This local cattle farm is becoming a nationally recognized premier developer of improved breeding stock for the beef cattle industry. By Sid Riley
Jackson County is blessed to have one of the most successful cattle breeding operations in the nation located within its boundaries. The giant red barn and neatly manicured fields which you pass on Highway 231 about five miles south of Campbellton at the intersection of the highway with Springfield Road marks the front of this massive 14,000 acre cattle farm. The impressive operation is owned by John Downs, and is adeptly managed by his ‘right hand man’, Lamont Ennis.
Just as Calumet Farm in Kentucky has become a renowned breeder of the finest thoroughbreds in the nation, Southern Cattle Company is fast becoming nationally recognized as a premier cattle breeder. They are creating custom bred lines of cattle which are being used to upgrade entire herds across the nation. They have developed world renowned bulls and cows, as testified by the many pictures of these famous sires and dams, which adorn the walls of their enormous “Great Room”, which occupies the center portion of that huge red barn you see from the road. For example, one of their prize Angus cows, Gar-Ext 2104 was eventually sold for $250,000 after providing Southern Cattle with years of genetically superior calves. The semen from their bulls generally sell for $20-$200 per unit..
“We began developing improved stock in the basic breeds”, Downs explains with a twinkle in his eyes. “I say we began with the ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ of it. By that I mean Angus, Brangus, and Charolais. But today we have a much more involved herd with Herefords, Brahman, and Beefmasters, and are breeding baldies, super-baldies and tiger stripes for our commercial customers as well.”
They can custom develop breeding bulls which carry specific genetic characteristics desired by a particular cattle operator who is trying to upgrade his herd to best serve the market he is serving. They can enhance the herds quality of beef marbling, amount of leanness of the meat, endurance of the herd, enhance the amount of weight gain per pound of feed, feed requirements, life span, and even the quality of the milk. They can create a custom designed herd for you by creating bulls for you which carry those most desired traits.
The farm grows approximately 90% of the feed it uses. They also conduct detailed feed efficiency studies on selected breeds. These studies are conducted in concert with the University of Florida Research Center which is located just outside of Greenwood. These studies involve a very controlled 90 day period in which the food intake of each subject animal is carefully monitored and charted. The subject is weighed every fourteen days, and the weight gain is charted against the intake of feed and water. From this, specific ratios of weight gain for various feed formulas for different breed stock can be determined. “The entire program is measured and monitored by the staff from the UF Research Center, we do not know the results until they send us the final data”, Ennis explained. “This gives absolute credibility to our claims when we demonstrate what our programs are doing to potential customers. We have achieved some astounding results in reducing feed cost and at the same time increasing weight gain through genetic selections.”
When you are talking to John Downs or Lamont Ennis you can feel the enthusiasm they have for what they are doing. They exude confidence, high morale, and a sense of accomplishment.
Southern Cattle Company started because of the childhood experiences of John Downs as he participated in FFA projects at his high school in Marbury, Alabama. Because he did not live on a cattle farm he was not able to participate in the FFA cattle projects. He never forgot the feeling of being left out.
He and his wife of 46 years, Margaret, raised three children, a son, Jed, and two daughters, Melody and Michelle. They live in Dothan and own a very successful steel construction business in addition to the Southern Cattle Company.
One day in 1992 John and Jed were driving back to Dothan from Auburn, Alabama. As they passed a beautiful cattle ranch, adorned with white fences and rolling hills, John said, “Jed, one of these days I am going to own a ranch like that. It is something I have always wanted to do.” His son replied, “Well Dad, you had better hurry up, you’re not getting any younger!”………..A few months later John Downs bought some acreage in Jackson County, and Southern Cattle Company was born.
Many successful businesses are built on the vision and strength of character of their founders. Their enthusiasm and spirit drives the organization forward as they gather the right mix of personalities and skills to form their company. That appears to be what has happened at Southern Cattle Company.
John Downs has a forceful personality, bubbling with his belief in his vision and his organization. He looks you straight in the eye when he asks a question, and you know he expects a truthful, direct answer. He is quick to turn the limelight onto those around him, because he realizes that it is their skills and hard work which makes his vision a reality.
He eagerly gives Lamont Ennis credit for the smooth operation of the complex farm, and for the accomplishments and advancements the farm has realized over the past four years, since Lamont joined the team. Lamont was raised on a dairy farm in rural New York, but you would never pick up a New York accent when you talk to him. “It was just as remote and rural where I was raised as it is anywhere in Jackson County,” he explains. “We even had red necks where I come from…and I guess I am one,” he says with a grin.
Lamont, his wife Leigh Ann (who is Office Manager for Southern Cattle), and their two children, Sage and Sierra, have lived in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Ohio, and Michigan as Lamont worked as Operations Managers for numerous large cattle operations. It was through this role he met John Downs, and the chemistry was right for both of them. Lamont was eager for the opportunity to become Operations Manager of Southern Cattle Company.
I asked Lamont if they had one bull or cow which was their pride and joy at the moment, one which stood out from the herd. “It is hard to pick one out,” Lamont explained. “By the time one begins to be a standout, the improvements we are making in genetic development soon creates a new individual which outdoes that one. We are improving the development at a remarkable rate.”