Bobby Smith admits he has an addiction . . . an addiction to the cattle business.
"I have fooled with cows all of my adult life," he says. "I just like the cattle business . . . it is definitely an addiction, once you get it in your blood, you can't get rid of it."
And according to this Philadelphia, Miss. cattleman, when he was introduced to Braunvieh cattle in 1986 at the Missouri State Fair, he was hooked on the breed.
"I had always run commercial cows, and had made the statement that I would never have a purebred herd," he remembers, "but when I started using Braunvieh bulls on my commercial cows, I was weaning calves 30-60 pounds heavier and shipping them at less than 15 months of age. Not only was I making more money, I was also saving six to seven months of feed."
Braunvieh, translated "brown cow," is an ancient breed that originated in Switzerland and traces back as far as 800 B.C. Braunvieh are still maintained there as dual or triple purpose cattle for milk, beef and draft purposes.
Smith was so impressed with his Braunvieh cross calves, and the breed was gaining such popularity in the United States, he made the decision to do something he had sworn he would never do . . . get into the purebred business.
Today, Smith's Braunvieh herd is one of the largest in the Southeast, with over 350 head of brood cows. Smith estimates that about 100 of those females are fullbloods and the rest are halfbloods, three-quarter bloods and recipients for the embryo transfer program.
Smith has incorporated embryo transfer into his program in a big way as a means to breed up his cattle and increase his herd numbers. Last year, they calved out over 100 E.T. calves at BBS Farms, where Smith's son Bob is the manager. Smith also credits his wife Shelby as being a big part of the operation, handling all of the registrations, paper work and advertising duties.
Despite the success he has enjoyed in recent years, Smith is quick to point out that life as a cattleman hasn't always been prosperous. In fact, he and his cousin Jerome Hardy were down-and-out cowmen back in 1973 and 1974 when beef prices were dirt cheap. Incurably hooked on the cattle business, Smith stubbornly held onto this commercial herd.
"Times were pretty bleak for the cattle industry back then," reflects Smith. "I had 300 head when the market hit rock bottom at $150 for a cow/calf pair."
The turnaround in his life came accidentally. Hardy asked Smith to help him build an outdoor wood-burning furnace for his home. That was the beginning of a business that grew beyond their wildest dreams.
Hardy sold his cattle for the initial investment to establish the furnace making plant that bears his name. Smith kept his herd and went on the road selling furnaces.
Today, Hardy Manufacturing has grown from "two old boys tinkering in the basement," into a $6 million dollar a year business. Smith works on the distribution side, marketing the Hardy furnaces in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. As a matter of fact, it was on a trip to Missouri promoting furnaces when Smith was first introduced to Braunvieh cattle.
Since then, Smith has become one of the biggest promoters of Braunvieh in the Southeast. He served on the board of directors of the Braunvieh Association of America for six years and still serves in an advisory capacity for that organization. He also is one of the founding members of the Braunvieh Association of the Southeast (B.A.S.E.), a satellite organization developed to promote Braunvieh in the South.
His cattle have consistently done well in consignment sales across the country, including the National Sale in Denver and the Braunvieh sale held in conjunction with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, where a heifer raised on the farm sold for $31,500. Smith also hosts a production sale each year in Jackson, Miss. that has become a popular place for buyers to purchase some of the best Braunvieh genetics available.
On the commercial side, Smith's Braunvieh bulls have proven to be very popular with producers. He estimates that 99 percent of his bulls are sold to commercial producers in Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.
"Our commercial buyers come back year after year," he says. "They are making money in the feedlot with their calves . . and that's what is most important to the commercial man."
"You can breed Braunvieh to any breed and improve their quality grade so much," he continues. "No one believes it until they see it for themselves."
Smith recently put his own program to the test by putting 16 steers in a feed test in Garden City, Kansas. In the carcass test, one of Smith's steers ranked seventh in carcass quality out of 304 entries. Smith is also proud of the fact that he cleared $150/head at the completion of the test.
Success like this is what keeps Smith addicted to the cattle business . . . more specifically, the Braunvieh business.