'We've been in the farming business in this valley for over 200 years.'

Chuck Denney, Narrator (UT Institute of Agriculture)
The herd changes often, but the producers stay the same. The Fugate family will move more than 15-hundred cattle through their Claiborne and Hancock county farms this year. And depending on how things play out, that number could approach two thousand. The Fugates run what’s called a “backgrounding” operation for so-called stocker cattle.

Paul Fugate
“A stocker animal is one that just left its mother, no matter the size really. We try to put between two and three hundred pounds, so that we can market cattle that weigh between eight and a quarter to nine and a quarter.'

Chuck Denney
Stocker cattle are generally thought of as young calves developed on a forage-based diet until they reach a desired weight. Then typically they’re sent to a feed lot or used as replacement cattle in herds. These calves just arrived from a stockyard in Knoxville. The Fugates vaccinate the animals, and then get them eating a combination of forage and feed.

Paul Fugate
“We’re really better off just exposing them to what they’re going to be eating for the whole duration that they’re here. I may make adjustments to the protein level, but not the ingredients.”

Chuck Denney
UT Extension beef experts praise the Fugates for their management practices. Here Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia come together. It’s hilly and rocky, but works for beef cattle farming.

Mike Heiskell (UT Extension - Claiborne County)
“We’re a more beef-oriented county now. Probably 65 to 70 percent of the total Ag income in the county comes from beef cattle operations.”

Chuck Denney
That’s a trend that plays out across the state. Just about all farmland in Tennessee can grow grass, and then the animals to eat that grass.

Jim Neel (UT Extension Beef Specialist)
“We have, I believe, eleven million acres of agricultural land in Tennessee, and five to six million acres of that is in forage production. So that’s how and why beef cattle is so important to the state.”

Chuck Denney
As spring approaches, the Fugates will receive more truckloads of cattle, and then turn them out to graze. Backgrounding operations don’t keep cattle just for the sake of having them, but as a vital component of a production system.