July 2014
Farm & Field

Cattle to Win

  Autauga County cattleman  Win Parmer relaxes at his Autauga County ranch while his cattle take it easy under the shade of large trees not far away.

Win Palmer was honored for his long career in the cattle business when he was awarded the Alabama BCIA’s Richard Deese Award on the organization’s 50th anniversary.

Ask Win Parmer what the beef cattle industry means to him and he only needs four words to answer.

"It’s in my blood," said the Autauga County rancher whose experience with cattle began when he was just a kid in Mississippi, sitting on a stool in freezing weather to milk "his" cow.

Other than a 4-year stint with the Air Force where he was a jet mechanic, Parmer has spent most of his 66 years producing high-quality cattle for buyers around the country.

His reputation within the industry continues to grow with awards sprinkled throughout the family house, sharing space on walls with prize catches including a large elk head. The animal was nailed on an Apache reservation by the avid hunter.

Win Parmer, left, stands with his granddaughter Faith Parmer, 11; his wife Joan and son Mike at their cattle ranch in Autauga County.  

The Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association’s Richard Deese Award isn’t given lightly and Parmer’s most recent award was presented on a special occasion – the BCIA’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Named for Auburn University’s late, legendary Extension animal scientist, the award cites Parmer for "dedication, innovative leadership and commitment to performance."

He was specifically honored for a long career including "a significantly broad scope" of the cattle industry with a focus on beef cattle principles.

Parmer is no stranger to such accolades. When he was manager of the Grey Rocks Ranch just down the road from his house, he won several top bull and commercial herd awards from the BCIA where he currently is vice president.

  Win Parmer holds a heavy souvenir, the Richard Deese Award, given to him during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association.

In 1993, the Win Parmer Ranch was designated as a "Farm of Distinction" by the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Farm City Committee. Six years ago, the ranch owner was named Alabama BCIA Commercial Producer of the Year.

Born in north Alabama and raised in Mississippi, Parmer learned early about the importance of filling a stainless steel bucket with milk from his designated cow before heading for the bus stop to get to school.

Grady Parmer moved the family to Tupelo, Miss., where Win became one of his high school’s best athletes. He was a four-letter star who divided his time between football, basketball and other sports when he wasn’t busy with his books and other activities, most on the farm.

He still remembers playing basketball at Tupelo’s Elvis Presley Park and would occasionally catch a glimpse of the famous singer.

Farming, however, kept him busy during his early years, especially milking on those cold early mornings. He also became active in Future Farmers of America, saying it was "a big part of my life in Tupelo."

Discharged from the service in 1971 after several years at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, he considered moving back to Mississippi, but found the job of a lifetime managing Gray Rocks Ranch at his little community between Selma and Autaugaville.

During his long tenure at Gray Rocks, Parmer helped develop a Santa Gertrudis seed stock operation. He bought Charolais, Hereford and other selective cattle to breed with Santa Gertrudis bulls.

Ann Upchurch, who owned the farm at the time, was so taken with Parmer’s successfully colorful results that she nicknamed his creation the "Rainbow Herd."

Upchurch virtually adopted the Parmers and left half of her cattle to them and the "Rainbow Herd" kept growing. Today it consists of 450 Angus, Hereford, Charolais and Santa Gertrudis cross cows bred to Angus and Simmental bulls.

Parmer’s management of the Gray Rocks Ranch and, later, his own has been based in part on a "performance" program that involves recording vital information on the cattle under his care.

Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Billy Powell is effusive in his praise of Parmer and his management system.

"Win was ahead of his time in using performance records as a selection tool," Powell said. "What he did was design a plan to use performance details instead of visually inspecting cattle which was the accepted practice at the time."

Powell said Parmer has been providing performance records detailing weight, weaning and other information that can help potential buyers decide which animal to purchase.

"His system helps define which heifer calves to put into a herd and which to take out," Powell said. "It’s a way to constantly improve genetics and Win has been a leader in that field."

Joan Parmer has been much more than a housewife at the family farm. She’s been actively involved in the operation and is happy to help her husband of 46 years in any way she can.

"We’ve been blessed, especially in the way our performance record plan has helped our operation," she said. "Cattle buyers looking for a certain breed can check our records for details. Each head has its own record and can be examined on a computer."

Parmer purchases much of the fertilizer and seed he needs from Central Alabama Farmer’s Co-op in Selma and general manager Tim Wood has become a good friend.

"I’ve known Win for 30 years and his name is synonymous with the Cattlemen’s Association in Alabama," said Wood. "He’s widely respected throughout the state."

Parmer’s years in the Air Force helped him organize his cattle operations and Wood said it has led to one of the best businesses in the state – urban or rural.

"Win’s military experience helped him to become a very detailed person," Wood said. "He can look at a farm or ranch operation and size it up quickly."

Harrell Watts, who raises Simmentals in Dallas County, is another booster of the Parmer operation, especially his personal management style.

"Win is very knowledgeable when it comes to the cattle industry, but, most of all, he’s a very honest businessman," Watts said. "He’s a good person to know and have dealings with."

Operating a cattle ranch can be costly, especially when the weather turns sour. That’s what happened during downpours earlier this year.

"All that rain ruined the hay, making it soggy and over mature," said Parmer. "The quantity was there, but the quality was terrible. I had to buy supplement feed to make’em eat the hay and it cost me about $10,000."

Mike Parmer learned a lot from his dad and, today, is the wildlife manager at Gray Rocks Ranch. He and his wife have four children for Win and Joan to spoil.

Two Blue Heelers have also become part of the family. Buddy has been around for a while and, in recent months, has been joined by Blue Bell, a female Heeler who might add to the number of four-legged animals at the ranch.

The Heeler breed emanates from Australia and is popular among cattle operations. They keep track of cattle that graze on land near the house or under trees to catch some shade.

Win Parmer has won recognition and awards during his long career as a cattleman, but a comment from a man he admired may top them all. It was Dr. Deese, the man whose name is affixed to Win’s latest honor.

During his years with Gray Rocks Ranch, Parmer went to Wallace Community College at night in Selma and it’s where he earned an associate degree in Agriculture Business.

What he really wanted to do was move on to Auburn University to pick up a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Science, but Deese told him to forget it.

"He told me I’d be wasting my time because I already knew more than the kids graduating from Auburn with that degree," said Parmer, breaking into a big smile. "I was 33 at the time and what he said really made my day."

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.