusing on quality rather than quantity when it comes to expanding the cattle or soybean operations. In relating his future plans for these ventures, he may have inadvertently shared his agricultural business philosophy.
“Let’s take the opportunity to get really, really, really good at what we’re doing right here and then, expand,” he said. “It’s easier to perfect small things than it is to perfect a whole big operation. Let’s try to have a prime product and grow that prime product a little at a time.”
As agricultural advocates in their community, the Duncans serve as leaders within Louisiana Farm Bureau. Robert Duncan serves as chair of the Rapides Parish Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee while also serving as the Rapides Parish Farm Bureau Committee vice president. Rachel Duncan serves as the Rapides Parish Farm Bureau Leadership Chair. On the state level, the couple serves together as Young Farmers and Ranchers chair.
The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation has taken notice of the Duncans’ juggling act awarding them the 2023 Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award last month at the annual Fam Bureau Convention. In winning this prestigious award, the Duncans receive a $35,000 cash prize, courtesy of Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company and an all-expense paid trip to the 2024 American Farm Bureau Annual Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah where the couple are now entered into the national Achievement Award competition.
If Robert and Rachel Duncan are the main performers in their proverbial juggling act, there are three others who serve as their main circus clowns. The Duncans have three young daughters. Four-year-old Rigley, three-year-old Rawlings and 10-month-old Ruthie round out their complete circus act.
“They love going feed the cows. They love helping me cut flowers,” she said. “They love every ounce of the farm life.”
Rachel Duncan said though the farming lifestyle can be challenging, good communication has proven to be the glue that holds their operation together.
“We lean on each other when we can and we help each other,” she reflected “I wouldn’t change anything. It keeps us all together.”
Despite R&R Farms not offering a literal component of a traditional circus performance, the juggling display that Robert and Rachael Duncan are performing at R & R Farms makes for an impressive spectacle that is helping to build their community-- and family--through agricultural commerce.