|Changing the Face of Alabama Cattlemen|
When you think of a typical cattle producer from Alabama, what comes to your mind? An older gentleman with a large herd of commercial cattle or a young fellow just starting out with a few head?
Donna Jo Curtis may not be typical, but she is quickly making a place for herself and other women in the South’s cattle industry.
"My daddy told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, whatever I set my mind to," Curtis said. "On the farm I had to learn to do whatever my brother did. I have one brother and Daddy never made any difference in us."
She credits her upbringing with preparing her for the life she now leads. While many folks might think being a woman in an industry dominated by men would present a challenge, Curtis doesn’t look at it that way.
"Being a woman in the cattle industry has never been an issue. I believed what my daddy said. I took it to heart and I try not to have to ask for too much help though sometimes I have to," she remarked.
Curtis became the newest President of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association in February. She is looking forward to helping the organization grow and helping producers.
Curtis grew up on a farm in the Thach Community of Limestone County. She now lives just a couple of miles from her home place.
Growing up on the farm, Curtis recalled her father never hired outside help. She and her brother were "the help."
"I made good grades in school so a lot of times I got to stay out of school and help him," Curtis recalled. "I started driving a tractor at an early age. Now, I do all the hay, the cattle work, the bush-hogging, fence spraying and whatever needs done."
Curtis said her husband, John, knew he was accepted as a member of the family when her father finally let him drive one of the tractors.
Looking to Learn
Even though she’s educated in agriculture and grounded in that way of life, Curtis isn’t content just to continue with the way things are. She’s always looking for ways to benefit her herd of about 120.
"Anytime there’s some new technique that comes out, any kind of workshop where I can learn a better way of doing things, I always try to do that — especially if it’s going to help in working and handling my cattle," Curtis explained.
Animal Lover at Heart
While some producers get a reputation for being hard-hearted toward animals, Curtis definitely wants to change that perception.
"I would like for people to understand that I love my animals. I get attached to them — even as long as I’ve been doing this. When it’s time to sell cattle, I have a hard time, sometimes, letting them go – especially a cow I’ve had for a long time. John can tell you, if they get a name, they’re usually going to be buried on our farm."
While she’s independent and likes to do things for herself, Curtis knows when to call in the reserves.
"Since I do most of the work myself, I try to have a few projects for when my kids come home," Curtis said.
She has taken her father’s directive to heart and refuses to hire outside help.
If the kids seem reluctant to help out, she reminds them that the work pays the bills.
"I ask them if they like going to Auburn and they say ‘yes’ and then they hop to it and get the work done," Curtis said.
She recalled that her kids’ friends didn’t like to sleep over so much because they couldn’t sleep late in the mornings. Chores were always ready to be done.
When her granddaughters are around and there’s work to be done, Curtis has learned to fasten car seats to the four-wheeler and take the little ones with her to the pasture.
A Little History
Curtis has her father’s 1969 John Deere 4020 tractor. It has had minimal work done on it over the years. Curtis learned to practice preventive maintenance from her father, who was particular about his equipment.
She uses the tractor in the hay field and around the farm.
A Way of Life
Curtis graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in animal science, as did her husband of 30 years. She recalled, at one point, they tried to steer their children away from the hard work associated with agriculture. Not an easy task when that’s all that they’ve known.
"All three of our children are in agriculture," Curtis stated.
Lauren Graham, their oldest child, teaches agri-science at Ardmore High School. She is the first female ag teacher in Limestone County.
Twins Landon and Landria are close to finishing at Auburn University. Landon is studying ag economics and Landria will graduate in animal science.
Curtis’ husband, John, is the General Manager of the Limestone Farmers Cooperative. They are active members of the Mt. Zion Church of Christ.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.