by: Belinda Hood Ary

Few people in the purebred cattle business today can match the commitment and experience of David Vaughan, owner of Salacoa Valley Farms in Fairmount, Ga. He has weathered the highs and lows, from severe drought to extreme floods, from the times of record high cattle prices to the days of rock bottom lows. All the while, Vaughan's Brangus operation has thrived, keeping a single purpose in mind….to produce the top Brangus females in the country.

“We have concentrated on our females for over 20 years,” Vaughan explains. “We have focused on cows that are fertile, and will not only have a calf, but raise a calf, as well. That commitment sets our herd apart from many herds in our area.”

From the beginning, Salacoa Valley has emphasized how important the influence of the female is to the herd. Many in the Brangus breed are familiar with Salacoa Valley's focus through the years on 12 cow families, known as the “Dynamic Dozen.” One of the predominant families currently being used is the “23' cow family that goes back to the 23U cow bred by Vineyard Cattle Company in Texas. It continues to be one of Vaughan's primary goals to get more females from the “23” family into production in the SVF herd.

“By concentrating on just a few cow families, we are able to put emphasis on uniformity in our cow herd,” Vaughan continues. “Of course, the bull is half your herd, but if you don't have a good set of females, it doesn't matter what bull you use. You have to start with a good set of females.”

Overseeing the cowherd and day to day operations at Salacoa Valley is general manager Ben Spitzer who has been in that position for almost three years. Spitzer is a graduate of Oklahoma State University, and grew up in South Carolina on his family's Brangus ranch. He spent two years with the Red Angus Association before moving to Georgia.

Salacoa Valley Farms is located in the foothills of the Pine Log Mountains (the last major mountains in the Appalachian Chain) near Fairmount, Ga., and has been in the Vaughan family for over 80 years. Initially, the family operated a thriving mule business, but in the 1950's they turned to row crops, cotton and cattle. Vaughan's love for cattle started early. As a teenager he judged cattle on the 4-H Livestock Judging team and showed Angus steers at the Georgia State Fair where he took home the Grand Champion Steer trophy a record three times, a Georgia state record that still stands today.

Vaughan received his degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia and was a member of their judging team. He also received his law degree from the University of Georgia in 1959 and started his practice in Cartersville, Ga. He served as Assistant Solicitor General Cherokee Circuit for a year. Then he was elected to the Georgia General Assembly and represented the 14th District for two terms. He served as the District Attorney for the Cherokee Judicial Circuit for two terms and has been in private practice since leaving public service.

In 1960 Vaughan took over the operation of the farm from his father, and continued to breed Angus and commercial cattle. Through the late ‘60's, ‘70's and early ‘80's Vaughan began using “exotics” and put together a purebred herd that he terms “too big to feed and breed.”

It was during that time that Willow Springs Ranch in Texas was looking for pasture to graze cattle on due to the drought, and they asked if Vaughan would be willing to bring some of their cattle over to Georgia. “Those cattle were thin, had been fed very little hay, were eating milo stubble and they still cycled!,” he remembers. “We were wearing the wheels off the feed wagon trying to keep our cattle fed. It was then and there that I decided that was where I needed to be with my herd.”

In 1985, he made the decision to disperse his purebred herd, and entered into a joint venture with Willow Springs Ranch, the “herd that wrote the book” in the Brangus breed. Just one year later, in 1986, Willow Springs dispersed their entire operation, and Vaughan saw this as an opportunity to start his own Brangus herd, using Willow Springs cattle and genetics as the foundation.

“Once we started dealing with the Brangus cows, we really fell in love with them,” he remembers. “We wanted our own Brangus herd….they work really well for our area.” Building on that base, Salacoa Valley's influence and respect has grown as they have increased both numbers and quality. Recognized by the International Brangus Breeders Association as the Breeder of the Year in 2006, Vaughan has served two terms on the IBBA Board of Directors and in 2008 completed a term as President of the association. He is also a member and past president of the Southeastern Brangus Breeders Association and a member and past secretary/treasurer of the Georgia Brangus Assoc. Vaughan's wife, Susan, has also been an active supporter of the breed, and is a past president of the International Brangus Auxilary. She currently serves as Secretary/Treasurer of the Georgia Brangus Association.

