Luke Stephens, right, with the help of his grandfather, Jack Jarmon, purchased Lena, a dairy cow, for a new venture – Clarke County’s first Dairy Cow Project.
For Luke Stephens, farming teaches valuable life lessons.
Since he was old enough to walk, Luke Stephens has followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, Jack Jarmon. Jarmon is known throughout southwest Alabama as a skilled farm trader. To Luke, however, Jarmon is Papa (pronounced "Pop-uh" by Luke). Jarmon has always taken time to show Luke how to do things. Even more important, he has helped Luke develop a deep love for farm life.
When Luke entered the fourth grade, he joined the Clarke County 4-H. Even though he had been working with farm animals for years, Luke showcased his animals in the 4-H animal events. One that caught his attention was the Pig Squeal. For the past three years, he has won the Book Award, along with numerous other ribbons. The Pig Squeal was a learning activity in another way for Luke. It gave him the opportunity to build a pig pen to house his pigs Willie and Jase, named after the Duck Dynasty brothers.
"Papa always wanted me to learn everything about the farm," Luke explained. "He let me build the pen for my pigs. I cut every board with a handsaw because he wanted me to know how to use a saw. I nailed the boards, but Papa helped me put up the heavy wire."
To make a floor for the pen, Jarmon used his tractor to move concrete slabs that had been discarded by the City of Fulton. The twosome then filled in the cracks with Quikrete to make the footing more secure. The first year, Luke carried water to his pigs, but, after that, Luke and Jarmon added a gravity-flow water system.
After the first year’s competition, Luke netted $1,034 from the sale of his hogs. For Jarmon, Luke’s wise use of his earnings was worth all the hard work.
"The proudest I have ever been," Jarmon said, "was when Luke took that money he got for his hogs and gave 10 percent to his church and put the rest in savings. I was so proud of him and what he had decided to do!"
The Pig Squeal helped Luke learn a valuable lesson: Pigs have minds of their own! He said he had some catastrophes while showing his pigs. Once, while he was in the ring, one pig bit a hole in his pants’ pocket, looking for treats inside. He quickly covered the hole with his brush and continued to show the pig. At another judging, however, he completely lost control of the animals.
"I was working with them, when they just went crazy on me," he said. "I just stood and watched as they ran around the pen. The judges started counting how many times they went around. I was so mad at the pigs, but there was nothing I could do. I just took it in stride and went on. I guess all this just taught me some patience."
Left to right, Luke Stephens holds a black Silkie rooster he raised. He also has a white and splash Silkie rooster, as well as some hens. Luke and Doon, a Katahdin ram, are big buddies. Luke has trained Doon to play chase. Seeing the youngster and the sheep romp and play together is amazing.
In fall 2016, Luke also participated in Clarke County’s first Dairy Cow Project. On the local level, his cow Lena won first in Winter Heifer Class. At State, Luke placed second in the Jr. Dairy Quiz Bowl.
Even though he had enjoyed all the other events, the Chick Chain was his favorite.
"I’ve always liked to fool with chickens," he said. "When I was two, Papa got me some big blue chickens. I would walk into the chicken house and feed them and get the eggs, even though I didn’t even eat eggs. I talked to them and played with them. I just like chickens because they are really smart. I have had just about every breed, except exotics."
In the Chick Chain, Luke placed first with Buff Orpingtons in 2015 and first with Dominiques in 2016. While he was raising these larger breeds, he conducted his own scientific feed-test experiment with five bantams he owned. He was able to prove his bantams ate the equivalent of one larger breed; a fact he pointed out to Wendy Padgett, his 4-H sponsor.
Padgett had nothing but praise for Luke.
"He is very passionate about everything he does," she stated. "He is also very knowledgeable. He serves on the Clarke County 4-H Youth Council and has been a part of our Chicken Chain and Pig Squeal three times. I am proud of the fact that he’s so responsible in everything he does. He also has amazing family support, and that is so important."
Luke Stephens lives in Fulton, a small town located between Thomasville and Grove Hill. The Stephens family, Jennifer (mother), Russell (father), younger brother Cole and Luke, live in a subdivision, but Luke keeps his many animals at his Papa’s JLC Farm, just a short distance away. The boys often ride their four-wheelers to Papa’s farm.
Jarmon said his grandsons are his life. He and his wife Jerry spend many hours with the youngsters. Jarmon even named his farm after his grandsons. JLC stands for Jackie, Luke and Cole, and Jarmon proudly displays the logo on the farm trailer he pulls around South Alabama. Many times, the boys travel with Papa to other farms to swap and trade farm items or animals.
Like his grandfather, Luke has always had a very special connection to animals. He told an amusing story about Be-oink-er, a pot-bellied pig he rescued. It seems the pig had a knack for getting out of her previous owner’s yard and roaming. Luke and Papa caught her twice and returned her to the owner. After the second escape, the owner offered the pig to Luke.
Later, he traded Beoinker for a Katahdin ram he named Doon. He has now trained Doon to play chase. The youngster and the big white ram often engage in good-natured romps.
Recently, Luke purchased a Dorper ewe he named Dolly. He hopes to raise some black-headed lambs with her.
He also keeps a flock of Red Star hens, as well as white, black and splash Silkies. He had been reading about Golden Laced Wyandottes, and, with the help of Papa, he had ordered some baby chicks.
Luke said he could never have too many pets, but his mother disagreed.
"He already has too many pets!" Jennifer laughed. "He does not have enough room for any more. He has to get rid of something to get something else."
Fortunately, Luke has learned the art of swoppin’ and tradin’ from Papa; however, Luke has added a modern twist. With help from Jennifer, Luke posts his chickens in various groups on Facebook. This has brought many prompt sales for the youngster.
Jarmon has always felt it was important to teach Luke the basics of farm life. Luke has learned to plow with the family mule Pearl and to plant crops, especially potatoes – his favorite.
"Papa has always told me the potatoes do good just because I touched them," Luke smiled proudly.
Luke may be only 12 years old, but he is wise well beyond his years. An honor student at Thomasville Middle School, he was named "Student of the Month" in September. He plans to attend Auburn University to become a veterinarian. This decision has raised a few eyebrows among some of his relatives. The Stephens family members have been longtime Alabama fans, having sent three sons to play football for the University of Alabama. In addition, Luke’s father, Russell, played for the University of North Alabama and now serves as an assistant football coach at Thomasville High School. Nevertheless, Luke is unfazed. He still plans to go to Auburn to be a vet, even though he is a dedicated Alabama fan.
Luke has learned many important life lessons while following in his Papa’s footsteps. He has acquired a work ethic that will help him in all walks of life. But most importantly, he has learned faith and family and values, the important things that will guide his footsteps wherever he goes.