There are several different career paths in the world of agriculture aside from just a farmer.
On one farm there can be multiple positions that are specialized jobs to help the entire farm operate smoothly and efficiently.
That was the lesson for a group of Polk County students last Tuesday, Oct. 27, as they got a tour of Barnes Herefords on Piedmont Highway in Cedartown and heard from farm manager Kevin Atkins.
The students, ranging from elementary to high school age, are members of the Polk County Junior Cattlemen’s Association, which sponsors agricultural education beyond the classroom and allows local kids to show cattle at shows around the state.
Barnes Herefords, owned by former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes and his wife, Marie Barnes, is an expansive property where they breed, feed and manage about 800 heads of cattle.
Atkins told the group that becoming a farm manager for a property like Barnes Herefords begins with what many of them are doing right now — learning about animal anatomy and animal health.
“Education is very helpful in this job. Just learning about the animals and their nutrition is a big thing,” Atkins said. “The No. 1 thing is analyzing the grass that we feed them. That’s 95% of what we do. It’s not about the cows, it’s about the overall management of the land. The cows pretty much take care of themselves.”
Atkins said his job is to oversee the different feeding and breeding programs at the farm and coordinate them to make sure they run smoothly and are done in a timely manner.
As a primarily purebred Hereford breeder, Barnes’ operations consist of positions like an artificial insemination tech, an embryologist and a veterinarian tech.
However, Atkins said they do not call the veterinarian very often since he has to travel from Piedmont, Alabama, so it is up to him and the farmhands to take care of a sick or injured cow most of the time.
“It’s a hard job. You’ve got to love it,” Atkins said. “It’s really not a job. It’s a lifestyle that runs seven days a week. You’ve got to love animals. There’s no doubt about it.”
As part of the tour, the group was taken out on a trailer and shown part of the property’s pastures and feeding processes. The farm grows around 43 acres of alfalfa that they roll into bales and wrap in plastic to cure and feed to the younger bulls and heifers.
The plant contains about 22-25% of protein compared to the 12-14% of Bermuda grass, but Atkins said they have to make sure they balance out the amount of energy it provides with the protein content.
They also have a rotational grazing system where certain young mother cows are put in different sections of a grazing area over a 32-day period, allowing the grass to retain its root system and grow faster.
This helps the grass last longer into the colder months and cuts down on the amount of feed they have to manually provide each year.