True Southern Lifestyle at Hunter Cattle Farms
Take the long winding road out to the Hunter Cattle farm and you’ll notice something change.
The buildings begin to disappear and all that can be seen for miles and miles are towering pine trees lining the road. Yellow butterflies flutter in and out of the tall grass and suddenly you feel lighter. Turn down the dirt road that farmer Del built with his own two hands, drive past the grassy meadow, and park by the farm store. You’ll know you’re there when you see young boys riding horseback with cowboy hats on, chickens pecking the earth, and someone standing out front welcoming you to their land. This is the Hunter Cattle family, and they are living the Southern dream.
Del Ferguson, the “man of the farm,” walks over to greet me. He’s the father of the family that settled out on the 300-acre land outside of Stilson, Georgia in 2004. When his son and daughter got married to spouses of their own, they had babies and the family grew. Now all of the different families live on the land together.
Del and his wife Debra have 11 grandchildren in all. Ten are boys. Several are named after nature, or other outdoor terms like Forrest, Trail, Canyon, Bear, and the one girl, Meadow. Del greets me like an old friend and immediately introduces me to everyone.
We walk to the store where Del shows me all of the different products they offer. Cracking jokes all the way, he takes me into a cold room where the meat is being processed. We watch from the door to ensure there is no contamination. The workers are churning out ground beef in large metal containers. One stops to say hello.
Del explains that when they first decided to buy the land, they had absolutely no intention of selling any of their products. They just wanted some livestock and a garden so that they could eat clean, healthy food, free of preservatives, antibiotics, and other additives. Once people began asking how to purchase meat from them, the family decided to turn their love of living off the land into a full-time job. But they’re not working 40 hours a week.
“We wake up maybe at six in the morning each day, then work until nine at night–seven days a week,” Del says. “We’re just so blessed that the entire family has such a passion for it.”
Del, Debra, Bear, and I load up in a UTV to take a tour of the farm. We pass the pond, which has a small pier and some chairs set up for fishing. “It’s mostly catch and release,” Del says. “But sometimes we’ll get some catfish and cook them up.”
Del takes us out to the garden, where large wooden posts tower over the ground. I ask what he is building.
"You know, I just scattered some seeds around and one day they started shooting up from the ground,” Del says. We both laugh. He then explains that the deer have been enjoying his garden a little too much lately, so he’s creating a large fence to keep them out.
Del does most of the construction on the farm. Whether it’s building fences, fixing barns, or making repairs to anything else. The five older boys tend the garden.
We make our way around the fruit trees and berry bushes. A few weeds run wild around the plants. Del explains that because the farm is all-natural, they don’t use weed killer to keep everything at bay. It all has to be pulled by hand.
Once Del wraps up the tour of the garden, we drive over to where the cows are held. Every so often Bear, who is 9, has to jump out of the back of the UTV in the hot, sticky heat and unlock, then relock, the many cattle gates to let us through before hopping back in. He does so without complaint.
Kristan Fretwell, the mother of Bear, explained that all of the kids are homeschooled. Each day they work hard to finish their schoolwork early so that they can help out on the farm.
“Teamwork is the only way we make it work,” Kristan said. “Everyone pitching in and working hard to do their part. And I’ll tell you, if it wasn’t for our farm boys on the farm, we wouldn’t be able to do all we do.”
Kristan said about a month ago her 7-year-old, Canyon, came up to her and said “I think it’s time you hire me on full time. I’m ready for it.” It is obvious that each family member is vital to the farm and every single one has a deep love for the land.
When we get into a wide, open pasture, two women come into view, as does one of the other young boys. They are all riding horses, getting prepared to move the cattle.
Del explains that because the cows are all grass-fed, they need to be rotated into different pastures for grazing. They typically do this in the early morning or later in the evening after the heat of the day dies down, but they decide to put on a special show for me and I am grateful for it.
Almost majestically, the gates open up and the cows sprint across the land, a few of the babies trail behind. The heaviness of the animal seems nonexistent. They run like puppies, galloping off excitedly. Even without frontal guidance, they know exactly where to go.
To read more, subscribe now or pick up the October/November issue of South magazine.