By Samantha Reese, TCA Intern
Woolfolk Farms is a three generation family farming operation located in Madison County Tennessee. It was recognized in 1976 as one of Tennessee’s original Century Farm designees for over 100 years of continuous ownership and agricultural production by the same family. Here, I interview Matt Woolfolk, who writes about their family’s cattle, traditions, and passion.
How long has your family been involved in raising cattle? Tell us about how it got started.
My father’s ancestors settled in Madison County in 1865. A lot of the land that is a part of the current farm traces back to the very beginning. Cattle have always been a part of the farm. The registered Hereford operation started in 1963 when Dad got involved in 4-H, and they have been a part of Woolfolk Farms ever since.
Tell us about your farm today.
Registered Hereford cattle are still the focal point of the operation. My dad (John) and older brother Scott run the operation, with the rest of the family pitching in when we can. There are two herds: a herd of registered Hereford cows, and a commercial herd that we utilize as recipients for our embryo transfer program. The focus of the WF program is selling bulls to commercial cattlemen. Every February, we sell 40-50 bulls at our bull sale in Columbia, and every other May we hold a female sale on the farm in Jackson. We use the show ring to promote our program. Since my brother started showing in 1981, there has been a member of the Woolfolk family showing Herefords every year. We have raised two American Hereford Association Southeast Show Heifers of the Year, as well as several other state and regional champions.
What I’m most proud of is how well Dad and Scott have developed their market to sell bulls. Selling Hereford bulls hasn’t always been easy in Tennessee, but they have been able to grow their customer base while continuing to improve the quality of the bull offering every year. The idea of selling 50 good Hereford bulls seemed far-fetched 10 years ago. Now it’s an annual goal for the operation.
What was your favorite part of growing up on the farm?
There’s always something to do when you grow up on the farm. Between cattle work, the hay field, and all the other chores that have to be done on a daily basis, you never get bored.
What have been some of the trials you or your family had to overcome?
We have to deal with the same challenges every other Tennessee cattleman has to deal with, such as weather and market fluctuations. But one of our biggest challenges is how hard it is to find good help. It’s a 100% family operation, but that makes it hard on everyone at home during the busy times of the year. The operation has grown, but the labor force is still the same.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about life on the farm?
Nobody cares more about their livestock than the people who work with them every day on the farm. We all get an undeserved bad reputation from those that don’t understand how much effort and sacrifice goes into taking the best care we can of our cattle.
What does it mean to be able to work with your family every day?
Unfortunately, my job has taken me from the farm, but I miss it every day. There are always challenges when working so closely with family, but my summers in college when I was able to be home on the farm every day were the most enjoyable.
Do you have any advice for young Tennessee cattle producers about the business?
Find the people that you admire what they’re doing in their operation, and learn as much as you can from them. I learned a lot working alongside my dad and brother, but being around others who don’t do things exactly the same as you do at home is just as valuable. For example, I took a trip to Florida with Justin Williams (TCA Director from Savannah) to a bull sale. When you’re locked in a truck with someone for 3 days, you can discuss a lot of ideas and learn from what others do differently that you can use to improve your own herd. I’ve been lucky to be able to have such discussions with great cattlemen across Tennessee and the rest of the country. Also, when it comes to starting your cow herd, invest as much as you can afford to in the best cattle you can find. Starting with a good foundation will make building a strong herd easier.
What is your favorite beef dish?
Every year at the Woolfolk family Christmas, Dad grills steaks for the whole family and they are awesome!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Our family has all been active in leadership in the American Hereford Association. Dad and all 3 kids (Scott, Amy, and myself) were all TJHA President during our junior career. Dad was an AHA Board Member from 2007-2011 and was President in 2011. Scott has served on the Tennessee Hereford Association board and is still active as a TJHA advisor. Amy was a National Junior Polled Hereford Director from 1995-1997 and was National Polled Hereford Queen in 1997. She’s now on the Mississippi Hereford Association board. I was a National Junior Hereford Association Director from 2010-2013 and was Chairman in 2011-12. I don’t think there’s been another family that had the father as AHA President and children who were National Queen and NJHA Chairman.