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Neal Vickers – Balancing
Radio, Family and Farm

By Suzy Lowry Geno

When Neal "Buddy" Vickers retired in 1995 after more than 20 years in the Air Force, he and his wife, LuAnne, knew their permanent home must have two main qualities: a nearby job where Buddy could continue his career as a newscaster AND a rural area where they could complete the raising of their three daughters.

Eventually it was the 140-year-old farmhouse situated in the town limits of Steele in St. Clair County that won them over. With its hand-hewn doors (none of which are the same size), and pine and oak planks on the floors, walls AND ceilings, the home has a warmth that even exceeds its three fireplaces.

The Vickers’ grandsons, John and Ethan Whisenant, with one of the baby Boer 
goats they call Angel. 

Most folks know Buddy, or "Neal" as he is known to his radio audiences, as the sidekick on Paul Finebaum’s afternoon radio talk sports show that is syndicated across the southeast, as a respected reporter on the Alabama Radio News Network or as host of the statewide weekend radio show, Viewpoint. But anyone who has listened to Buddy for long on the Finebaum show knows that his heart is really on his farm.

Neal “Buddy” Vickers loves to talk and show off about his flock of sheep.

About ten years ago, LuAnne (who works as a mail carrier) began bottle-feeding the "reject" lambs from her aunt’s Etowah County farm, a mixture of Barbados and Muffalon. Her first bottle-baby was a ram named Artemis.

Besides being rejected by his mother, Artemis was later attacked by marauding dogs. However, Artemis not only survived but also thrived for more than a decade in spite of a crooked neck resulting from that near-deadly injury; and many of the sheep that now dot the Vickers’ pasture are from Artemis’ lineage.

Of the hair-sheep, the ewes are polled but the rams have magnificent horns that can curve a complete circle at least three times in the older males.

The majority of the lambs appear colored as the Barbados Blackbellies, with dark brown on the legs and stomachs and lighter tans on the backs. Ewes rarely have single births, dropping at least two, and up to four, lambs.

At the time of this article, of the sheep running on about ten acres of the Vickers’ farm, there were 16 lambs on the ground with the possibility of that many more births this spring. The ewes usually birth unassisted, leaving the security of the herd to freshen outside in a secluded area hidden by bushes or even in small gullies.

The sheep are sold for meat, either directly from the Vickers’ farm or through sales such as at Kilpatrick.

The sheep are bred to have the tendency to have less subcutaneous fat than wooled breeds (somewhat similar to that of goats). That generally results in their meat having a milder, less "muttony" flavor.

Predators have been a major problem in the past, with a loss of lambs to coyotes and bobcats that venture down from Chandler Mountain. But since Rudi, a Great Pyrenees, was bought a little over a year ago, no animal has been lost to a predator.

In addition to three horses and the sheep, the Vickers’ farm also includes laying hens, a few rabbits, and, of course, a couple of barn cats.

The livestock bug has also bitten two of the Vickers’ grandsons, Ethan and John Whisenant, who live on a nearby farm with parents Gail and John Whisenant, Jr.

One of the Vickers’ ewes with her lambs.

Although Ethan is only 5 and John 7, they have had a thriving Boer goat business for the past two years, buying and selling to improve their bloodlines. The Vickers’ other grandson, Dominique, currently lives in Colorado with their other daughter, Andrea, and husband Lou who both serve in the Air Force. Andrea returned stateside just before Christmas after ten months in the combat zone of the Middle East. Daughter Gail also previously served in the Air Force.

The Whisenants are working on their farm to establish a line of rare-breed cattle, the Braunvieh.

Buddy grew up on a farm outside Cookeville, Tennessee, where his parents raised cattle, hogs, horses, chickens and more.

"One of my favorite trips to town when I was little was going to the Farmer’s Co-op," Buddy remembers. "It was just the smells of the feeds and the fertilizers. What kid wouldn’t like all the equipment and farm tools? Everything there fascinated me. So it was only natural when I had my own farm to seek out the Co-op. I go to St. Clair Farmers Co-op in Ashville because it’s right off the Interstate when I’m traveling to work."

Buddy continues, "But Blount County Farmers Co-op in Oneonta reminds me most of the one from when I was a kid. The loading docks are just like those back in Tennessee. The people are friendly and they have a wide variety of feeds and even clothes like you have to have. I bought several Carhardt shirts and jackets because they will withstand this lifestyle."

Then LuAnne adds that Ethan and John aren’t like most kids who want to go to Wal-Mart; instead their favorite destination is the Co-op!

Chris Heptinstall, the Blount County Farmers Co-op’s manager, said he’s proud that folks like Buddy and his family love to shop in the store. "People ARE our business. The store is here because of the people."

Chris goes on, "We try to keep people on our staff that are knowledgeable about our products and farming in general. Customer service is the key to success and we strive every day to provide that customer service."

As for the many products offered, Chris says, "We do have a diverse line. We have things needed by the small home gardener for the garden and their lawn all the way up to the biggest farmer, from somebody with two or three horses and five acres to someone with thousands of acres and more."

Buddy and LuAnne are proud their grandchildren understand not only where much of their food comes from, but the hard work, planning, and knowledge it takes to make any type agricultural endeavor a success.

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.



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Date Last Updated January, 2006