By Tim Storey, Tennessee Farm Service Agency
After 25 years of making his own way in the world and serving his country honorably, former U.S. Air Force munitions systems specialist Daryl Whitaker made his way back home to Franklin County, Tenn., to rebuild his family’s farm.
Remembering it as a thriving farm, Whitaker returned to an aging 22 acres of land. But he had a plan to change that.
“I began by selling what few head remained on the farm so that I could reconstruct the cow calf operation,” said Whitaker.
He began cutting trees, trimming back hedges and repairing fences. Slowly, he introduced cattle back to the farm and it wasn’t long before he realized that to maximize his potential he had to properly care for pasture and grazing. Whitaker contacted the Natural Resources Conservation Service about their EQIP program and decided to install interior cross-fencing for a new rotational grazing system that ended up providing four separate feeding paddocks to the operation. He was then able to preserve and more effectively manage his pasture which he has seeded in tall fescue, and red/white clover.
He later expanded the operation an additional 15 acres and with assistance from the Farm Service Agency Farm Loans Program he was able to purchase more Angus and Hereford Heifers, increasing his breeding stock.
Whitaker was born in Coffee County, Tenn., in 1962. In 1969 when Daryl was six years old his father John and mother Mary changed the family’s life forever when they purchased a rural 22 acre farm in Estill Springs, Tenn. Whitaker’s father had plans for the farm and began purchasing cattle, goats, horses, turkeys, hogs, and chickens. It was during this time in his life that his interest in cattle began.
“When I was growing up, I remember and always enjoyed bottle feeding the young calves,” said Whitaker. He also enjoyed hauling hay, helping neighbors, and tending to the general farm chores on a daily basis. “I spent many winters busting ice out of the water troughs when the cattle were unable to reach the spring located on the property.”
After graduating from Franklin County High School in 1981 Whitaker opted for a change of pace from the farming lifestyle of rural Franklin County and joined the United States Air Force. He was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for basic training. After finishing up in Texas, Mr. Whitaker was sent to the former Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado. Some may remember Lowry for its involvement in training U.S. Air Force bomber crews during World War II. This is where he completed technical training to become a munitions systems specialist. When asked what a Munitions System Specialist does, Whitaker said, “I built, stored, transported, inspected, tested, and maintained some of the most advanced munitions of the time and worked with the jet fighters and bombers that used them.”
Things got even more interesting for him when he moved to Hurlburt Field, part of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, which was notable during his time there for its participation in the Invasion of Panama, or “Operation Just Cause,” in December of 1989, which overthrew dictator Manuel Noriega and protected U.S. interests on the Panama Canal.
Also during this time in Whitaker’s life the U.S. became involved in Desert Storm and he was deployed to Saudi Arabia with the 1st Special Operations Wing. Whitaker retired from The United States Air Force in 2003 after serving his country in uniform for over twenty-two years. Whitaker wasn’t ready to quit work and began a career with the United States Postal Service.
It has taken six years to repair, construct, and then rebuild this growing family operation. Daryl has taken a farm in disrepair and built a sound herd of seventeen Hereford and Angus cows and a balanced Angus Bull. He has also recently installed geotextile feeding pads to further conserve his pasture quality at heavy use areas. Whitaker’s time serving his country in the military has made him an excellent manager, and his cooperation with local, state, and federal agencies has helped him to develop the best management practices available while always being a considerate steward of the environment. Upon visiting the farm you will notice the cleanliness of the facilities, the equipment which is well maintained and kept in good working order, and of course the superior herd quality of Whitaker’s cattle. You might also find him walking down the fence line checking for weak spots which need mending.
Recently at the Eighth Annual Tennessee Small Farm Expo and Awards Luncheon in Nashville, Whitaker’s hard work paid off when he received The Tennessee Star Small Farmer of the Year and Best Management Awards presented by The Tennessee State University School of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences. Whitaker is BQA and Master Beef Certified. He has also previously been awarded the 2010 Top Forage Producer and 2011 Top Beef Producer of the Year from the Franklin County Livestock Association, of which he is a member. If you attend any local or regional cattle or forage production events in the area, chances are you have met Mr. Whitaker. He actively participates at every opportunity available.
“To be successful, I must have the attitude that I can learn something new each and every day,” said Whitaker.