by: LeAnne Peters

Southern culture has always been about hospitality; people open their arms to welcome you. The same can be said about Tanner Farms. Not only do they open the doors of their home, but they also open the gates to their herd and allow fellow producers to purchase deep into their herd of quality Angus cattle.

Owners Gary and Lorri Tanner have strived to build one of the top Angus herds in not only the Southeast but the nation as well. High school sweethearts and marrying in college, Gary and Lorri have always been involved in agriculture. Gary began his interest in cattle as a youngster. His family had cattle and Gary raised bottle calves as a way to earn money growing up.

After graduation from college in 1977, Gary started Tanner Construction Company, Inc., with one bulldozer. It was also at that time that he purchased property around their hometown of Ellisville and began a commercial operation.

“We used several different breeds of bulls on our commercial cows,” states Gary. “We got tired of being docked when we sold calves, so we decided to improve the herd by using Angus.”

Tanner bought his first purebred Angus pair from Whitestone, located in Virginia, as a way to advance his commercial herd. “We were impressed at how the calves looked with the increase in growth and the consistency of our calf crop,” says Tanner. From that first purchase the Tanners knew that having a registered Angus herd would not only benefit their own commercial operation, but could help out other producers as well by improving genetics.

“The commercial and registered programs are used together,” states Gary. “The commercial cows can be used as recipients and the registered stock can be used to improve the genetics and production within the commercial herd.”

In the 90's while taking their son, Drew to baseball camp at Mississippi State, the Tanners passed by a familiar farm in Shuqualak that they had not seen since their college days at MSU. “We would pass by on our way to and from school when we were younger and always said we would love to own the farm,” says Lorri. “When we began to take Drew to camp the place looked like it had been abandoned and Gary decided to see if it was for sale and fortunately for us it was.”

In 2000 Gary and Lorri purchased the farm, which was started in 1845 by E.F. Nunn. The farm, which was named Tannahoe, meaning “Green Acres” in Choctaw, has a long history that stretches five generations of the Nunn and Evans family. In the late 1800's the farm supported 450 tenant farmers growing cotton, corn and other crops. Since the 80's the farm had fallen into disrepair and the Tanners rebuilt fences, repaired and built ponds, planted grasses, and reclaimed pastures.

The first priority was getting the farm in working order. But the home that was located on the property needed attention as well. Lorri took on that project restoring the house that was built in the late 1940's by Gladys Evans to replicate a southern plantation home. Many of the original elements of the home survived such as the lighting, walnut floors, plaster molding and wood trim. Now the home serves not only as the Tanners residence when they are on the farm, but also as a showpiece of the farm.

Currently Tanner Farms consists of 600 head of commercial and 600 registered Angus cattle. All of the registered cattle are located at the farm in Shuqualak and as well as additional land in Brooksville.

Tanner Farms is a diverse operation. “We aren't just a cattle operation we are row crop, and hay and grass farmers, “ says farm manager Tim Hardy. Each year, with the help of eight employees, Tanner Farms plants corn to harvest for silage, bales over 4000 to 5000 rolls of hay and plants 1000 acres of ryegrass not to mention all the cattle work and day to day operations that keep the farm running smoothly.

Bulls are developed on a ration based on corn silage as well as soybean meal. The forages for the farm are composed of mostly Bermuda and Bahia during the summer and fescue along with ryegrass during the cool weather.

Artificial insemination plays a critical role in the Tanner Farms management program. Bulls are selected on performance and physical traits.

Five years ago Tanner Farms began marketing their bulls via their own production sale held on the farm during the fall of the year. With both a spring and fall calving season Tanner can market the majority of their bulls to producers in the fall. But they also have a select offering of bulls during their spring female sale.

Recognizing the importance of satisfied bull customers and repeat business, Tanner uses strict criteria to determine which animals will become steers, or which will remain intact and be retained in the Tanner herd or be sold.

“During our bull sale this year one of our bulls was purchased by Genex,” says Gary. He believes that having a bull at stud will help promote their operation and will bring new buyers to their bull sales.

The future plans for the farm includes marketing 200 bulls a year for commercial and registered breeders alike.

Commercial females are either retained as replacements for the Tanner herd or they are sold. This year they held 129 commercial heifers to replenish the commercial herd. The past few years the demand for commercial heifers has been great and the females that were saved ended up being sold to other commercial producers. “This year we have to keep these females,” states Gary with a determined voice. “Our cows are getting older and we have to save some females to go back into the herd.”

Tanner Farms has marketed their commercial calves a variety of ways through video sales, retained ownership as well as truckload lots off the farm.

“We retained ownership of 23 steer mates to our bulls so that we can get carcass data back” states Hardy. “This allows us to see if we need to make any changes in our breeding.”

On gaining information about the sires of the calves in the feedlot Gary states. “If they don't do us a good job then they won't help others.”

Active in both the Mississippi and American Angus Associations, Tanner Farms has been awarded the Progressive Producer of the Year from the Mississippi Angus Association. Tanner is also ranked as the second largest in registering the most Angus beef cattle in Mississippi.

The Tanners children, Amanda and Drew and their spouses, as well as their three granddaughters are also involved in the operation as well.

Like a slow Southern cadence, Tanner Farms has found its voice and direction by developing and producing top quality seedstock that will carry on for future generations.

(Reprinted with permission from the November/December 2011 Cattle Business in Mississippi.)

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