Diversified Farm; Strong Heritage
When a family wants to be a farm family, it’s important the parents are supportive of all that farm family’s interests will include. Kenny Comer has proven himself to be just such a supporter. Peggy Comer said her husband, Kenny, has been the wind beneath the family’s wings. “Whatever any of us has wanted to accomplish,” she said, “he has found a way to make it happen.”
This has led to very successful and diversified family farm that is now priming the third generation for success. Son Jerrod Comer is building a house on a corner of the 550-acre farm, adjacent to the breeder hen houses he manages. He looks forward to moving in shortly with his wife Misty and their three children. Daughter Chana Usrey uses her agribusiness degree to manage a Shell convenience store just off the farm. Her husband Justin, grows turkeys and helps keep up with their own little flock of two children. All the grandchildren help “Papaw” Comer raise the bottle calves on the dairy and show Holstein heifers at the Madison County fair.
Kenny runs the dairy portion of the enterprise. His motto is to provide the best of care to the animals in order to increase the productive lifespan of the milk cows. Many of their 60-cow herd remain productive into their teens, because of his focus on good nutrition. The replacement calves are bottle fed cow milk, not dried milk replacer, and are weaned between two to three months of age. They are weaned onto pasture and Purina feed and mineral, which Peggy said, “is a little more costly, but worth the investment.”
Kenny is a self-taught artificial insemination (AI) technician, which allows them to maintain a closed herd. The good nutritional background and use of AI sires means life is not complicated by calving problems, disease or cows with uncertain production records.
Peggy’s passion is the beef cattle. Several years ago she fell in love with the gentle temperament of Beefmaster cattle, bought three head and began an upgrading program with their commercial cow/calf herd. She uses AI sires to produce E6 replacement heifers for the commercial cattle herd. “E6” is a crossbreeding certification program promoted by the Beefmaster Breeders United (BBU). The cattle are visually appraised by a field inspector and branded for identification after fulfilling the requirements of the essential six (E6) criteria: weight, conformation, milking ability, fertility, disposition and hardiness. The grading criteria give Beefmaster cattle a measured, repeatable assurance of quality to prospective buyers, especially those involved in commercial beef production. The BBU organizes production sales to match buyers with sellers in a reliable market. In the Comer herd, E6 replacement cattle are bred back to Angus bulls because “black sells best,” Peggy explained. All the beef cattle are maintained on forages only- no grain inputs. “You can’t starve a profit out of them,” said Peggy, “but I expect them to breed, lactate and wean heavy calves on forage alone.” Improved Bermuda pastures and good weed control are Kenny’s contribution to the beef cattle enterprise. Peggy’s part is selecting and breeding for traits of conformation, efficiency and productivity.
Artificial insemination is an important tool to the success of both the beef and dairy herds. Many new beef producers are daunted by the idea of using AI, but Peggy and Kenny know it is the best way to improve marketable traits in any herd. “Our weaning weights went up 70 to 100 pounds when we began using Beefmaster semen,” said Peggy. Heat detection is less of a time consuming process since they began running vasectomized bulls with the breeding herds. Veterinarian Dr. Gary France of Pea Ridge performs the surgery on young bulls, which allows them to mount but not fertilize cows. Good heat detection is the key to successful AI conception. Peggy said, “Jersey crosses make the best gomer bulls; they have good libido.” Since artificial insemination takes place 12 hours after standing heat is observed, use of a gomer bull saves both time spent observing cattle and money spent on semen. When time of standing heat is pinpointed, expensive frozen semen is not wasted on a cow that has already ovulated.
The dedication to excellence of this farm family in so many areas leads to a comfortable living in a family environment, setting a high standard for the generation of Comer grandchildren, and whatever their agriculture interests may be.