By Kellie Henderson
|Clayton Bryant of Rose Hill offers his Blonde D’Aquitaine cattle range pellets from Andalusia Farmers Co-op.
In the Rose Hill community in South Alabama, Clayton Bryant is raising cattle that many folks in the state have only seen in pictures. His herd of over 60 purebred Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle is a unique breed in the southeastern part of the country, but Bryant said this breed is well suited to today’s beef market.
"There aren’t many Blonde producers east of the Mississippi River; and as far as we know, Bryant Farms is the only producer in Alabama, Florida or Georgia," he says.
And as current President of the American Blonde d’Aquitaine Association, Bryant and other producers are working to get the breed more exposure within the cattle industry.
||Clayton Bryant (left) and Levon Glisson (right), manager of Andalusia Farmers Co-op, discuss plans for Bryant’s cattle farm and look over some of his younger stock.
"Blondes really have a lot to offer producers and consumers. They are known for being a docile breed with calves that mature quickly with a high rate of gain and heavy weaning weights. Blondes’ ease of handling helps them fair well in the feedlot and their carcasses have a high dress percentage. They are a lean, muscular breed that produces lean beef desirable to end consumers, which translates to more money for producers," Bryant said.
He added that promotion has been and continues to be a challenge for Blondes.
"People are so crazy for black cattle right now that it’s difficult to get them to look at anything else. Add to that small numbers in our region and a breed name many people aren’t familiar with, and we’ve got a challenge on our hands. But it’s one I enjoy, and I’m confident that if we can get people to give these cattle a look, they’ll see how much they have to offer," he said.
Originating in the Aquitaine region of France, the breed has only been in the U.S. since the 1970s, coming down from Canada through the Midwest, according to Bryant. And he said these cattle are able to tolerate heat better than many breeds.
"They are really well suited to our climate and we’ve had good luck in crossbreeding, selling our bulls to some commercial producers with various breeds and crossbred cows," he said.
|Bryant’s young heifers are a source of great pride in his operation, and he says he’s ready to help someone else establish their own herd of blondes with a group of heifers and an unrelated young bull.
Raised on the family farm in Rose Hill, Bryant grew up with cattle and had long dreamed of returning to that lifestyle after retiring from education. In 2002, Bryant retired as superintendent of the Andalusia City School System and began building his cattle operation.
"I had looked at a number of breeds before retiring and to be honest, those cattle owners just didn’t seem excited about their product. My wife Barbara and I had planned a trip to visit some different farms and ranches to get better acquainted with various breeds and after we saw the Blonde d’Aquitaines in Louisiana, she said we didn’t need to make the stop we had planned as we came back through Mississippi. She was sold on how gentle they were from the beginning," Bryant said.
He purchased his original cows from that same farm in Louisiana, adding to his herd with cattle purchased in Oklahoma and Texas.
"Right now I’ve reached the point that I could set someone up with their own set of heifers and an unrelated young bull and that’s something I’ve worked toward. Another goal I have is to get someone from our area to show a Blonde. I’d love to support a young person who’s interested in bringing the breed to the show ring," Bryant said.
Bryant’s promotion plans also include working with beef producers who are interested in improving the quality of their meat.
"While the beef from Blondes retains the desirable marbling, the bands of fat around the muscle mass are considerably smaller compared to some more common breeds. Blondes also tend to produce a greater proportion of high-value steaks and roasts. A speaker at a Blonde Association meeting said one time that the only issue he had with the meat was that the steaks were too big. I don’t think a steak can be too big for me," Bryant joked.
He also said his farm is facing the same challenge as many others right now – lack of rain.
"We finished 2006 at only 60 percent of our average annual rainfall for Covington County and we’re already several inches behind for 2007. I actually sold some of the hay I cut last year. I’m worried now that unless we get substantial rain fairly soon, I may wish I had my hay back," he says.
Bryant added that one of his greatest resources for his operation has been Andalusia Farmers Co-op.
"Probably the best thing about the Co-op is the people who work there. I always enjoy dealing with their staff. I buy lots of fencing and fertilizer from them and if they don’t have everything I need, they know where to find it. I’ve needed their support in the five years since I started my cattle operation because I’m learning so much about the business along the way. The Co-op has always been there to help," said Bryant.
Co-op store manager Levon Glisson said he and his staff enjoy working with Bryant as well.
"Mr. Bryant is a good customer and we’re proud to help him any way we can. His father, Ralph Bryant, was a founding member of the Andalusia Farmers Cooperative Board of Directors and I hope we’re living up to what he wanted this store to be for our community and its farmers," Glisson said.
Bryant also said he couldn’t keep the farm going without the help and support of his family.
"Barbara knows as much about our cattle as I do and my son, Clint, helps me work the cows whenever I need him, and that has been a blessing for me. My brother, Everette, has retired from his farming operation, but he has been a tremendous help when it comes to machinery maintenance and repair. And my mother, Eunice, has been a big encouragement in this endeavor. She fixes lunch for us most days we’re out here working and she says she loves seeing the cows on her daily walks," said Bryant.
And Clayton Bryant said even though managing his cattle operation is very different from his education career, he appreciates that he’s had the opportunity to do both.
"I enjoy growing things, I enjoy seeing the wildlife on the farm and I enjoy taking the time to stop and appreciate what’s going on around me. My time in education was a good thing, but farming has been a good change too. I accepted both challenges gladly and I look forward to seeing what I can do to improve my cattle and what I can do to promote Blondes as a breed," he said.
Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.