Skip Navigation Links
  Skip Navigation Links  

Breaking the barrier

Rodeoing is more than a hobby for Mid-South Farmers Cooperative members Clay, Lane, and Ross Mitchell
Story and photos by Claire Hill 1/20/2023

The fine powdery dirt of the freshly groomed practice arena is a playground for Bolivar’s Mitchell brothers – Clay, Lane, and Ross. Astride their horses, the three brothers anxiously await the next steer to rush into the arena. 

With a simple nod of his head, Clay alerts his father, Gem, that he’s ready to rope. Before Clay can leave the roping box, the steer must “break the barrier,” giving the calf a head start, or the roper will be penalized. 

The steer barrels out of the chute, and within seconds, Clay has landed his rope around the animal’s head, and Lane, the heeler on the team, has snagged its hind legs. Clay and Lane loosen their ropes and let the steer run free. 

“Y’all ready to go again?” Gem asks.  

This scene has been repeated thousands of times as the brothers honed their rodeo skills while growing up on the family farm in Hardeman County. Clay, Lane, and Ross developed their love of rodeoing as their father Gem taught his young sons riding and roping while sharing his passion for the sport.

“I wanted the boys to be able to practice every chance they got,” says Gem. “We put the practice arena up years ago, and it made a big difference as they competed in junior, junior high, and high school rodeos.” 

Along with rodeoing, the Mitchell family farms 3,300 acres of owned and leased land in Hardeman County and raises commercial cattle. Clay and Ross have active roles in the farming operation as they work together with their father to grow cotton, soybeans, and corn. Ross also has a successful border collie training business where he buys, sells, and trains the dogs for farm work. 

Clay and his wife, Kyley, have a 16-month-old son, Kaizen, whom they hope will continue the family tradition of rodeoing. Kyley helps on the farm and is also an optometrist in Selmer. 

Lane has a hectic schedule traveling to rodeos across the country as a full-time cowboy and member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) but enjoys pitching in to help with farm chores when he can.

The brothers have covered countless miles traveling the U.S. to compete in team roping events. They also received rodeo scholarships to attend the University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM) where they rodeoed at the college level, each graduating with degrees in agricultural business with a concentration in farm and ranch management. 

“I’m thankful for the opportunity to have attended UTM,” says Clay. “The rodeo scholarships allowed us the opportunity to advance our educations and continue to be advocates for the agriculture industry.” 

From a young age, Lane says he knew he wanted to be a professional cowboy. He had a successful past year in the PRCA, sharpening his skills through repetitive practices. In 2022, he won the Ellis County Livestock Show and Rodeo in Waxahachie, Texas, the Red Bluff California Round-Up, the Bill Hoy Kiwanis Rodeo in Clarksville, Tenn., and the Fiesta Days Rodeo in Spanish Fork, Utah. Lane hopes to qualify and compete in the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December.

“My dad has played a key role in my success,” says Lane. “He taught us how to ride, what a good horse looks like, and gave us a practice arena to hone our craft. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dad’s support.” 

The brothers have made connections within the rodeo community as successful ropers and horse trainers and sell trained quarter horses as another aspect of their livelihood. 

“With three boys, there was never a dull moment,” says Vicki Mitchell, the brothers’ mom, and Hardeman County Farm Service Agency executive director. “We stayed busy with farming and rodeoing and are proud of the rural lifestyle in which we raised our boys. We are looking forward to seeing if our grandson has an interest in rodeoing.”  

With his responsibilities increasing for the day-to-day management of the farm, Clay still rodeos, but doesn’t travel as much. Ross competes in the Southeastern U.S. primarily in states such as Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Lane, as a full-time cowboy, travels more than his brothers and will be competing in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo next month. 

Gem was a board member of Hardeman Farmers Cooperative and was an active board member when the cooperative merged with Mid-South Farmers Cooperative. He served for multiple years on Mid-South Farmers Cooperative’s board as well. Clay joins the Mid-South Farmers Cooperative board of directors this year, keeping the legacy of service alive. 

“I remember the boys coming to the 

Co-op and roping the mirrors of the forklifts as they waited on their dad to purchase supplies,” says Mid-South Farmers 

Cooperative Operations Manager Jamie Perry with a laugh. “I’m proud to see them continuing to rodeo after all these years.” 

Perry has been with the Co-op system for 22 years and has developed long-lasting relationships with customers like the Mitchells. He says it’s inspiring to see the dedication of the Mitchell family across generations to keep their farming operation growing. 

“We wouldn’t be successful without the support and partnership we have with the local Co-op,” says Gem. “They truly care about our family and operation, and I’m proud to call them my friends.” 

Clay, Lane, and Ross were featured in the 2005 October/November edition of The Cooperator early in their rodeo careers and 18 years later, their passion for the sport hasn’t changed. Exercising the horses, saddling up, and competing are their way of life. 

Keeping Up
Market watch
National ag news
Catalogs & brochures
Get in touch
Education & more
Programs & projects
What's New?
This document copyright © 2024 by Tennessee Farmers Cooperative. All rights reserved. Legal Notice