As a bank executive, Wendell Gibbs of Ranburne, Ala., raised beef cattle on a part time basis. After retiring from banking in 1988, he became a full time cattle producer and developed a premier beef seedstock operation featuring the Simmental and Angus breeds. His bulls have sired calves in every state of the U.S. and in five countries.
He has made a nice living for his family by marketing his animals and genetic resources to cattle producers who are looking to improve their herds. He specializes in SimAngus cattle, a hybrid combination that is highly sought after by commercial beef producers, feedlot operators and ultimately by American consumers.
As a result of his success as a beef cattle producer, Gibbs has been selected as the state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. He joins nine other individuals as finalists for the overall award that will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Sunbelt Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.
A farmer for 55 years, Gibbs started with 40 acres of land. Now, on land in both Georgia and Alabama, his farm encompasses about 1,750 acres with 1,000 acres of rented land and 750 acres of family owned land. He also has a custom grazing operation in Mississippi on 300 acres.
As a child, Gibbs grew up on a farm that raised cotton. His father owned a feed mill and was an integrated poultry producer in an era before the poultry industry became fully integrated.
In addition to cattle, he also grows hybrid bermudagrass hay and timber. He grows bermudagrass hay on about 170 acres and produces hay from the Russell and Tifton 44 bermudagrass varieties. He grows his timber on about 70 acres.
The beef enterprises include about 830 cows in his seedstock herd. This herd consists of an essentially equal number of Simmental, Angus and SimAngus cows.
SimAngus has evolved into a hybrid cross that is preferred by both cattle feeders and meat packers. Both Simmental and Angus are considered to be top maternal breeds. The Angus breeding contributes marbling while the Simmental breed provides muscling. Simmental breeding also tends to produce less exterior carcass fat, resulting in an overall improvement in the carcass quality.
Gibbs also furnishes semen and stud services from 32 herd sires. Semen from his bulls is marketed by some of the top providers of artificial insemination services, including ABS Global (formerly American Breeders Service), Select Sires, Genex Cooperative and ORIgen.
He develops replacement bulls and heifers. Gibbs sells bred heifers and young cows, along with semen and embryos. He also retains ownership of feeder cattle that are finished in Kansas feedlots.
He holds an annual production sale each November, and sells additional bulls by private treaty. The annual production sale is held in a modern sale barn and cattle working facility.
Gibbs Farms collects carcass ultrasound information, DNA testing, along with other extensive data on Expected Progeny Differences (EPD’s). Gibbs Farms uses the latest technology in artificial insemination, embryo transfer and estrous synchronization. A special 225-acre heifer development complex features a new barn and cattle working facilities.
By retaining ownership on his feedlot cattle, Gibbs is able to gather extensive carcass data that paints a more complete picture of the genetic contributions of the bulls and cows in his herd. He views retained ownership as he would a mutual fund stock investment. It makes money most years, though losses or breaking even are also possible. Retained ownership provides good returns over a ten-year period.
Extensive culling takes place before the cattle are sold to customers. Culling is based on performance data along with strict standards for disposition and structural soundness.
He helped build up his herd by buying high quality Angus and Simmental females at dispersal sales. In past years, he marketed calves in truckload lots through the Piedmont Cattle Marketing Associations.
Gibbs helped to organize Allied Genetic Resources, a company owned by elite Simmental and SimAngus producers that provides breeding stock, marketing assistance and a host of other services to improve the profitability of its commercial beef customers. “For us to be successful, we have to make our customers successful,” says Gibbs.
Gibbs is no stranger to the Sunbelt Expo farm show. He has exhibited his SimAngus cattle at the Expo for the past ten years.
Environmental protection is a top priority for Gibbs Farms. Streams and ponds are fenced out. Geotextile fabric and crushed stones help prevent mud and soil erosion problems in heavy use areas where hay is fed and where the cattle drink water. All of the pastures are fenced and cross-fenced for rotational grazing. Gibbs says he grows timber on land that is not suited for grazing. He also sets aside land for streamside buffers and for wildlife.
Gibbs has been active in the Cleburne County Cattlemen’s Association. He served as president of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association in 1999 and as president of the Alabama Beef Cattle Improvement Association in 1998. He has also served on the boards of the Alabama and Georgia Simmental Associations.
