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August 25, 2010   Email to Friend 

OYFF: Henry Family Believes This Could Be Year of the Cattle
By Melissa Martin

Garrett Henry, wife Emily and daughter Paige are following a family tradition.
After growing up on a dairy farm, the last thing Garrett Henry wanted was to spend the rest of his life farming. But after earning a bachelor's degree in agricultural business and economics from Auburn University, the lure of farm life returned.

"I missed it," he said. "So after graduating, I found myself coming back home to the farm."

That was hardly surprising, as the strength and success behind the Henry family's operation runs right through the cow pasture.

"I come from a family of farmers," said Garrett. "My grandfather, my dad, two uncles and an aunt are in the cattle business. It's a family operation. We all work together and we all have our own equipment, but we all use each other's equipment to try and keep our expenses down."

Today, however, the business is all beef, and the 29-year-old finds himself, wife Emily and daughter Paige (4), the Beef Division winners and one of six finalists in the Alabama Farmers Federation's Outstanding Young Farm Family contest.

Garrett got his start in October 2004, leasing land from a retiring farmer and buying 240 head of cattle. Since then, he has increased his herd to 400 Angus, Charolais and Simmental.

To further control expenses and make way for any future expansion ideas, he embraces the understated value behind the art of efficiency. As a result, he hopes to have a higher percentage calf crop, wean bigger calves and lower his expenses per cow. In terms of his preconditioning operation, this efficiency would help improve the cost-per-pound of gain, reduce death loss, reduce shrinkage and reduce input costs. Good genetics on the cattle he buys and sells, in addition to being consistent with uniform loads, also aid his operation's stability.

"Right now, I have no plans to expand my cow-calf operation because I've already met my goals, but I do plan to expand the preconditioning operation by purchasing cattle in my area to go along with family cattle to make more uniform load lots," said Garrett. "My focus now is trying to group similar shipments according to gender, breed, size and weight."

While Garrett notes that the cattle market is set up to have some really good years and is optimistic about their operation's future, getting to this point has been anything but easy. "Over the first five or six years, the market has really taken us for a ride, but the biggest setbacks have been weather-related. Going through droughts, excessive rains and a tornado, I've realized that despite all my efforts, the one thing I can't predict is the weather. If I could, it'd make things a whole lot easier. But in spite of it all, there's not much that's gonna stop us from farming."

The tornado that tried to put the Henrys' farm out of business wreaked havoc in November 2006, leaving behind the eerie likeness of a war zone and little else. After clearing away remnants of their commodity barn, sheds, storage buildings and two decapitated silos, the Henrys had quite a task in front of them -- rebuilding 95 percent of their operation. Though the tornado was a setback, Garrett never lost faith that being a beef farmer was his calling.

"Sometimes, you just have to live with what's given to you and adjust to it," he says. "There's constant change in the cattle market - weather, economy, export and import, not to mention grain markets and fertilizer prices," notes Garrett. "This year, corn is cheaper and fuel is cheaper, but cattle are higher. It's kind of the year of the cattle, I guess you could say. It's the first year that we could say that in a while, and hopefully things will go well for us."

At this point in his career, Garrett is well-versed in both dairy and beef farming. When asked what he likes better about the beef industry versus dairy farming, Garrett's answer came with a chuckle - "being able to sleep at night!" What many don't realize, he says, is that "the dairy business is 24/7. You've got to get up at 2 o'clock in the morning, maybe get a few hours sleep when you can and go back to work all day. With the beef operation, it's a lot of hours and hard work, but when you love what you do as much as I love this, those hours aren't so bad. It's not the same thing over and over like it is in the dairy operation . . . It's a good variety -- you're cutting hay or you're working cattle or you're marketing, but you also get time off and can go on a vacation with the family every now and then."

Married nine years this December, Garrett and Emily have their hands full with the beef operation, her nursing career and raising Paige. Expecting their second child, a son, in December, the Henrys are excited about the prospects of their growing business and growing family. "Things are looking better financially at home and on the farm," said Garrett. "With our family growing, we've got a lot going right now. But at the end of the day, we know how blessed we are."

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