Certified organic production, direct marketing of locker beef, online marketing and top performance records were just some of the highlights of my tour in Alabama this summer. Participating in the 2014 Annual Meeting and Professional Improvement Conference of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents in Mobile, Alabama, allowed me to visit some of Alabama’s unique and interesting livestock operations.
Hastings Farm is a certified organic farm producing corn, soybeans, lamb, pastured pork and grass-fed beef. The farm is managed by Randall Hastings and his sons. Their cattle are Devon, Angus and South Poll crosses, which are finished on grass at 27 months of age. Animals are sold through health food stores and retail outlets such as Whole Foods. One of the important tools in Hastings’ grazing management is use of a refractometer, or Brix meter, to test the sugar level of forage to help them determine when to move animals to fresh pasture. Their cattle gain from 1.75 to 3.0 pounds per day on pasture depending on the feed quality and air temperature.
Important to Hastings’ organic production is the use of plant nutrients and pest deterrents from natural sources. The Hastings use chicken litter for fertilizer and rely on nitrogen fixation in the soil by crimson clover. They use apple cider vinegar in parasite control and have healthy populations of dung beetles and earthworms, which break down the parasites’ life cycles.
Perdido River Farms is an enterprise owned by the Poarch Creek Indians. This is a beef cow-calf operation including a herd of 800 Angus and Angus cross cows run on about 3,000 acres. The cattle are pastured on Bahia grass and Bermuda grass. They also plant pearlleaf millet, oats, ryegrass and crimson clover for grazing. In this location, cattle have about 300 days of grazing a year. As with the Hastings farm, the main source of fertilizer for the pasture is chicken litter from nearby broiler operations. They put up hay for the two-month wintering period. Having their own weight scales allows Perdido to sell calves directly off the farm.
Although it’s located in Florida’s panhandle about 25 miles north of Pensacola, Gizmo Angus Farm is considered part of the Alabama beef industry. Ronnie and Debbie Gilmore and family have a registered herd of 140 Angus cattle producing top quality Angus bulls and replacement females that are selected to perform well in the hot, humid environment of the Southeast. The Gilmores select animals for improved carcass characteristics, while paying attention to economically important traits like calving ease, fleshing ability and good growth.
These Alabama and Florida producers deal with a different climate and somewhat different forage plants, but their aspirations and motivations are much the same as ranchers in the Western U.S. No matter where it occurs, hard work and good management is recognized across the country.
Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he writes about and teaches grazing management. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.