‘We Breed ‘Em To Ride’
By Susie Sims
||Horse breeder Wade Hill leads one his stallions.
What began about 40 years ago still remains an integral part of daily life for the Hill family. The family has a Quarter Horse breeding program that they built themselves.
Jerry Hill started his program when he was still a teenager.
"I bought my first breeding stallion when I was 17 years old," recalled Hill. "I’ve been in the business ever since."
Now he and his partner, his son Wade, have five breeding stallions that they use for their own mares and for the public.
The father-and-son team call their business Red Oak Quarter Horses. Their farm is located near Speake in Lawrence County.
Jerry said they like to stick close to the foundation breeding program, which produces high quality Quarter Horses that are bred to work.
"We try to produce horses that are pretty to look at but are still able to perform," said Jerry. "This has been a good business for us."
Red Oak offers lineage from Oklahoma Star, Bert, Revenue and Three Bars.
Jerry’s wife, Martha, noted that one current trend in the industry is centered on the color of the animal. The family noted that they receive calls from people who ask primarily about the color of the animal rather than its bloodline.
|Wade Hill, left, and his parents and partners, Martha and Jerry Hill.
In contrast, Jerry said he has traded foals with a friend from Oklahoma for many years without him ever seeing the foal.
"He has always been more interested in the foal’s lines than what it looks like," said Jerry.
The Hills hope to produce 18 foals next spring.
Like most farmers, the Hills are concerned about adequate and affordable feed sources. When they couldn’t find what they needed, they began to look at producing their own.
"We began producing our own hay and grain crops because of our horses," said Wade. "We were looking for something that met our specific needs and we could sell to the public."
Wade, who has a degree in agronomy from Oklahoma State, was challenged by locals who said many specialty grasses could not be grown in North Alabama.
||Lawrence County horse breeder Wade Hill looks on as mares and a colt play during feeding time.
Jerry wanted to grow alfalfa for use on the farm and inquired about its viability in the local climate.
"Many of the local experts we talked to said legumes, like alfalfa, and grasses, such as Timothy, could not be grown here," said Wade. "That was the jump-start we needed to prove them wrong."
Wade admitted that alfalfa is not the easiest crop to produce in his area, but with a little "TLC" it has proven to be a successful venture for the partnership. This is their fourth year to produce alfalfa for hay.
The farm has already produced one cutting of Timothy this year, with hopes of least one more cutting, depending on future rainfall.
"The lack of rain has hurt us," said Jerry. "But the grasses have survived and have started putting out again. We are pleased with the way the grasses have performed in this area."
Wade said the first cutting of Timothy back in the spring was of "great quality." Jerry recalled that an 80-year-old former dairy farmer remarked that the Timothy field produced the prettiest hay he had ever seen.
The Hills said they have pushed the production of Timothy because of specific needs of horses.
"According to my local veterinarian, Timothy can be fed to sick horses and will not cause further complications," said Jerry. "It is the only grass I know that is safe to feed to sick horses."
Besides alfalfa and Timothy, the Hills also produce ryegrass and soybeans for hay. They grow oats and bale the straw as well.
The Hills produce square bales for use on their farm as well as for sale to the public. They store the bales in old chicken houses on their property.
Martha noted that the family got out of the poultry business in 2004.
In part, the family’s interest in specialty grasses came from the need to remove mares from grazing fescue 30 to 60 days prior to foaling. And the rest is history.
Local Involvement, Statewide Impact
The Hills have been selected by their local Farmers Federation chapter to represent the area’s need for an equine disaster relief program.
"We will represent the folks of Lawrence County in Montgomery," said Wade. "We will petition the state Farmers Federation for the program."
Jerry said the program they are requesting would be similar to programs already in place that benefit cattle farmers in years of drought or disaster.
"One of the reasons this type of program doesn’t exist is that most horse people only have a couple of horses," said Jerry. "But folks like us, who make their living with horses, need a relief program for those really bad years."
While horses remain their livelihood, the Hills are considering another move into the cattle industry.
Jerry said that they will soon acquire some nearby pastureland from a neighbor.
"We are planning on putting cattle on the property," said Jerry. "We hope this will benefit our operation."
Loyal to Local Co-op
The Hills are loyal customers of the Lawrence County Exchange in Moulton. They believe in the Co-op system and what it tries to do for producers on the local level.
"We tell them what we need and they do their best to satisfy that need," said Jerry. "They give us products, information and services."
They have a high opinion of store manager Darrell Thompson, noting that he is always willing to help them with products and information concerning any of their ventures.
In return, Thompson said the Hills are "good Co-op customers."
A Real Cowboy
Martha recalled a story about three-year-old Wade.
Wade had climbed a gate to mount one of the family’s horses. He rode the animal and was doing well. The horse got spooked and ran across the pasture. It threw Wade off in a rocky area. Martha said she knew he was hurt badly. When she and Jerry got to him, fortunately he had landed in the mud. As Wade got up, all he had to say was "I rode her like a real cowboy, didn’t I, Daddy?"
Persons interested in contacting the Hills may call Jerry at (256) 773-8013 or Wade at (256) 565-0600. Their farm address is 4707 County Road 203, Danville, AL 35619.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.