The average American consumes roughly 67 pounds of beef per year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Georgia Cattleman’s Association shows that cattlemen in the state own approximately 1.3 million head of cattle — meaning the steak you find on your plate tonight might well have been raised in Newton County.
Cattle are the state’s sixth largest cash crop, raking in more than $262 million annually and because cattle are raised in all 159 counties in the state, the beef industry has an estimated $2 billion impact on the state’s economy.
Locally, the Georgia County Guide listed Newton County as having 7,000 heads of beef cows in 2008. In that same year, the average price paid per pound was .98 cents and the average weight per head sold was 373.6 pounds.
At Hayes Farm, cattle have been the family business for more than 50 years. Glenn Hayes inherited the business from his father and has 100 female cows and five certified Angus bulls to use for breeding.
The 264-acre pasture is currently home to several calves as well, who are still nursing but will soon make their way to Jackson for one of the weekly cattle auctions held there. Some calves are sold individually at the stockyard while others are sold in a group. Larger farms are able to sell tractor trailers full of cattle directly to a feed farm — most of which are located in the West and can skip the auction, which charges a percentage per sale.
Hayes sells his calves when they are between 400-500 pounds, which is generally at seven to eight months-old. From the cattle auction the cows are purchased and usually taken to another farm where they are essentially fattened up before being sold once again to a company to be butchered. The cattle are sold on a per-pound basis.
"Calves are just like watermelons," said Hayes. "When it’s time, they’ve got to go. When a watermelon is ripe you have to sell it and calves are the same way. Everything has a prime time to sell."
According to the Cattlemen’s Association approximately 71 percent of Georgia cattlemen are commercial cow-calf producers, which mean they sell calves that are eventually sold for beef. Approximately 21 percent sell purebred cattle for breeding and 8 percent are considered stockers, which means they buy the calves, add weight to them and then sell them to feedlots for finishing.
"Newton County has always been agriculturally based," said Hayes. "I was raised on a farm all my life and the country is home to me. I just like it. I like to say I get the best of both worlds. I get to deal with the public all day — which I really enjoy, but then I get to go home to the country.
"Our house is off the road and I love the space. I love the country. I love to see grass grow, I love to see cattle grow, I love to see a bale of hay come off a trailer; I just like to ride a tractor. It’s what I was raised doing."
He worries, however, that farming is on the way out due mainly to the cost of equipment, land and animals.
"It would be hard to start a farm from scratch these days," he said. "Every year it gets more expensive to farm. And not just everyone can do the job. Farming is totally different from a regular job. It is hard work, long hours, and a lot of times seven days a week.
"Farming," said Hayes, "well, you’ve got to like it to do it. It’s hard work — rewarding, but hard. You’ve just got to love it, and I do."