As the diesel farm truck eased over the green hillside, Cal Whatley grinned as he repeated what he told Pastor Gary Walker, "I told him, you be the herdsman and I will be the outrider!"
An outrider is defined as one who is typically mounted and goes in advance to find or investigate, to scout out something. Cal was relaying a conversation with Gary, minister of the recently formed Cowboy Church of Lee County. Cowboy Cal is quick to share information about the church and invite others to hear the message at their gatherings.
For many, the cowboy lifestyle of ranching, riding, and tending to cattle and horses does not allow cowboys the opportunity to shed their boots, hats and blue jeans in lieu of suits and Sunday go-to-meeting clothes.
"We are always on the go," Cal said. "The cowboy way of life is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Between checking for new calves, feeding the cattle and keeping on top of everything, cowboys can’t always meet at a regular church. The Cowboy Church of Lee County offers a relaxed setting in a familiar environment."
In other words, Cowboy Churches are driven towards the cowboy culture.
Cowboy culture is definitely what Cal understands–it is his way of life. Born into a family of farmers and row croppers, he has always been around horses and cattle. Since he was just a kid, Cal worked horses and cows.
"All I ever wanted to do was cowboy," Cal shared.
As ranch manager for DCJ Ranch, Cal lives his dream.
On 1,500 acres outside the city limits of Auburn, Cal manages ranch operations for owner Dick Starr. The ranch runs 1,000 momma cows. They run grey Brahman females for breeding with Hereford bulls; the result is the F1 Tiger Stripes, which retains the best characteristics from both breeds. DCJ Ranch produces F1 Tiger Stripe heifers for sale as well as quarter-blood black and black baldy calves for sale.
"It is our goal to produce and sell the best quarter-blood replacement heifers possible in the Southeast to go back into someone’s herd," Cal said.
Steers produced at the ranch are sold in lot loads on the ranch through Internet sales by Blue Grass Livestock Marketing Group (www.bgstockyards.com).
The grey Brahmans, like the ones at DCJ Ranch, have been a bit unique to Alabama. In recent years, the Brahman influence has been stronger. The Brahman breed originates in India, where it developed various adaptations for its survival many years ago. Those adaptations make the breed ideal for Alabama in size, disposition and heat tolerance.
Hereford breeds trace back to England where they were originally produced for thrifty and enterprising farmers. Herefords were bred to be tough and able to survive.
Breeding Brahmans with Herefords produces a cross with hybrids vigor–they tolerate heat well and have less maintenance issues when it comes to both feeding and insect control. The momma cows tend to have a great mothering ability. Additionally, the F1 Tiger Stripes have proven to produce calves longer (approximately16-17 years compared to the typical 11-12 years).
"With the changing, warming climate trend we have seen here in the South, breeding Brahmans and Herefords produces a great hybrid with the F1Tiger Stripe," Cal said.
Initial stock for Brahmans on the DCJ Ranch came from Texas where the sight of grey Brahmans is a little more common.
With five years of operating as ranch manager at DCJ Ranch, Cal stays busy. He talks about ranch plans, how it is good to be looking forward to each day and how important it is to know what lies ahead.
"We can’t get up and get moving on the ranch in the morning and then decide what we have to do," Cal said. "We’ve got a ranch plan and we know what we’ve got to do to get it done. That’s not to say things don’t come up that have to be handled! We have our ranch plan for the year; today’s jobs were really determined, more or less, two months ago."
DCJ Ranch employs five people on a full-time basis.
Cal cowboys during his spare time, when he is not at DCJ Ranch. He and his wife, Heather, own and operate Whatley Equestrian Center in Opelika. They offer lessons, training and limited boarding. For more information, go to www.whatleyequestriancenter.com.
Cal also pre-conditions calves for Woody Thrasher Cattle Company out of Montgomery. The calves go to grass and feed yards.
"It has been a hard winter," Cal said. "It really hasn’t been wet, but it’s been cold this year."
As part of his pre-conditioning, Cal feeds 13% Cattle Feed with Bovatec®, produced by AFC. The feed he buys helps meet the nutritional demands of the cows, supplementing the hay forage.
By the way Cal spends his time both on the job and off, it is obvious he enjoys the cowboy way of life. The Cowboy Church of Lee County definitely fits his lifestyle.
"When I first met Pastor Gary, I told him I had been looking for him for a long time," Cal shared.
Cal readily identified with the Cowboy Church and all it has to offer–serving and ministering to cowboys in their own environment. The church meets on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. and Tuesday nights at 6:30 p.m. at the Auburn Covered Arena at 7600 Highway 280 in Auburn. According to Cal, the services are geared towards the cowboy culture. Folks can attend in cowboy hats, boots and blue jeans, and feel comfortable doing so. While many cowboy families attend the services, the church welcomes all who would like to attend and receive the word of God.
On Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16, 2011, the Cowboy Church of Lee County invites everyone to the church’s first Ranch Rodeo. Several church members are working to put the rodeo together. Donnie Hix and Cal are planning events like wild cow milking, stray gathering, trailer loading, doctoring and sorting. The Wagon Wheel Café concession stand will be open and offering food. Tickets for the Ranch Rodeo are $10 per person, ages 10 and under are free. The Ranch Rodeo promises good clean fun with a family atmosphere. As Cal continues to share information about the rodeo and the Cowboy Church of Lee County, he is definitely doing his part to be the church outrider!
Ashley Smith is a freelance writer from Russell County.