Story and photos by Bruce Schultz
HATHAWAY – On this warm spring day, planting time is just around the corner for the Heinen farm. Will Heinen and his father, Dave, are waiting on seed that will arrive any day now.
In addition to working with his dad on 650 acres of rice, Will plans to have his own 50 acres of rice this year in addition to his 70 acres of crawfish. It will be his second year of planting rice, and he’s had crawfish fields for 5 years.
Last year, Will’s rice made 49 barrels an acre with no second crop. He said his crawfish production was good, but most were on the small side.
He’d hoped to have seed in the ground by mid-March, but he was waiting on his hybrid seed to be delivered for planting with their 20-foot drill. In the meantime, there were fields to plow and laser-level.
Dave said he is waiting for warmer weather to plant. “Hybrids don’t take cold well.”
He said he relies on hybrids exclusively. “XL753 has been my best so far, and Gemini has been really good.”
The biggest weed problem is second-generation weedy rice, he said, and he’s used Provisia to tackle that challenge. “Provisia is perfect. It does what it’s supposed to do.”
Dave said he only used the PVL02, but the yield was low. “I’ve never made over 23 barrels with Provisia.”
Dave and Will also have crawfish. Will said their catch dropped, like everyone else’s, but the catch was great on the day the freeze arrived. “It was actually our best day, when we had to shut down.”
On a day in mid-March, the catch was 18 sacks on 90 acres, but Will was confident the number would increase.
Dave said their buyer, cousin Fred Heinen, reports that demand from commercial accounts is increasing quickly. “He said the orders are really big this weekend.”
Will and his father use a crew of three Mexicans to harvest crawfish.
Dave said he’s had the same crew for the past 7 years, and it’s worked out well.
Two years ago, they switched their crawfish boats from the cleated cages to basket cages, and the drive wheels leave considerably less of a track through the mud. Will said they rely on a nearby welder, Brock Young, for the basket cages. “He can make just about anything out of metal that you need.”
Dave said it’s rewarding to have Will working with him. “It seems like you’re working for something now. Not just working to retire.”
Dave said he had been able to pick up 250 acres for Will. The land had been his great-grandfather’s originally.
Dave started farming in 1985 after the death of his father, Walter Heinen. He said his father had farms in Orange, Texas, in addition to Vinton, Iota, Mowata, Whiteville and Hathaway. They were on the roads as much as they were in the fields, Dave said.
“After my dad died, I said I will never travel more than 5 miles to any farm.”
He has stuck to that pledge with 650 acres of rice and 650 acres of crawfish near his home. “I can go around everything on my farm in 2 hours.”
Dave can often be found fixing the land and roads with his dozer and his dog Winston at his feet.
Will graduated from Welsh High School in 2013. His mother, Arlene, was principal at Welsh Elementary.
Will attended LSU for a year, and he graduated 2 years ago from McNeese University with an associate degree in general studies. While at McNeese, he was on the rodeo team as a steer wrestler.
Will has continued with rodeo, but with team roping. He’s the heeler who ropes a calf’s back feet, while his partners, Gabe Crochet or Nick Sabelhaus, ropes the head. Sabelhaus is also the ag pilot for the Heinen crops.
While growing up, Will and his three sisters showed cattle in 4-H. “I always got the crazy ones.”
Will has his own herd now. He and his wife, Tina, enjoy working with the cattle. On Sundays, they’ll saddle up their horses and tend to their herd of 20 commercial cows and calves, and check on fences.
“I enjoy that,” she said. “I’ve learned to love it.”
“She caught on quick,” Will adds.
Will’s father has a herd of about 250 head with neighbor Rick Crochet.
“He’s always helping us, and we’re always helping him,” Will said.
Will said he didn’t lose any cattle from the hard freeze, but he lost several calves before from a cold, rainy spell.
The only damage from last year’s hurricanes was fencing, Will said, and it took about a week to get everything back to normal.
Will and his father use Angus, Charolais and Brangus bulls. They use Superior Livestock to sell most of their calves and replacement heifers. “All the steers we sell ahead of time. We raise them to 500 pounds.”
So with the crops and cattle, is Will Heinen a farmer or rancher? “Both. But I say the ranching is fun to do.”
He’s passionate about his livelihood, and he doesn’t need time to explain why. He said he looks forward to every morning when he can jump on his four-wheeler and ride the ponds to check on water levels.
“I love what I do. Every day is a new day. And I like being outside.”
Even when it’s cold? “For some reason, I like it.”
Tina agrees. “It’s almost like it pumps him up when it’s a miserable day to be outside.”
The area has a growing pig and coyote problem, and Will is trying to reduce the number even if it means staying up at night .
“He’s not very good at sitting still,” Tina said.
Will has a thermal scope that allows him to see the pests from a distance in pastures around the house. A friend has a drone with a thermal camera to find them in rice fields.
In the past 2 months, he’s shot more than 40 coyotes with his .308 rifle. He figures the number for the past year is just over 100.
Tina is a speech therapist for St. Nicholas Center for Children in Lake Charles. She works with autistic children ages 2-21, with a variety of challenges in communication. “They all have different needs.”
Many of her students lost their homes during the hurricanes, she said, and that turned their worlds upside down. “That’s their joy, having a routine.”
Tina earned her bachelor’s degree in communications disorders and her master’s in speech language pathology, both from LSU.
She knew about farm life before she and Will were married 2 years ago. Her father, Dennis Hensgens, farms rice and crawfish in the Crowley and Iota areas.
Tina has a menagerie with a couple of Nigerian dwarf goats, an overweight miniature Australian shepherd, a miniature horse, and an orphan calf. Will has a few dogs too. He’s taken in a stray basset hound, Fred. “I couldn’t help but pick him up.” And he has a few Labs.
Tina branched out in a new area last year. With COVID, she had to be at home a lot and work online.
“It was nice to be on my porch with that view.” But she found herself with a lot of extra time, so she began following up on her artistic interests. “I’ve always done artwork here and there.”
She took a few stalks of headed rice and made impressions to make a mold in clay, then poured plaster over the mold to get a relief casting.
Several people have come to her with rice from their fields to be cast into an object to be hung on their walls, recognizing that this is much more significant than some massed produced wall hanging.
“Harvest is very meaningful to anyone in a farming family,” she said. “When you have that labor of love, you want to display it.”
Some young farmers come to her with a few stalks of their first crop, and some families bring rice from a lost loved one’s last crop. “It’s like a snapshot.”
She has a casting of her late brother William’s last crop.
Tina also does castings of religious icons and symbols. “Our Catholic faith is pretty important to us.”
The sideline business took off so much that Will built her a studio atop their barn.
“My hayloft became her studio,” Will said.
Tina has a website for her artwork at
www.tinaheinencollection.com She’s also on Facebook and Instagram.