The Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s animal sciences and forages team is proud to highlight livestock and forages producers that have contributed greatly to the industry. Through an interview style, it is hoped their knowledge and experience can benefit producers new to the industry, as well as already established producers.
Harrell Watts, Jr.
Harrell Watts, Jr. of Simmental of Alabama has been operating a large-scale beef cattle and row crop operation in Dallas County for over 50 years. Today, the Watts family raises both SimAngus and commercial cattle along with their row crops. Their operation has evolved and grown over the years and presently has three generations of the Watts family working with the farm. Over the years Watts has reached several milestones within the cattle business and has also taken advantage of several opportunities to work with Alabama Extension and the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association. The following questions and answers are from an interview with Watts.
What are a few of the main goals of your farming operation?
When you have as many cattle as we do, your number one goal is to turn a profit. I’ve always really enjoyed being around cattle and watching them grow. Over the years we’ve raised many different breeds, but some years ago we settled on SimAngus cattle. We really like their productivity and stay-ability for our farm. We also use and raise SimAngus bulls for sale. In this area of the country, I think we need cattle in the frame score 5 and 6 range. I also think cattle need to have a lot of internal volume, so we focus on producing cattle with a lot of capacity. Grasses can contain up to 80 percent moisture. A cow has got to be able to consume a lot of forage to maintain her body condition and re-breed.
How has the Alabama Extension animal sciences and forages team helped you move closer to your goals?
In the 70s the county Extension agent got us started weighing calves at weaning. Collecting production records helped us identify cattle that were not up to par and helped us make performance-based selection decisions. We’ve also been a part of the Herdbuilder replacement heifer program and sale since it started. Today, we basically have a closed herd and Kentucky 31 fescue is an important grass for us. I’ve worked with Extension personnel, like Kevan Tucker, and through selection and management, we have little issue concerning fescue toxicity because the cattle have been managed on fescue all their lives.
What is one of your favorite experiences from being involved in livestock and/or forage production?
I enjoyed serving on the National Simmental Board in the 90s, and I was fortunate and humbled that they elected me to serve as board chairman in 1999. I enjoyed meeting people from all over the country. I also enjoyed seeing and learning about cattle being raised in other parts of the country different from ours.
What is one thing you’ve learned about raising cattle or forages over the years that you would share with your younger self?
Grass is probably one of the most important things. You’ve got to have it. You’ve got to take care of the land while getting more from it. You cannot make it in cow/calf production just buying feed.