Steve and Sandra James put their hopes of owning a beef cattle herd on hold for most of their lives. But when the couple retired a few years ago, Steve in 2011 and Sandra in 2013, they launched a plan to fulfill their dream of cattle ownership.
“We only have a small herd, but we’ve worked really hard to make it better every year,” Steve said. “Before we ever bought the first cow we made a financial plan, attended lots of seminars and made sure our pastures and fences were ready. We also tried to buy cattle with the best genetics we could afford.”
The Jameses are Colbert County Farmers Federation members and have attended several of the organization’s beef tours. Both in their 60s, the couple purchased a few cows from Steve’s father a few years ago and added others until their herd reached about 30. They also have 15 horses on their 120-acre spread near Sheffield.
“We don’t have any delusions of being big cattlemen, but this is a way for us to supplement our retirement income and do something together we enjoy,” Steve said.
He and Sandra each grew up on a farm, but admit they had much to learn about today’s beef cattle production.
“This isn’t a hobby; it’s a business,” said Steve, who is in his second year as Colbert County Cattlemen’s Association president. “But it really doesn’t seem like work because we enjoy it so much.”
The Jameses’ herd may be small by some standards, but it’s near the state average of 35 head, according to U.S. Census figures.
The Jameses said they especially enjoy having their three children and five grandchildren visit the farm. They are active members of the First Baptist Church of Barton and often open their farm to church members, particularly young people, who enjoy fishing and asking questions about the cows and horses.
“I grew up on a farm, and some of my best childhood memories are the ones spent there,” Sandra said. “We want to leave that same legacy for our children and grandchildren.”
The Jameses said their earlier careers in business helped with the new venture. She was the chief financial officer for the county board of education. He worked in manufacturing for an aluminum company and a paper mill.
“Sandra is very particular about keeping good records and making sure we follow our business plan,” Steve said. “Of course, it’s taken us a couple of years to get established — we knew it would. This year we expect to break even or make a slight profit, and next year, we’re on track to actually make money with our cows.”
More than anything, the couple said spending time with each other is their biggest reward.
“The best thing about our cattle business is working together as a team and doing something we enjoy,” Sandra said.
“We grow our love every day, just like we’re growing our cow business,” he said.