5 years in the past, Lt. Col. Michael Harlow was making retirement plans. He wasn’t positive what he wished to do when his distinguished navy profession concluded, however he was sure of 1 factor — he wished to return to the Mississippi Delta.
“There’s no place like the Delta,” stated Harlow, whose assignments have taken him round the world. “I was raised in Greenville and Grenada, Miss., and always knew I wanted to come home someday.”
However what to do when he bought there? A fellow officer made an offhanded suggestion that Harlow get in the cattle enterprise. So, he did.
“My parents were not farmers. I had very limited experience working with cattle and pastures. I had never even baled hay,” he recalled. “But I love a challenge.”
He labored connections and via the assist of native lawyer Invoice Dossett discovered land for grazing on the Mississippi River levee close to Beulah, Miss. Harlow bought 30 cows, and took a web-based course on beef cattle administration from Mississippi State College.
“The online course was very good, but not good enough to keep you in business,” Harlow jokes. “After one year I had 30 ugly cows and was going broke quick.”
Fortune modified when he met Mac McBride at a Pontotoc, Miss., sale barn. McBride is a part-time rancher and full-time funding banker. He was seeking to increase his cattle operation however was restricted on land. Harlow had extra land than cows. The 2 males realized they may assist one another out.
“I handle the business and marketing,” McBride stated, “and Michael manages the pastures and is in charge of putting his eyes on the cattle every day. I do what I like to do. He does what he likes to do. And it has worked very well.”
Quick ahead 4 years and Harlow has secured upkeep contracts on near 900 acres of the Mississippi River levee. Today he’s customized grazing greater than 600 cows for McBride. By making use of navy work ethic to pasture administration, he has develop into a profitable “grass farmer” in just a few brief years.
“It’s taken hard work, but mostly it’s God’s blessing,” Harlow insists, “along with a lot of help from good people.”
As Harlow drives alongside the levee highway checking his cows, it’s obvious he loves what he does — virtually as a lot as he loves the place he lives.
“I’m living the dream,” he stated.
He’s one thing of a regional historian with an entertaining anecdote for nearly each stopping level alongside the Nice River Highway, together with a favourite gathering place, Bassie’s Service Station in Gunnison, Miss. It’s a cease frequented by many Delta guests, together with fishing legend Invoice Dance, based on Harlow.
Being near household was a major draw for shifting dwelling, and the customized grazing operation is a household enterprise. He not too long ago introduced his son-in-law, Christian Johnston on board as his operation continues to develop. A brand new levee property required loads of prep work earlier than it was prepared for grazing. Harlow says Johnston has been a welcome addition.
Since shifting again 5 years in the past, this punctual veteran says he’s adjusted to the extra relaxed tempo of “Delta time,” however most individuals will let you know Harlow doesn’t decelerate.
“His energy is unmatched,” McBride stated, “and he has an excellent reputation with the Levee Board. They know he’s going to do things the right way, and he’s keeping the levee productive.”
Grazing the levee
Harlow runs his customized grazing operation on 4 separate levee tracts that are managed by the Mississippi Levee Board. For a few years, this board has granted upkeep contracts for the land inside their easements. Cattle grazing has confirmed an efficient methodology of upkeep, as the cattle eat the tall vegetation, however go away sufficient sod to guard the levee from erosion.
For the most half, it’s a win-win settlement. The contractor doesn’t must pay any cash for the grazing privileges, whereas the Levee Board can maintain upkeep bills at a minimal.
There may be danger concerned, nevertheless. The contracts solely final 5 years. They are often renewed, however it’s not assured. Additionally, any pens or fences are the accountability of the contractor. And an extended, slim strip of land like the levee requires loads of fencing. Harlow estimates he’s put up 18 miles of it.
On the different hand, the levee was created by pushing up the fertile topsoil that had floated down the river. This wealthy soil has not had its vitamins depleted by years of row cropping, and based on Harlow and McBride, the levee grows wonderful grass.
Even with good soil and good grass, good administration remains to be a necessity. Harlow has develop into a faithful scholar of forage programs. He has labored carefully with Rocky Lemus, Extension professor with Mississippi State College to enhance his grass fertility and total high quality.
He has additionally begun utilizing mob grazing techniques. Mob grazing entails grazing ultra-high concentrations of cattle per acre, then rapidly rotating to present that portion of pasture an prolonged relaxation. The apply is endorsed by outstanding Missouri rancher, Greg Judy, who credit mob grazing with saving his cattle operation.
Utilizing single-strand electrical fencing, Harlow rotates his cattle via his pastures.
“It allows more grazing and more cattle,” stated Harlow, who refers to the apply as aggressive consuming. “We’re improving the pastures and feeding less hay.”
He says his aim is to solely feed hay 60 days out of the 12 months, which he has not achieved but, however is getting nearer. When he does put hay out, he makes use of a bale grazing approach. A lot of bales are set out, and utilizing the electrical fences, Harlow strikes cattle to a brand new set of bales each few days.
“Bale grazing is another management practice that has improved our land fertility, and also saved us time in the winter,” Harlow stated.
The McBride herd is one thing of a cow/calf – stocker hybrid. McBride purchases cattle at native sale barns, sometimes in cow/calf pairs. Harlow raises the calves to feeder weight. Most are then transported to the Oklahoma Nationwide Stockyard to be bought.
It’s a novel setup in some ways — the levee, the marketing strategy — however it’s additionally an distinctive story of a veteran who wished to develop into a farmer. He discovered a solution to do it with out an enormous upfront funding, and in 5 brief years he has grown his enterprise exponentially.
“A lot of people think farming is out of reach because they didn’t inherit land or don’t have the capital to invest, but there are options, and they can be successful,” Harlow stated.
“No one is going to do it for you,” he added. “But if you’re willing to work, this would be a good opportunity for a young person wanting to get started in farming.”
He recommends researching applications which can be accessible to new farmers and cultivating relationships with native NRCS personnel — who Harlow says have been an incredible useful resource for him. He provides that any cattle producer must develop an excellent working relationship along with his vet. Harlow says Dr. Tim Lloyd of Delta Animal Providers has saved them in enterprise.
“God has blessed us with this opportunity and by putting so many good people in my path that have helped me,” Harlow stated. “I never thought I’d be a cattle farmer, but now I don’t want to be doing anything else.”