April 2007
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Evolving Stocker Cattle Operation Keeps Moulton Producer in Business

 
  Clinton Hardin, who runs a stocker cattle operation near Moulton, with Barbara, his wife of 42 years.
Operation Allows More Volume on Fewer Acres

By Susie Sims

Clinton Hardin is not new to the stocker cattle industry. He said he began using the Stocker 700 program 20 to 30 years ago.

However, as his children grew up and started families of their own, Hardin thought a change was needed. He needed to increase his productivity without having to purchase or lease more pasture land. He wanted to keep the operation simple so he wouldn’t be so restricted.

He has one full-time and one-part time farm hand.

In the early 1990s, Hardin began to look at shipping his cattle to stockyards out West. He had tried shipping cattle to Florida after local processing plants closed, but the outcome was not what he was looking for. He now ships two trucks of calves every month out West. Hardin retains ownership of the calves until they are sold. He said he prefers it that way.

One of the main concerns at the present time is how to feed the animals once they are shipped. Hardin said the increased demand for corn for ethanol production has caused feed prices to soar. Couple that with the increased cost of shipping the feed to the West, and producers are finding it less expensive to keep their stock longer.

"I can feed the animals cheaper here," said Hardin. "I hold steers to 875 to 900 pounds. Heifers I hold to about 800 pounds." Hardin said the animals usually leave the feed yard for processing at 1,200 pounds.

Local Animals Are Best

Asked about his source of cattle, Hardin said he believes in the local supply.

"I purchase most of my animals from the Natural Bridge Stock Yard," said Hardin. "The animals are in good shape."

Hardin said he likes that the animals come into the Natural Bridge yard in Winston County on the day of the sale and have less stress loss. Additionally, the animals come from local producers and the yard is near Hardin’s farm in Lawrence County.

Occasionally, Hardin will purchase cattle from a producer, but he prefers to do his business at the sale barn. To keep his volume at a steady level, Hardin said he buys every week and sells every month.

"This process works to our advantage," said Hardin. "We can regroup calves as we need to and keep the volume constant."

Hardin said this way has advantages over his previous method of purchasing calves in the fall and then selling them in June. The main advantage Hardin sees is that he can continuously regroup the calves for shipment.

In a year, Hardin said he will ship 1,200 to 1,400 head out West to feed yards.

High Volume, Low Acres

At any given time, he has 350 cattle in feed yards and 500 at his farm in Moulton. Those 500 head are held on approximately 200 acres of pasture. By having such a high number of cattle on such a small parcel of land, Hardin is always looking for feed sources.

"We depend on commodity feeds," said Hardin. "We use some grass, if we have it."

He stays flexible on his feed source, using whatever is available at the time. Hardin believes that by staying flexible he can offer a higher quality feed to his herd at a lower cost.

"They get the nutrients they need," said Hardin. "That’s what is important."

The breed of animal also plays a role in delivering a good product at market. Hardin said that many times the Charolais cross and the Simmental cross breeds gain better, but that the Angus sometimes grades better.

He attributes the Angus popularity and demand to the massive promotional campaign launched by the breed.

"There is a high demand for Angus beef," said Hardin. "Advertising has influenced the public demand."

Because of this, Hardin said some of the more traditional "meatier" breeds are lagging behind.

Observation Is Key

In order to keep his animals healthy and in top shape, Hardin believes he must constantly observe his herd.

"The key to it is the observation of the calves," said Hardin. "Experience teaches you what to look for. It’s hard for me to train anybody what to look for."

Hardin likes to observe his animals from a distance, when they don’t know he’s looking at them. He said this is one of the best ways to detect a sick calf.

"Most calves—even the sick ones—will raise up when you come near them," said Hardin. "If you look at them from several yards away, you can tell more about their condition."

To help him with the monitoring of his herd, Hardin recently purchased a hydraulic squeeze chute and scales from the Lawrence County Exchange in Moulton.

"The scales really help us keep up with the herd," said Hardin. "We can track their weight gain easily and if a calf isn’t thriving, we know it right away."

Hardin uses electronic ear tags on his herd to make record keeping a snap. A small hand-held computer stores the information about each calf.

Hardin said he weighs each animal as it is brought to the farm and again after booster shots are given in about two weeks. The animals are weighed a third time after four to six weeks to ensure each is thriving.

Only at signs of sickness does Hardin use antibiotics.

"If you watch your cattle you will know if they are sick," he said. "There’s no need to give antibiotics if they’re not sick."

A Good Education

Hardin has built his cattle operation on the solid foundation of a good education. He graduated from Auburn University in 1960 with a degree in animal husbandry and nutrition.

Even though he says a formal education is not necessary to be a successful producer, Hardin is glad he had the opportunity to receive the schooling.

"It gives you the background to acquire knowledge," he said. "It gives you the contacts you need in your field of study."

All three of Hardin’s children attended Auburn University as well.

Family Is Most Important

If you want to see a twinkle in his eye, ask Hardin about his three children or his seven grandchildren. Hardin said the one thing in his life he is most proud of is that he and his wife, Barbara, raised three faithful children.

Hardin is an elder at the Moulton Church of Christ.

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.