Autauga Farming Company is a diversified family farm located in Central Alabama. Crops include cotton, feed grains (wheat, oats, corn, soybeans), seed crops, pecans, hay, and cattle. We employ about fifteen people who work on the two farm units located in Autauga and Montgomery counties.
Started in Autaugaville in 1919, Autauga Farming Company (AFC) employed about ten people. It farmed about 600 acres using forty mules. The farm later operated a public cotton gin, syrup mill and well-drilling service. Cotton has traditionally been king of the crops grown at AFC, with yields averaging over one and a half bales to the acre on dry land. In 1976, Autauga Farming was named Cotton Farming magazine’s “National Cotton Farm of the Year.” After his introduction to Southern agriculture, Buzz Wendland has worked diligently to carry on the traditions and ideals espoused by his late father-in-law and mentor, William Howard Smith, as well as Smith’s father before him, McQueen Smith – both pioneers and innovators in their own times.
Cattle have always had an important role at Autauga Farming. Initially, cattle production allowed the farm to utilize land that was too marginal for row crop production or otherwise non-productive. From this simple start, livestock production at the farm began to take on a new light. In 1960, calves were weighed to initiate on-the-farm performance testing, a practice that has been followed every year since. New pastures were established and old pastures were cleared of brush and unwanted foliage to make way for some of the early coastal bermuda pastures. A pasture management program was adopted, including soil testing and fertilizing, an uncommon practice at that time.
Today, the brood herd at AFC consists of about 800 head of crossbred females. The breeding program uses a three breed rotation utilizing Angus, Charolais, and Simmental bulls. Bulls are selected on disposition, conformation, performance data, and EPD’s, and are purchased primarily from purebred producers in Central Alabama. Bulls are placed with the cows in mid-to-late December to allow for a fall calving season.
Weather conditions, availability of forage, and time of marketing are the main considerations of this decision. Calving begins in full swing around October 10, and ends in late December. At birth, calves are tagged and then tattooed with their permanent identification. Ears are notched, their navel is treated, and bull calves are knife castrated and implanted. Calf numbers, calving dates, birth weights, and pertinent dam information are recorded for later use in the record keeping program. Later in the season, electronic identification tags will be used on the male calves to allow for monitoring their progress in the feedlot and the food chain.
As the cattle herd grew throughout the years, so did the job of record keeping. So when the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association was established in 1964, Autauga Farming became a charter member. With the belief that performance data goes hand-in-hand with good common sense, a goal was set to increase productivity and profitability. A defined breeding season was established. Cows with a bad disposition, cows that did not breed back and any that failed to wean a calf were sold. Also, cows weaning small or off-type calves were sold. The most immediate result was a reduction in herd numbers. However, once the records were established and goals met, herd size and the quality of the herd improved. The brood herd at AFC consistently has cows that are designated Gold Star Cows by the BCIA. This recognition is bestowed in an effort to recognize and identify outstanding performance of commercial brood cows in the state. Gold Star Cows must meet minimum requirements for 205 day weights, weaning weight ratios, and calving intervals. Some cows have qualified for this honor for as many as nine consecutive years.
Record keeping on a brood herd this size can be challenging. In an effort to keep records that were accessible and up to date, AFC began keeping their own computerized records in about 1990. With the development of reliable commercial cattle management software, AFC began using Red Wing’s cattle management program in 1994. It is an outstanding tool that is user friendly and allows us to sort for a wide variety of criterion. It helps us to do an even better job of replacement selection and herd management by utilizing years of actual production data combined with proven production practices .
Cotton has been a staple on many Alabama farms, and Autauga Farming Company was no exception. A majority of the planted acres have been planted to cotton for many years. However, as times changed and farming practices changed, so did our crop mix. Cotton is still our main crop, but we also grow wheat, oats, and rye, as well as corn and soybeans. We believe that the proper rotation of these crops on the most suitable acres for each helps us to better utilize our soil and the available nutrients and organic matter in it. Also, crop rotation is proven to help in the management of weeds and other pests as well.
Another way in which we strive to conserve our soil, our nutrients, and our organic matter is by using minimum tillage practices whenever and wherever we can. Generally speaking, the less we have to work up the soil, the better. This helps reduce trips over the field and reduce the input costs of raising a crop. Ironically, this is a 180˚ turn from what we did thirty years ago. We plowed and turned the soil annually, and cultivated every acre. Research, technology, ideology and economics all have had an impact on where we were then and where we are now. Of course, minimum tillage or conservation tillage, whatever you want to call it, they are not new ideas. They’ve been around since the seventies too. The newer technologies have helped these practices become more practical, more predictable, and ultimately more profitable. We know too that it helps us, the farmer, better care for our resources, our environment, and our bottom line.
To successfully compete in any market, a business must continually analyze and make adjustments to their operation in order to remain on the leading edge. Years of experience can teach many lessons, and to remain static in an ever-changing market is a sure road to mediocrity. At Autauga Farming Company, we try to stick with the things that work, and to change the things that don’t work, and not be bound to a particular practice or methodology just becauase “we’ve always done it that way.” We strive to accomplish these simple yet meaningful goals while maintaining a high level of excellence and integrity in everything that we do.