Butler resident Willie Sykes is what you would call "familiar" with his herd. He knows the cows by sight and can rattle off statistics about each one as if it were a Major League ball player.
That kind of familiarity comes only one way—from spending time with the herd.
Sykes spends his days with his herd, feeding and tending to them. He waits by the shed until the parade begins and the entire herd moves through the area on its way to the pond at the bottom of the hill.
As Sykes is pointing out different cows and recalling their genealogy, he is overtaken by a motherless calf that he has bottle-fed since birth.
The calf, Sykes explained, had been taken off the bottle only a couple of days before and was not happy about it. She acts more like a pet than a calf.
He had to pen her up in the shed just so he could walk around the pasture.
Sykes isn’t exactly sure how long he’s been in the cattle business. The best he can reckon it’s been at least 35 to 40 years.
"I started off with just commercial cows, then I went to Charolais bulls and for some reason I got it in my mind I wanted to go all Charolais," Sykes said. "I’ve always liked a big cow that had some length—some build—to them."
Many years ago, Sykes had a bull that went sterile about half-way through the breeding season. He promptly began a controlled breeding program to prevent such a mishap from happening again.
After much study and experience, Sykes settled on a calving season starting in the fall.
"I start calving the last part of September," Sykes explained. "I don’t like to calve in the summertime. There’s too much stress on the cows."
Sykes added that by having his calving season in the fall his calves are ready to eat when spring arrives.
"When the grass starts putting out, these calves are ready to eat grass," Sykes said. "That and the feed help take some of the stress off the mamas."
In order to time his calving season, Sykes will usually put bulls in the herd around the first to middle of December and allow them to breed about four months, noting he would like to get it down to three months.
Sykes places a creep feeder in with his calves. He said having the calves eating feed and grass takes a huge strain off the mamas trying to carry the calves through the following summer.
His 40 calves eat about 300 pounds of feed per day from the creep feeder.
"I won’t have any trouble with these calves when I pull them off the mamas and take them to the other pasture," Sykes said. "When I put the feed in the trough, they’ll keep right on eating."
Taking the stress off the mamas and the calves really boosts the uniformity of the herd, Sykes believes.
He depends on his local Co-op store in Butler for soyhull pellets, cattle minerals and STIMU-LYX® fly relief IGR tubs.
Sykes believes in preventing problems whenever possible. Besides checking on his herd daily, he incorporated a vaccination plan into his program about 20 years ago.
He has a veterinarian-certified complete vaccination schedule which targets blackleg, respiratory viruses and other common diseases.
Even though twins are more common than they used to be, Sykes seems to have a corner on the market. He has had several sets of twins. And over the past several years, he has had a set of twins nearly every year.
"A few years ago, I had three sets of twins in one year," Sykes recalled. "I raised all three sets."
He has a twin heifer from last year that will soon make the trip to the sale barn.
Sykes explained the way he understood it was that twins of the same sex would be productive animals but when a male and female were born as twins the female would not reproduce well.
Sykes mostly markets his cattle locally through a producer who holds regular bull and heifer sales. Some heifers and cows are sent to a sale barn in Livingston.
Everything he does with his herd is aimed toward producing better cattle. Sykes doesn’t see the point in being in the cattle business unless he produces the best cattle he can.
Sykes mostly does the work by himself, although he usually gets help during calving season to weigh and tag the calves.
When he’s available, his son, Chuck, helps out. Chuck is usually on television, though, teaching folks about wildlife.
Persons interested in contacting Sykes about his cattle may call him at (205) 459-3161. His farm is located near Butler in Choctaw County.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.