Almost 25 years after starting the building process, the Salacoa Valley herd is one of the largest and most respected purebred Brangus programs in the country. Before the major drought in Georgia a few years ago, the SVF herd numbered over 800 head. Today, they are calving around 650 head of momma cows. Vaughan says his goal for the future is to build the herd back up to their pre-drought numbers.

Over the years, additions to the herd have been made through outside purchases and growth from within. In the early years, major influences came for the addition of WSR Firecracker, GLC Mainline, Special Addition of Brinks, and SVF Pine Log. Those sires, along with home raised female, Salacoa Valley Pine Lass 23D2 and her clones, formed the foundation of the modern day Salacoa Valley cow herd.

Today, there are three herd sires that have risen to the top of the Salacoa Valley Farms program and the top of the Brangus breed. TCB Catawba Warrior R532 is being heavily utilized in the SVF breeding program and the results, according to Spitzer, have been very good. “We have been very pleased with the growth of his calves,” Spitzer explains. “They come easy and grow fast.” Bull buyers will have the opportunity to see a large number of his offspring in the Salacoa Valley Fall Bull Sale, which will be held September 25th at the farm, where 175 SVF bred bulls will be offered to buyers.

Two other bulls they are excited about are SVF MR Cadence 23S86, an up and coming herd sire produced on the farm out of one of the top five cows in the breed, 23M28, as well as, PR Elixir 698L3, a bull that Vaughan purchased from Perry Ranch at the Houston Livestock Show Brangus Sale.

Every cow in the breeding program is bred by artificial insemination and then turned out, usually with the same bull, for cleanup. “We like the fact that we own the bulls that we A.I. our cows to,” Spitzer explains. “We can clean up with the same bull, and get that calf that we planned for.”

The breeding program is centered around one goal – to construct a cow herd capable of producing high quality range bulls in volume. These bulls are also conditioned to work from an early age. “One of our main goals is to make our bulls work as much as they can early on….so we don't have to do a lot of work later,” Spitzer explains.

All bulls produced on the farm start a 168 day growth test the day they are weaned, therefore their starting test weight is their actual weaning weight. They are weighed every 28 days and this information is posted to the SVF website periodically. Bulls are kept on green grass continuously and rotated into 20 acre fescue traps, where the terrain is steep and rugged. “ We want to weed out any feet and leg problems early,” Spitzer explains.

“We condition our bulls to go to work,” Vaughan adds. “They are raised on grass and required to walk to feed and water.”

That conditioning for the extreme climate changes is what makes the SVF bulls so popular with buyers and why Vaughan chose to raise Brangus cattle almost 25 years ago. The success he has seen with the Brangus breed has made Vaughan quick to recommend Brangus bulls to potential commercial bull customers.

“First of all, producers looking to buy bulls should purchase a Brangus bull,” he says. “Our bulls are conditioned for this area. You put them out and they go right to work. They have no problem adjusting to the extremes of this climate. Brangus can handle the heat as well as the cold.”

This commitment to producing top notch bulls for the commercial market has kept SVF bull buyers coming back on a regular basis to make their bull purchases. Through the years, buyers from all across the Southeast, especially Alabama, Georgia and Florida, have added the SVF genetics to their herds, and continue to come back to make their bull purchases. Salacoa Valley has also tapped into the growing international market, making a big splash with their highly sought after genetics on the world stage.

“We are breeding our cattle for people that are in the cattle business to make money,” Spitzter says. “Salacoa Valley Farms has a great history, and we are taking it one step further. If producers want to get a piece of the factory, cattle that will work for the industry, Salacoa Valley Farms is the place to come.”

Without question, the focus on excellence and customer satisfaction has made Salacoa Valley's annual production sale, which is in its 10th year, a huge success. Brangus producers across the country have been able to add some of the elite Salacoa Valley genetics to their herds, and this year will be no different. Salacoa Valley's “Enhancing Success” Sale will be held June 12th at the farm in Fairmount. The offering will include spring pairs, fall pairs, fall bred cows, fall bred heifers, spring bred heifers and two pick of the herd flushes. Several females in the offering are past donors and have contributed to building the SVF cow herd.

Obviously, David Vaughan has made a lifetime commitment to the cattle business, and more recently to producing some of the best Brangus genetics money can buy. By setting definite goals and a purpose for his breeding and management decisions, Vaughan has positioned Salacoa Valley Farms as one of the elite programs in the country.

For more information on Salacoa Valley Farms or their upcoming “Enhancing Success” Production Sale, visit their website at


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