Kyle Hallman, a 10-year-old bundle of energy wrapped in red hair, freckles and a gigantic smile, knows a good cow when he sees one.He can tell you when the Roanoke and Clay County Stockyards hold their next sales, can figure his checkbook well enough to know when he can buy his next calf and loves to climb astride Oreo, the Holstein he brought home from a Lineville dairy five years ago to raise by the bottle.”I hope I never have to sell her,” he proclaims, all the while confessing that he’s probably grown fonder of Oreo than he should — a sign that he’s learned one of the tougher lessons of cattle farming that PaPa Hallman has taught him.Hubert Hallman, “PaPa” to 10, has been teaching the ways of the farm to his grandkids since they were born, going as far as to enroll nine — with more to come — in the Farm Service Agency’s Youth Loan program, a low-interest loan program long familiar to 4-H and FFA students.”That’s got to be a record!” Tom Fincher, executive director of the Clay/Randolph FSA office in Wedowee, declared of the Hallman grandkids’ enrollment in the program. “I dare say if there’s anybody in the State of Alabama — or the Southeast — who has enrolled nine grandkids in the program, I’d love to hear about it. There aren’t that many grandpas who want to spend that much time doing all of that, and not that many who have the ability or knowledge to do it.”The program, initially part of the old Farmers Home Administration, enables youths between 10 and 20 years old to borrow up to $5,000 for up to seven years. To qualify, the youth must not only meet the age requirement, but also reside within a rural area, city or town with a population of 50,000 or fewer and be engaged in an income-producing project through FFA or 4-H.Loan recipients may use the money to buy livestock, equipment and supplies, buy, rent or repair needed tools and equipment and pay operating expenses for running the project.”There is no credit check with this — you bank on that handshake,” said Fincher. “Nobody’s going to loan a 10-year-old kid $5,000, except for the government. But it may be the best money spent in agriculture of any loan program because we’ve seen a lot of kids who have been in the youth loan program go on to full-time farming.”For Hubert Hallman, it all began six years ago when he enrolled his first four grandkids — all girls — into the program soon after the youngest turned 10. All the girls — Tara and Erica Loveless and Ashley and Jessica Farrow — each bought $5,000 worth of cows and calves, many which still graze the pastures their PaPa Hallman lets them use.”We just turned around and bought some more with the money we made,” said Tara, now a 20-year-old sophomore at Troy University. “I really don’t know our profit.”Erica is now an 18-year-old freshman at Southern Union, Ashley’s an 18-year-old freshman majoring in pharmacy at Auburn University and Jessica’s a junior at Clay County High School.Since then, those four Hallman granddaughters have been joined by two more granddaughters — Brooke Hallman and Monica Loveless, both 13.Adam Farrow, 14, was the first of the boys to sign up about four years ago. He’s proven himself to be quite the worker, feeding the cows, working in the hay fields and mending fences. Behind him is Spencer Loveless, 11, who was the eighth grandchild to enroll in the program. Kyle’s younger brother, Payton, will become the 10th when he turns 10 on May 21, 2009.”I just thought it would be a good thing for the kids to get started in,” said the elder Hallman, whose own herd has fallen from about 100 head to only about 30 due to the drought. “So I got some of them started, and then they all wanted to do it. It helps teach them to work and have things to do and see after. They get a little income too, and that helps with things for school, like Jessica’s cheerleading uniform and all. They could sell a calf and get a little money to help pay on stuff like that. It’s been lot of help to their parents, too.”What’s more, he said, the program helps teach kids about farming.”We’ve taken bottle calves to school on farm day, and kids are just thrilled to death over it,” he said. “It’s pitiful what kids don’t know about farming. Here in Clay County, we’re supposed to be in the country, but kids still don’t know anything about farming. That bothers me.”While none of the girls plan a career in farming, all say the experience has taught them responsibility and discipline and given them the added advantage of spending more time with their grandfather.”It takes somebody like Hubert who’ll oversee the kids because you could go out there and buy $5,000 worth of cows, and the kids never go out to see after them,” said Fincher. “They’re not learning anything, and it’s not benefiting them. But if they’ve got hands on, and they’re out there working with those cows, it provides a lot more quality time with their grandpa, and to me, that’s a great plus. Hopefully, the kids will make money out of it. But even if they just break even, they learn how to keep a checkbook. They realize that not everything is handed to them on a silver platter.”Hubert Hallman has seen that first-hand in Kyle, whom he describes as being the one grandchild most likely to carry the family’s farming tradition into the fifth generation.”Kyle knows a good calf when he sees one. He can look at one, and tell you right quick whether it’s good or not,” said PaPa Hallman. “We went to the special sale in Roanoke one Saturday, and he took his checkbook with him ’cause he was going to buy him some. He ended up buying three little bottle calves, and he gave me a check to pay for them. He already knows how to do it. He’s just more involved, and he likes it better.”Of course, Kyle also knows that there are down sides, too … like when the nicest of three Simmental heifers he had purchased last year died unexpectedly.. “I hated that,” he said, shaking his head. “I’d just spent $75 on artificial insemination.”Still, those are life lessons PaPa Hallman cherishes, lessons that he continues to share — not only with his grandchildren but also with agriscience students in need of a little help in buying cattle.Fincher laughs when he tells how Hallman stopped by the FSA office last fall, and told him about the birth of his first great grandchild. Kalvin Liam Simmons was born Sept. 12, 2007, weighing in at just over six pounds with black hair and a destiny yet to be determined.But Hubert Hallman hopes he can influence that destiny.”I asked Hubert, ‘When are you going to get a Youth Loan for that one?'” Fincher said. “He said, ‘Ten years.’ Ten years is when they’re eligible. So that’s just another generation coming on.” For more information on the Youth Loan Program, call (334) 279-3500 or visit your area FSA office.
LESSONS FROM PAPA: FSA Youth Loan Program Helps Teach Grandkids About Cattle, Life