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Cattlemen unite for better profits

Three cattlemen in northeast Mississippi recognized the value of combining forces in the quest for a better product and higher profits.

Chip Waterer of Circle W Ranch in Chickasaw County and brothers Mike and Rick Howell of Holly Ridge Farm in Lee County merged their registered Angus and commercial cattle operations in the fall of 1999. The offspring are being combined into a new production company called Southern Shine Pastures.

Each partner has full-time outside employment, but each one is also involved in the day-to-day operation of SSP. Mike is the northeast area livestock agent for the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Rick works for an industrial chemical company, and Chip owns a furniture fabric business.

“This operation is not a hobby; it's a business. We want to make money. By combining herds, we're able to grow the herds at a faster rate,” Mike said. “Our strength is in our business-team approach to the work. Chip is heavily involved in pasture management. He and Rick bring good business sense to the table. I'm able to share the latest recommendations from university specialists.”

Mike is responsible for the artificial insemination work on all their cattle, both commercial and registered. Any unsuccessful pregnancies in one or two attempts are left up to a registered herd bull.

The managers wean quality, registered bulls at Circle W. The top commercial and registered heifers are weaned at Holly Ridge. They retain ownership of steers and culled heifers and after preconditioning, the animals are taken to a feedlot where carcass data is compiled for analysis.

“When we started, my herd was typical of most Mississippi commercial herds — no uniformity. Then I cleaned house,” Chip said. “I've seen us achieve genetic predictability in just three years.”

The increasing herd size enables a more reliable sample for viewing genetic traits, including growth, maternal characteristics and carcass traits. The goal in the next three years is to increase the herd size to 200 registered cows and 300 commercial cows.

“Every registered and commercial cow gets the same good treatment, but we work on raising cattle that don't need pampering,” Chip said. “We're very conservation-oriented. I'm a firm believer in taking what the Lord gives you and making the best of it. We're just tenants on His land.”

A strong health program is important to Southern Shine Pastures. Bulls and heifers are on health maintenance plans that emphasize maximum immunity and minimum stress. In addition to being dewormed twice a year, cows are given a modified, live vaccine which increases calves' immunity through their mothers' milk.

“We're concentrating on producing the type of product that consumers want. Our goal is a consistently good steak,” Mike said. “Prices won't fluctuate as much for quality genetics as they will with average cattle. That will not only mean better steaks, but also better live animals. We want our customers to make money on our bulls, too.”

In an effort to diversify their cattle business, Mike said they are targeting five markets: registered bulls, feedlot cattle, quality embryos, commercial heifers and registered heifers. They are in the process of expanding their market area to as far as 250 miles away. They market their bulls through private treaty and consignment sales.

Rick Howell said Southern Shine works hard to encourage repeat customers.

“We know that we must continue to provide the best genetics possible for our customers to improve their profit margins,” Rick said. “Every aspect of our program is under constant review to keep the best product available and to continue to grow our customer base. After all, what we are really selling is our reputation.”

Behind each of these cattlemen is a wife who tries to serve as an encourager and occasionally as a business voice of reason. Chip's wife, Debbie, Mike's wife, Cathy, and Rick's wife, Caroline, serve as additional sounding boards for their husbands.

“It is good to have some accountability, both from business partners and our wives,” Chip said. “That helps any one individual from chasing less productive ideas.”

Linda Breazeale is with MSU Ag Communications.

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