The Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s animal sciences and forages team is proud to highlight livestock and forages producers that have made great contributions to the industry. The team hopes to impart wisdom from seasoned producers to benefit and encourage new producers, as well as established producers.
Donny Stephens is a SimAngus seed stock producer in the Dallas County community of Browns. Since moving to Browns in 2003, Stephens’ operation has grown exponentially. For the last 15 years, he has utilized artificial insemination to promote consistent improvement and balanced production traits in his calf crops. Today, Stephens markets replacement heifers and bulls. In order to capture the additional value of cattle with superior carcass traits, he also feeds some of his calves till harvest for direct-marketed freezer beef.
Stephens has been a ready partner with Extension over the years and is always a pleasure to work with. He has taken advantage of many opportunities to work with Alabama Extension and to market cattle through sales with the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association (BCIA). The following questions and answers are from a recent interview with Stephens.
What are a few of the main production goals of your farming operation?
I would have to say that producing overall good stock is the main goal of my operation. Here at my farm, I mainly raise SimAngus cattle. I am partial to the SimAngus breed because they generally have a good temperament and raise really nice calves. Before I began using artificial insemination (AI), I would buy my herd bulls from other farms or sales. Through utilizing AI, I soon discovered that I could produce a bull just as good as a bull I could buy. It is also very important for our operation to offer quality freezer beef directly to customers.
How has the Alabama Extension animal sciences and forage team helped you and your operation move closer to your goals?
Through the Pasture to Rail program in particular, Alabama Extension has been a useful resource for me. When I retained ownership on some calves that I sent through the program, I was able to get carcass data that had been collected on them after slaughter. By working with Extension, I was able to select for bulls that had a better marbling score in hopes of their future progeny grading better on the rail. I have also been a part of the Herdbuilder Replacement Female Sale for several years.
What is one of your favorite aspects of being involved in livestock and forage production?
I really enjoy utilizing AI. I like how you can use several different bulls and they never have to set a hoof on your property. One of the most rewarding parts of this job is seeing calves hit the ground in the fall. It is a small reminder that all of the time and effort it took to synchronize and breed heifers paid off.
If you could share one thing you’ve learned about raising cattle and forage over the years with your younger self, what would it be?
Utilize artificial insemination sooner. It is the fastest way to improve your herd. If you can, start out with cattle that are as good as you can get, it may cost more upfront, but it will pay off in the end. I would also tell my younger self to cull the bad cows and be more willing to work with associations like BCIA. Those groups and associations are here to help you.