Home on the range at Oak Hill Farm
|Wayne Bennett, owner of Oak Hill Farm, establishes who is boss. The calves in the background were born this year.|
By Anita Rosen
Photos by Daniel Rosen
If you were thinking this series is all about the history of our area, come with me on a slight turn off Yellow Creek to explore cutting-edge cattle-raising.
Oak Hill Farm
An allee of graceful oak trees forms the approach to the home of Wayne and Lois Bennett. The house is surrounded by well-maintained gardens, a small part of the 132 acres which forms Oak Hill Farm.
Two generations back, Wayne’s grandfather started farming at the corner of Post and Kelly Mill Roads in Forsyth County. He had about 20 broiler houses on what was eventually a 530-acre farm. Wayne’s father joined the family business and, by the 1960s, had added about one million laying hens to the operation. These were located in Blue Ridge; the eggs were sold to the Morrison Egg Company. He also had a facility for grading eggs (hatching vs. eating) and a feed store in Blue Ridge.
Back in Forsyth County, along with the broilers, beef cattle were raised. A family-owned grocery store stood where the CVS is now located at the corner of Kelly Mill and Post Roads. At the top of the hill, a two-story building which included a post office, general store and feed store added to the family’s business. Nearby was a corn-hammering mill where folks brought corn on Saturday to grind their week’s meal.
Wayne participated in the farm from the time he was big enough to bale hay and tend the cows. He ran the business in Forsyth County for about 20 years, but, about eight years ago, with urban sprawl beginning to reach them, the Bennetts decided to look for acreage in a more rural spot. Weekend trips took them northward, where, quite by chance, they found the property that is now Oak Hill Farm.
In the 1980s, Wayne bought a Charolais bull; from then on it was only Charolais for the Bennetts. He used the bull to mate with his whiteface cattle and, in the early 1990s, after learning more about the breed and its bloodlines, Wayne shifted his business to raising these cattle as seed stock.
Charolais are big. The industry has been breeding them down in size because the calves were so large. At maturity, a bull can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, a cow 1,600 pounds. And they are expensive: bulls generally command a price of $3,000 - $10,000 and a really good breeding cow could sell for as much as $5,000 - $20,000.
According to Wikipedia, these cattle, which originated in France, are raised for beef and are often interbred with Angus and Herefords. The resulting cattle have more red meat and less fat than the pure English breeds. Their tolerance to our weather makes them a good choice here in the south where they are increasingly raised.
The foundation of the Bennett herd is Vanessa D029. Wayne bought her about eight years ago, having already acquired some of her heifer calves. Using artificial insemination (AI) techniques, Wayne guarantees Vanessa’s bloodlines. By putting a patch on a cow, a heat-watch system indicates when the cow is in estrus. The hormonal changes are transmitted from the patch to a receiver on the top of the barn which, in turn, relays the information to the office computer. Sperm from a bull station in Fort Wayne, Alabama is used in the AI process. This makes Wayne, as he told me with a grin, a true “high-tech redneck.”
|Deserving her own framed photo, Vanessa D029 is the basis of the bloodlines that form the Bennett herd.|
The Bennett’s herd produces about 50 calves a year. Newborn, they are almost a pure white. The older cattle appear a dun color, but when shaved in the spring to help cool them in summer, they also are a beautiful white. With a topknot of hair on their impressive heads, these cattle are an attractive breed.
Environmentally and Educationally Sound
The Bennett’s good farming techniques earned them the Upper Chattahoochee River Soil and Water Conservation District award in 2007. This honor recognizes the care the Bennetts have exercised in their stewardship of the environment; for example, the water system is preserved on the farm by not allowing the cattle access to Oak Hill’s 13-acre lake.
The Bennetts actively encourage youth to become involved in farming. They presently make calves available to the Future Farmers of America (FFA) in Pickens County, and have previously sponsored FFA children in Dawson County. This year they have two calves out with students in Jasper and one in Chatsworth (Murray County). The Bennetts pay for the animal’s feed and care while the student raises the cow.
Yellow Creek Road, an entry to so much of our area’s history, is also—if you peek behind the hedges—a portal to the future.