June 2006
Featured Articles

This Company Develops “Southern” Cattle

by Debbie Ingram

Dothan businessman John Downs got corralled into the cattle business because of a personal interest and because he saw a need.

Downs, owner and founder of Southern Cattle Company, has been attracted to the cattle industry since he was young and as he got older, saw a need for bulls bred and raised locally to best fit the requirements of Southeast ranchers.

Southern Cattle Customer Service Representative James Stice said in the past, local farmers and operators got their bulls from Western states. “Many of the bulls are not bred or adapted for the climate, weather conditions, and the grass that we have in this region,” Stice said. Those facts made the animal’s life shorter in the South in terms of usefulness for breeding purposes.

Since the creation of Southern Cattle Company (SCC), an 8,000-acre Angus and Charolais seed stock operation located on U.S. Highway 231 South, ranchers even as far away as the Mid-West and Eastern states look to the Marianna operation for their cow and bull needs.

“We are a registered cattle business that only uses cattle from proven cow and bull families,” Stice said. “We want to be the sought-after supplier for other Angus herders and commercial (markets).”

SCC, founded 10 years ago, bases its program on consistency and has built a reputation as a genetically superior supplier. The company has dozens of top-performing cows and bulls – and purchases semen from donor bulls – which will provide unswerving prodigy with comparable desirable traits. Traits like calving ease; good growth; high-quality carcasses; good maternal traits and milking ability; ease of handling; good marbling and tenderness.

“A lot of companies, they have one superstar,” Stice said. “We have lots and lots of good ones which keeps us from putting all our eggs in one basket. It’s kind of like in baseball – you can spend a lot of time and money chasing that one superstar.” SCC has a strong bench.

Most of SCC’s herd consists of cows and bulls that are from registered and nationally known sires and/or dams. Many are half to full-blooded siblings from some of the best genetically proven animals in the country.

SCC’s offspring comes primarily from the in-house embryo transfer program. The company practically hand-feeds its proven cows, rotating some in and out, and flushes eggs monthly for freezing and later use. The company has a similar semen program for bulls and purchases semen from top producers around the country. This guarantees the most efficient use of the top producers, creating the most uniform and genetically superior cattle.

SCC’s 14 employees accomplish this through the upkeep and maintenance of a complex set of records whereby every animal’s history and bloodline is documented and tracked. This allows for parental performance monitoring which will guarantee the success of the herd. “We know their history and we know their bloodlines,” Stice said.

Cattle from Southern end up in one of two places – commercial cow-calf operations or other registered Angus breeders. From these two places, cattle may go through stockers, feedlots, and packaging plants, but the end user remains the consumer who either buys beef at the neighborhood grocery store, or orders it from the menu in a top steak house. “We supply the genetics that starts all this,” Stice said.

Keeping detailed records on all animals bought, born and sold also helps satisfy the consumer. General Manager Roland Starnes said food safety will continue to be in the forefront of public concern.

“Where the product came from is something the consumer wants to know,” Starnes said. “The whole industry is headed that way. The animal must be traceable.”

The bulk of SCC’s business is the sale of young bulls. During last fall’s sale, buyers from 14 states, primarily from the Gulf Coast areas, purchased 300 bulls. The average Angus bull sold for $3,250 while the average Charolais went for $2,850. Bull prices ranged from a high of $8,800 to a low of $1,700. Also last fall, an Oklahoma buyer paid $250,000 for one bull in a private treaty purchase. But Stice says that’s not the norm. “We have something for everybody,” he said. “And we depend on those people who come for just one bull (that may sell for $2,000).”

During last fall’s cow sale, prices averaged $10,500 per cow. Buyers came from 17 different states to bid on SCC’s approximately 100 females, most of which were with calves.

This fall’s sale, to be held on Nov. 2-3, bulls on Nov. 2 followed by females the next day, will be smaller. Downs is keeping more stock to increase the total herd size. “We are in a build-up period,” Stice said, ” – an expansion mode. This is the reason we won’t be offering as many females this fall. We are keeping them.”

This year’s fall sale catalogues are expected to include 250 bulls and 125 females. Because some bulls are sold by private treaty or for show animals, Stice anticipates needing about 280 to meet the 250 number.

This year’s auction features an exciting new venue. The show and sale will be aired in real time on the RFD Channel. “People will have our catalogues and watch the auction and will be able to bid from the comfort of their living rooms,” Stice said. “It’s the first time we’ve done this. It should be lots of fun.”

At last year’s sales, some of the largest buyers came from Florida operators who purchased between nine to more than a dozen head. Florida is the 12th largest cattle producing state in the U.S., and is among the top three east of the Mississippi. Last year, Southern Cattle Company ranked nationally in terms of the number of Angus registrations.

“Some people are here today from Georgia,” Stice said during a tour of the farm in early May. “They are buying a cow for a show animal. She’s really, really fancy.”

When SCC employees spot those, they alert potential buyers they know have an interest. But providing animals for competition is not the company’s goal; nor is breeding rodeo bulls, desired for their aggression and meanness – something SCC avoids completely. “Those are just different arenas,” Stice said.

As evidence of reaching its growth goals, last fall the company added 1,400 new calves to the operation. Considering about half of those are females, SCC has about 600 more births to go to reach its goal of having 1,000 new bulls on the farm. “Our sites are set on having 3,000 head. That will take a number of years,” Stice said.

To help with their growth and daily farm needs, SCC patronizes the Altha Farmers Co-op in Marianna. Jeff Helms, store manager, said Southern Cattle Company supports the local Co-op by purchasing a variety of items, too numerous to name.

“They’ve been doing business with us for about three years now,” Helms said. “They are excellent people and very good customers. They are highly respected in their industry. They buy so much from us — things like fertilizer, bulk feed, lime, cattle wormer, all sorts of vaccines, ear tags….”

The Charolais side of the operation is less then one-third of the whole company. Angus beef, on the other hand, is often advertised by breed on restaurant menus and in meat markets. Consumers have come to look at Angus beef as superior.

In terms of production, Angus’ top-quality reputation comes from a superior carcass and meat quality that is untouchable in the industry. Because of the product’s popularity, many Angus operations nationwide reported record profits the last few years while the consumer paid more than ever before for high-class beef.

Though the cattle must be tops, Starnes remains focused on that end user and wants to provide the best customer service possible to clients, be they small farmers or large commercial operators.

“We may be in the cattle business,” Starnes said, “but we’re really in the people business.”

SCC will host an educational seminar on Saturday, July 22, for anyone interested in attending. There will be several national speakers, representing three large feedlot operations; speakers from Cattle-Fax, a national cattle marketing firm; veterinarians from Pfizer and the University of Georgia; as well as several other noted specialists in Angus beef production.

For more information on Southern Cattle Company, call (850) 352-2020 or go to www.southerncattlecompany.com.

Debbie Ingram is a freelance writer living in Dothan who can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..