November 2014
Farm & Field

A Future in Cattle Farming

 
  Chip and Kayla Cleveland started their cow-calf operation in 2006 with about 400 cows. (Credit: Kayla Lane Photography)

All They Needed Was a Plan

Farming has been a part of Chip Cleveland’s life for as long as he can remember. Chip recalls many weekends spent at his grandparents’ farm. After a couple of days of work and play, it came time for the highlight of the weekend – Sunday night.

His grandmother always fixed breakfast for supper on Sunday night as the family enjoyed the weekly installment of the "Wonderful World of Disney" on television.

Kayla Cleveland had less exposure to the farming way of life, but it was not foreign to her as her father and grandfather both had cattle.

Like many folks who grew up in Alabama, the Clevelands had fond memories of farm life and wanted that for themselves and their kids. The only thing standing in their way was a plan.

"When we got together I convinced her to go along with my master plan to farm," Chip recalled. "I realized that we both had to have a job in town to make that work."

Kayla is president of the Overhead Door and Fireplace Company in Millbrook. Chip is a partner with Cleveland and Riddle law firm in Prattville.

The Clevelands have two sons. Jake is a sophomore at Auburn University and Ford is a sophomore in high school. The couple tries to involve their sons in the farm operation as much as possible.

 
The calves backgrounding on the Clevelands’ farm perform well on CPC Grower feed. It has the minerals, the formula and the right blending already packaged.  

When they first married in 2006, the Clevelands ran a cow-calf operation with about 400 cows.

"We calved in the fall and then we would sell the first Wednesday of August every year," Chip said.

Chip graduated from Auburn University in 1993 with a degree in business administration. He went on to law school at the University of Alabama. He graduated, passed the bar exam and began practicing law in 1997.

Even though Kayla had grown up around cattle, she still had a bit of a learning curve to tackle. She quickly realized that things had changed considerably since she was involved with cattle when she was younger.

Kayla recalled that Chip had taken her to a bull sale. She saw the bulls and ringmasters. She thought it all looked familiar, like a cow sale is supposed to look. Later, he took her to a board sale.

Expecting to see an auctioneer, ringmasters and lots of cows, Kayla was confused by what she saw.

"We went into this little room and I thought, ‘How are the cows going to get in here?’" she recalled.

When she asked Chip where the cows were, he explained they weren’t on site.

"I could not understand how they were going to have a sale with none of the cows there," Kayla laughed at herself.

She said that was the first of many lessons in modern-day cattle farming for her.

What prompted Chip to look at a different method of cattle farming was the realization that August to August is a long time to go without any cash.

"We’ve got to change something up because we still have to make payroll 12 months out of the year," Chip said. "We decided to do custom weaning and/or custom backgrounding."

Chip worked on his business plan and devised a way to satisfy everyone involved. Area producers liked that their cattle had a place for backgrounding, Kayla liked that she had money for payroll, and Chip liked that he was back in farming.

"We charge per head per day, and bill at the end of the month," Chip said. "This was good for us because it created cash flow. Our labor had secured employment, even in the winter months. It provides a service for cattlemen around us."

Chip implemented his plan by securing cattle from surrounding sale barns.

"We wanted to bring some cattle in – some calves – to teach them how to eat and drink. And then give them their vaccinations and shots, and then get them ready for the next step – being custom weaned," Chip said. "We have custom weaning for people in our own board sale. We also custom wean for anybody."

Once his plan was in place, Chip began working on the logistics of feeding the cattle. He fed a variety of soy hulls, cottonseed and corn gluten pellets. He even tried candy and Eggo waffles. Chip was trying to achieve a certain gain per head per day and it was exhausting him.

After meeting with Tim Wood at Central Alabama Farmers Co-op in Selma, Chip was turned on to CPC Grower feed.

"Grower is a feed that’s already put together, and we don’t have to worry about ordering all the commodities," Chip said. "That has made it easier for us from a management perspective; a little bit more cost to the product, but, if you look at the daily gain, it works out to your benefit."

Chip said Grower has done all the work for them. It has the minerals, the formula and the right blending already packaged.

"Lower feed costs in conjunction with higher cattle prices have made preconditioning or backgrounding even more profitable than in years past," said John Sims, feed specialist for Alabama Farmers Co-op.

If you would like to contact Chip Cleveland, you can call him at 334-303-2278 or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. His address is 398 County Road 27, Prattville, AL 36067.

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.