Photos submitted by Brandon Johnson
Just as the morning sun peeks over the horizon, and you are stumbling towards the coffee maker, many are well into the day’s work. Professionals across the country often get an early start because their job requires it, or some feel like the golden sunrise brings with it the most satisfying and productive part of the day.
However, there is the rare instance that a child’s passion overtakes the urge to hit the snooze button, and one of our young people sets the bar for productivity. Meet Baylor Johnson, an East Central sixth-grade student who was hard at work before most of us had a shower this morning and has a knack for breeding awarding-winning heifers.
Recently, Baylor and his heifer entered the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky. where his animal won her junior division, and also the open show division. His heifer also competed in the National Junior Heifer Show in Des Moines, Iowa this past June where Baylor won reserve champion bred and owned heifer and bull.
However, according to his father, his accomplishments on the farm have made him a winner in other areas of his life.
Baylor and his younger brother Brooks both attend Rome City Schools, and their parents are Special Education educator at Rome High School, Brandon Johnson and Principal for West Central Elementary School, Daphne Johnson. So, it goes without saying that education is a focal point in their household. But for Baylor and his father, life lessons are taught before and after the school bell rings.
“Much like my father did for me, my wife and I hope to instill a strong work ethic and responsibility in our children,” Brandon said, “and when we talk about showing cattle those things definitely go hand in hand. If we can pass on to our children the value of hard work, then that does not just create success in the show ring. It also creates success on the football field, on the baseball field and in the most important place, in the classroom. The work Baylor does in the classroom is what we are most proud of.”
Brandon said that Baylor is up before sunrise feeding and caring for Twoby, his awarding-winning heifer, and other heads of cattle he purchased with money he has saved on his own. Twoby got her name because as a calf, she was spirited, to say the least. According to Baylor, when she arrived at their farm here in Rome they tied her to a two-by-four, and she snapped the wood in half because of her rambunctious demeanor.
Lessons Baylor has learned on the farm have not only taught him how to care for his animals, but ties him to a long-standing family tradition.
“My dad and my granddad have been raising cattle for a long time,” Baylor recalled. “My grandfather, Jan, still runs a farm in Tennessee, and my dad and I decided to buy a farm of our own here in Floyd County. Together, we all own about 75 cows, and I own six myself. I’m looking to buy more soon because I have sold a few recently.”
All of the winnings from showing and breeding cattle go back into the business. Brandon hopes to provide a model for his son that shows him how to build success as a cattle farmer, a philosophy that can be used to start other entrepreneurialendeavors.
“I usually get started with my day way before the sun comes up. After I get up and get ready for school, I am usually feeding the heifers around 6:30. If one of my sports is in season, like now we are preparing for baseball, I have to work on that after school. Then, I come home and spend more time caring for the animals, I work out or do some training, eat, do my homework, and then I go to bed,” Baylor said when asked about a typical day in his life.
Baylor said that winning awards for his showmanship and for the quality of his heifers is great, but the life skills and time with his family are what motivate him to keep such a rigorous schedule.
Part of the time with family is also a special connection Baylor had to his uncle and Brandon’s older brother, Jeff Johnson, who passed away suddenly while doing work on the farm. Brandon said that his brother and his son are similar in their work habits, their love of fishing, and the way their communities are drawn to their vibrant and warm personalities.
“We started when he was eligible, which is in the fourth grade,” Brandon said. “This is actually his third full year of competing. In his first year showing cattle, he was the fourth grade state champion showman for the State of Georgia. In this competition, the judges are not looking at the animal, they are only judging the skill of the show person. He takes showing very seriously, because we work very hard to produce show-quality animals.”
The Johnsons enter several cattle exhibitions throughout the year, and they often bring home a prize. From small town contests to the Georgia National Fair in Perry, Ga., Baylor has won money, belt buckles and even a nightstand that he took to his grandfather’s farm in Tennessee. Brandon said that Baylor was so proud of winning, that he wanted to give the nightstand to his grandfather as a way of saying thank you for showing him the ropes. The nightstand now sits in his grandfather’s farm office, the place where Baylor found his love for spending time on the farm.
Chores like cleaning the pins, exercising the animals, working and conditioning their coats, and scheduled and controlled feeding is only the beginning of a list the young cattle farmer checks off daily. This is the work it takes to be a champion show person with champion heifers, and Baylor has the hardware to prove he is working his list on a daily basis.
“The entire family chips in to help on the farm,” said Brandon, “and I told my boys that if we were going to do this, we were going to try to be the best. I really believe in putting the effort in and doing what to takes to be successful,” Brandon said.
“My mom is very supportive, and she comes down and feeds and pets the cows sometimes,” said Baylor, “She always supports what we love to do.”
It was hard for Brandon to put into words how proud he is of his children, of his family and of the traditions they hold dear. “I am just so proud of them,” Brandon said, “and watching them learn from what we do on the farm makes me hopeful that they will be better men when they grow up.”