By Lilly Platts
Whitney Farm, located in the gently rolling hills of north-central Georgia, is fully utilizing Simmental genetics in their newly established commercial operation. After a successful career in the lumber industry, Rusty Wood quickly dove into the cattle business when retirement didn’t stick. While most starting out in the cattle business as a second career have a handful of females and do it for fun, Wood wanted to actually be involved in the beef industry and now has 250 SimAngus™ females. With big goals for the future, Whitney Farm is now a respected commercial operation.
Starting Strong with Simmental “I had been around cattle. My father-in-law had cattle and I just always had the desire to be involved,” recalls Wood. “My joy in the cattle has exceeded what I thought it would be.” Wood was the president of a lumber company, and his data-driven mindset was ready for the cattle business. After retiring, he was ready to move into another venture, purchasing his first set of females in December of 2016. The farm itself fit Wood’s vision for his new business, and the previous owners used their first-hand knowledge of the land to help him develop water troughs, fencing, corrals, and much more. “We had to establish our pastures, which has been a two-year process,” explains Wood. “We planted Novel Endophyte Fescue and Bermuda grass.” An additional draw to the property was its proximity to the University of Georgia. Wood sought out the advice of Dr. Dennis Hancock, who is considered a top forage expert. With this expertise, Wood has been able to create a detailed plan for the future of his pastures. He has also used the advice of South Carolina Simmental breeder Joe Davis, who sustains his cattle almost entirely on grass, only having to feed hay on rare occasions. “Joe Davis is the best grass man in the south,” says Wood. The goal of creating an operation not dependent upon hay is attainable but presents challenges. The area experienced drought-like conditions in 2017, and the weather, in general, can make the path to getting pastures to their full potential difficult. “As in any farming operation, the weather does present challenges, such as being too dry or too wet,” explains Wood. “It will be exciting to have all of the pastures planted and done.”
Data and Details Whitney Farm runs commercial cattle with a data-driven mindset. “When I was in the lumber business I was very data-driven,” recalls Wood. His initial goal was to have an operation large enough to run as a viable business. To accomplish this, he started with 85 bred heifers, later purchased 90 heifer calves and 45 bred heifers, and is now up to 250 head. Wood immediately knew he wanted to start with Simmental and Angus cattle. “With SimAngus, we chose the best of the Continental breeds, Simmental, and the best of the English breeds, Angus,” explains Wood. “Our two calf crops have certainly proven that decision to be a good one.” Starting with these high-quality SimAngus females has allowed Whitney Farm to grow quickly, and Wood continues to keep back all females as replacements. Upon reaching the capacity Wood would like, he plans to sell heifers. “We hope to constantly improve our herd by aggressive culling, and with a continued focus on the highest quality of AI and natural service,” he explains. All females are bred AI during the first part of December, and cleanup bulls from Gibbs Farm have turned out afterward for 60 days to produce a tight calving season. All females calve outside and are required to be self-sufficient. Nutrition is an important part of Wood’s breeding program. “In our nutrition program, our cattle have access to their mineral ration year round. We supplement our cattle with a mixture of whole cottonseed and distillers grain,” explains Wood. “We supply this supplement beginning 30 days prior to breeding, beginning November 1, and continuing 30 days after removing the cleanup bulls at the beginning of March. We want their nutrition and energy on the upswing during this critical period,” he continues.
As a commercial operation, genetic selection at Whitney Farm is as strict as within a seedstock program. Wood places a high priority on the quality of bulls he AI’s to and buys for cleanup, placing priority on numbers and phenotype. “I want $API and $TI to be in the top 5%, with high marbling and good disposition,” he explains. In addition to this focus, Wood always looks at the cow family before choosing genetics, giving a lot of credit to the success of the female. As an accomplished newcomer to the cattle business, he appreciates having tools, like $API and $TI, when choosing bulls.
Future One of Wood’s future goals is to feed out steers on-site and have the ability to collect growth and carcass data. They have also targeted a market for these steers by not using antibiotics unless necessary, and also choosing to not use hormones. Wood quickly points out that they will treat an animal with antibiotics if they need it. “Obviously we won’t let an animal suffer,” explains Wood.
However, they have found that with good management, antibiotics are rarely necessary, and by not using them an entire market is opened up for their future. “We desire to market our cattle at the best price and believe that in that market we get a premium,” says Wood.
As part of this management program, all calves are currently fenceline weaned. “We precondition all of our calves and always fenceline wean. We think it’s the low-stress way to wean calves,” explains Wood.
Family is a cornerstone of Wood’s operation. His wife, Terry, enjoys spending time around the cattle, and the namesake of the farm is their daughter, Whitney, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Stephen, and daughter, Cuyler. The farm employs Roberto Rojas full time, who is skilled with all aspects of running a cattle operation.
Wood has jumped into the cattle business feet first and has serious goals for the future of Whitney Farm. “My goal is to manage our business in a similar fashion in which we set the standard in the lumber industry. We were data driven to the point that we measured everything that could be quantified. We called our data points Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and we were so detail oriented that nothing fell through the cracks. We certainly have a way to go to attain the excellence we strive for, but that is our goal,” Wood concludes.