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“The cattle business isn’t one that young people can readily get into, because it doesn’t provide cash flow unless you’ve got land and equipment," says Jacob "Jake" Megehee, Macon, Miss., producer. "But once you get everything paid for, cows will cash flow, and if you’re careful you can have a pretty good income.”
“COWS JUST LOVE IT — it’s like ice cream to them,” says Jake Megehee of the dried distillers grains that he uses as a feed supplement for his cow herd.
'Bigger is not always better'
“We put a double-wide trailer here on the farm and I told Martha if we were able to make a living, I’d build her a house. And with a carpenter and a little outside help, we later built this place. She did all the painting, staining, and decorating, and has planted and looked after all the roses and flowers. She has turned a hillside pasture into a beautiful yard and home.”
After completing his master’s degree in ag economics and moving into a Ph.D. program, Megehee says, “I was working full time for the university, flying three weekends a month in the National Guard, and by then we had 200 cows here on the farm and three children. I was just burned out.”
He took a teaching position at East Mississippi Community College, “a welcome respite, allowing me to devote more time to the farm, while still flying in the Guard.”
The farming enterprise grew, and at one point they were renting another 1,100 to 1,200 acres, growing soybeans, milo, and wheat, and had a 600-head cow herd.
“But bigger is not always better,” Megehee says. “We were working ourselves to death. In 1986 we quit row crops and cut cow numbers to what we could comfortably handle with a little outside help. Now, we’re strictly a cattle operation.
“All our cows, some with Charolais blood, are bred to black Brangus bulls from Cow Creek Ranch, a nationally-known cattle operation at nearby Aliceville, Ala. We decided to work with Cow Creek because the demand in the industry is for black hide cattle. These cows have easy calving and put live calves on the ground. We’re now into our eleventh year of Cow Creek genetics.”
He moves 55 or so 500-pound heifers to their south Mississippi farm in the fall, “and if things go right, we’ll bring back 900-pounders.
“We sell the black bred heifers at the Cow Creek auction. They handle marketing and promotion, and our heifers have gone all over the Southeast and out to Texas. We also do video marketing through Superior Livestock Marketing (American Rancher), which allows us to reach a wide audience. They have a national advertising program — and in this business you need to get your product before the buyer.
“Our black and white crossbred heifers go to the August sale at Hattiesburg, Miss., and our bred heifers are sold at Cow Creek and at Hattiesburg. The last two years, our heifers have beat the top selling prices of the big commercial sale at Uniontown, Ala., and for five of the last seven years, our 2 to 2-1/2 year old commercial heifers have topped the Cow Creek sale. This past year our heifers averaged $1,677 in two sales. That’s a pretty fat price, and I think this year we could see around $2,000.
“We like to use our own stocker steers, but we’ll also buy some at the sale barn or locally. We start with 300 pounders in the fall and when we get them up to 750-800 pounds, we’ll sell them in truckload lots via video auction. “We’ll put about 70 steers in the Home Place video auction at Hattiesburg in August. We like to put together a load of steers (approximately 50,000 pounds total) all the same color, with 100 pounds or less variation from lightest to heaviest. Last year, our big steers averaged 866 pounds.
“We really like video auction marketing — it saves time, there’s much less stress on the animals, and we can choose our delivery date.”
In February, Megehee says, “We’ll have some steers that would be too big for delivery in September, so we sell them through Prairie Livestock, Inc., at West Point, Miss., when they need to fill out a truckload.”
At mid-June this year, the Megehees had 125 mama cows with their calves, 55 bred heifers, and 90 steers on their farm at Macon and another group of heifers on their south Mississippi farm.