He and his wife Nan have been active in Ranburne’s First Baptist Church and now at Macedonia Baptist Church. Nan has been a leader for local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts organizations, and she has served on the Women’s Committee of Alabama Farmers Federation.
After Nan and Wendell married in 1961, they bought four Polled Hereford heifers and raised chickens on their first 40 acres. Nan grew up on a crop farm in Georgia. She essentially managed the cattle operation during their first 27 years of marriage. Nan currently manages the farm’s accounting, payroll and herd software.
They no longer grow chickens. Their focus now is entirely on beef production. They added Simmental cattle to their herd during 1972, and in 1990 they brought in their first Angus cattle.
Nan and Wendell have three adult children, daughters Lorie and Wendy and a son, Doug. Lorie is a veterinarian in Roswell, Ga., and Wendy works at a school in Carrollton, Ga.
Doug joined the farm full time in the year 2000 when they leased additional farms. By 2005, they had successfully transitioned from a commercial beef farm to a seedstock operation. Doug became more involved in the farm when Wendell was traveling on behalf of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association. Doug is now the operations manager at Gibbs Farms and says, “We’re devoted to collecting accurate, reliable data on our cattle.”
In recent years, Nan and Wendell’s grandson Bradley began working full time on the farm and purchased his own separate 45-head herd. On a part time basis, Wendy, Doug’s wife Lucretia, and granddaughters Whitney and Toni help with sale settlements and accounting. Another grandson, Clayton, attends college and works on the farm part time while building his own small cattle herd.
All of Nan and Wendell’s children and grandchildren help out during their annual sale each November.
Jeff Helms with the Alabama Farmers Federation coordinates the Farmer of the Year award in the state. David Farnsworth, area organization director with the Alabama Farmers Federation, nominated Gibbs for the award. “The Gibbs family are among the most trusted farmers I know,” says Farnsworth. “And Wendell is an honest, humble man. He’s one of the most giving persons I know.”
As the Alabama state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Gibbs will now receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.
He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash prize that will go to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate from Southern States, a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply and a smoker-grill from Hays LTI.
Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 27th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $1,040,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.
Previous state winners from Alabama include: Ricky Wiggins of Anderson, 1990; George Kiser, Sr. of Foley, 1991; Allen Bragg of Toney, 1992; Sykes Martin of Courtland, 1993; David Pearce of Browns, 1994; Glenn Jones of Blountsville, 1995; Raymond Jones of Huntsville, 1996; Dan Miller of Greensboro, 1997; Homer Tate of Meridianville, 1998; Eugene Glenn of Hillsboro, 1999; George T. Hamilton of Hillsboro, 2000; Bert Driskell of Grand Bay, 2001; Charles Burton of Lafayette, 2002; Bruce Bush of Eufaula, 2003; John B. East of Leesburg, 2004; James A. Wise of Samson, 2005; Glenn Forrester of Columbia, 2006; Billy Gilley of Holly Pond, 2007; Lamar Dewberry of Lineville, 2008; David Wright of Plantersville, 2009; Shep Morris of Shorter, 2010; Andy Wendland of Autaugaville, 2011; Sam Givhan of Safford, 2012; Annie Dee of Aliceville, 2013; Phillip Hunter of Birmingham, 2014; and Ricky Cornutt of Boaz, 2016.
Alabama has had one overall winner, Raymond Jones of Huntsville in 1996.
A distinguished panel of judges will visit Gibbs farm along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 1-5. The judges for this year include Clark Garland, longtime University of Tennessee Extension ag economist from Maryville, Tenn.; farmer Thomas Porter, Jr., of Concord, N.C. who was the overall winner in 2011; and Charles Snipes, retired Mississippi Extension weed scientist from Greenville, Miss.
Note to media: The judges will visit the Gibbs farm on Aug. 2 from 9 a.m. until 12 noon cst. If you would like to visit the farm during the final two hours of judging, please call John Leidner at 229-392-1798, or contact him by e-mail at [email protected], or contact Gibbs by calling 256-568-9141.