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COTTON BRANCH PLANTATION... MEETING THE CHALLENGE

Belinda Hood Ary
Editor

Ed Herring, owner of Cotton Branch Plantation in Meadville, Miss., has never shied away from a challenge.

“I have always enjoyed challenges,” he says, “and I love a learning curve.” In fact, by his own admission, he has always been somewhat of a risk taker, both professionally and personally.

Born and raised in Meadville, Herring attended Mississippi State University in Starkville, where he met his wife Barbara, who attended the Mississippi University for Women in nearby Columbus. They were married in 1968.

Upon receiving a degree in Political Science, Herring was immediately commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. After spending time at Fort Bliss, Texas, Fort Bragg, N.C. and completing his paratrooper training at Fort Benning, Ga., Uncle Sam sent him to the jungles of Vietnam as an infantry platoon leader for nine months and twenty seven days. Herring had two major goals during his time in Vietnam. The first was to keep as many of his men alive as possible. The second was to return home safely to his family.

True to form, he accomplished both, and after serving his time in the army, he returned home to Meadville to work with his father at Herring Gas, a propane gas company his father founded in 1946. He also bought the house next to his parent's house, where he had grown up. That is where he and Barbara raised their two sons, Jody and Josh, and daughter, Jennifer.

“I told momma that she had done such a good job raising me, I wanted to stay as close to her as possible,” Herring remembers.

When he returned from Vietnam, Herring Gas had three offices in the Meadville area. Today, it is a multi-million dollar company with 18 offices in Southwest Mississippi and Southeast Louisiana. Both of the Herring's sons, Jody and Josh, have now joined their father in the family business, as well.

Through the years, Herring has dedicated much his time and energies to building a successful business. But, in his spare time, he has enjoyed several “hobbies,” including marathon running, bicycle racing and hot air balloon racing. Not surprisingly, he devoted the enthusiasm and energy to these “hobbies” that he is known for, but he admits that after he became proficient at them (it usually took 3-5 years), he would lose interest. It wasn't until he began purchasing land in rural Franklin County in 1990, that he started thinking about getting into the cattle business, and as he puts it, found his final “hobby.”

“I always said I never wanted to have anything I had to chase, feed, take care of or take to the sale barn,” Herring laughs. “but once I got into it, I knew it was my final ‘hobby,' for several reasons. First it involves the land and I have a great love for the land. Second, we have built our home out here and this is where we want to stay…also, you can't build a breeding program in 3-5 years, it is a lifetime commitment.”

Initially, he had planned on getting into the commercial business, but he quickly realized that the challenge of the seed stock business fit his long term goals much better.

And it didn't take him long to decide on which breed…the answer was just a few miles down the road. Herring's aunt, Pauline Herring, has been in the Santa Gertrudis business for over 50 years. Ed had always admired her cattle and his children had even shown Santa Gertrudis heifers from her herd. So, when it came time to build his own herd, Santa Gertrudis were the natural choice.

Herring immediately hit the road, attending sales in search of the best genetics in the breed. He made his first purchases at the Fullen Farms Dispersal Sale in 1993 and began building his herd from that foundation. He continued to make purchases at some of the top Santa Gertrudis sales in the country, including the Alabama Connection Sale, The Tri-Star Sale, The Santa Round-up and the Polled Gold Sale, adding some of the top genetics to his herd from all across the country.

As a novice to the cattle business, Herring knew he needed some good advice as he built his program.

“I was smart enough to figure out that there were people out there in the breed who have forgotten more than I will ever learn….,” he says. “Because I have a relatively short period of time to do this, 20-25 years at the most, I knew that I needed as much help as I could find to get this going.”

He turned to Bill Lundberg, a consultant from Arkansas, for guidance, and credits Lundberg with helping him put together his herd, as well as teaching him about the cattle business along the way.

In just six short years, they have worked to put together one of the most respected programs in the breed, or as Herring puts it, “we have covered a lot of ground in a short period of time.”

Obviously.

Today, Cotton Branch Plantation consists of over 2,000 acres and is home to over 200 head of Santa Gertrudis momma cows. It is also more than a hobby…it has become a way of life for the Herring family. Two years ago, the Herrings left their home of 25 years in town, and built their dream house on the farm. Their son-in-law, Shelly Cowart, is the ranch manager, and he and their daughter Jennifer (an elementary school teacher) have made their home on the farm, with their three sons, Ryan, Graham, and Ben. Everyday at noon you will find various members of the family and the entire Cotton Branch crew (Cowart; Herdsman, Jason Wilson; and Robert Brown) around the dinner table enjoying a good home cooked meal.

The breeding program at Cotton Branch had been built around their senior herd sire, Grizzly, a bull that Herring purchased as a calf from Lazy E Ranch, Mart, Texas. According to Herring, Grizzly's performance has been outstanding, and he has added depth, volume and thickness to the Cotton Branch herd. He has also added consistency, which Herring classifies as a priority in his breeding program.

“One of my long term goals is to produce a consistent product,” he says. “If you see a Cotton Branch cow at the sale, I want you to recognize her immediately as a Cotton Branch cow. Grizzly is adding that consistency to our herd.”

One son, Kodiak, is also making a name for himself, and is considered one of the top young bulls in the breed. Future breeding plans include line breeding Grizzly and Kodiak in an attempt to get more uniformity and predictability in the herd.

Another top priority at Cotton Branch is building a local bull market. Towards that goal, they put their bulls through a ruthless culling process. Those that don't measure up are culled.

“We are tremendously hard on our bulls,” Herring explains. “because to get that local market, we want to make sure that we always put out quality. We want our customers to view our bulls as the best of the best.”

Despite the fact that the Herrings have only been in the business for a short time, they have managed to develop a good reputation and market for their cattle. For the past three years, they have hosted the popular Cotton Bowl Sale at the farm. This year's sale was held September 18th and was definitely the best to date. Forty-six lots grossed $112,000 to average $2,435. Cotton Branch consigned several of the top lots, including a three-in-one package that sold for $4,500.

Along the way, Herring has also become extremely active in Santa Gertrudis Breeders International. His leadership skills were quickly recognized by this organization and now he serves on the board of directors and is Vice-President for Membership. He is also an active supporter of the Mississippi Santa Gertrudis Assoc. and to junior breeders across the country.

Without question, Herring's final “hobby” has definitely become a lifetime commitment, and his number one priority and goal continues to be that quest for quality that all producers face. Considering his history, he is definitely up to the challenge.

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