Cusseta family honored as top cattle producer

Cusetta Colliuns 1Story and photos by Laura Conaway

Jimmy Collins pays no mind to the freight train. Faint in the distance, then all at once overpowering, it demands attention as it bursts through his family’s land several times a day.

Sometimes even the cows take notice.

Way back in the 1850s, long before his family turned a 680-acre cotton farm into a cattle ranch, the train was there. Every day since, it serves as a reminder of life beyond the cattle and comfort of home.

The roads weren’t paved, the land in row crops and highly eroded, but James Smart Collins II wanted cows. Beef cattle to be specific. From Montgomery, Ala., he and his family operated J.S. Collins Dairy through the Great Depression and came to know the land 75 miles northeast of him that had no flowing water but nearly 40 natural springs.

“My grandfather bought the farm in ’43,” James (Jimmy) Collins IV recalls and in the 72 years since, generations of Collinses have raised even more generations of Angus cattle on ground near Cusseta, Ala., that’s sustained them both.

On September 26, the Collinses were presented the 2015 Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand Commercial Commitment to Excellence Award for their dedication to developing the best merits of the breed.

On behalf of the family that includes matriarch Era Claire, Jimmy and wife, Mary, and his son Jim and wife, Jennifer, accepted the award with children Taylor Brown and Jay Collins in the audience.

Gaze across a Collins pasture and it may seem as if Angus cattle have been the only kind to graze it, but the Collinses tried a bit of everything before they settled on the breed that gained them recognition.

“It was about improving quality—building numbers to start with—and then improving the quality of the herd,” Jimmy says. “It’s been a continuous process since then.”

Having “showed many a Hereford steer through high school,” he switched to Angus his senior year and soon after, the herd followed suit.

“We were looking to grow from carcass information and wanted rid of the problems with udders and eyes,” Jimmy says. “Crunching numbers, Angus looked like a better alternative. It’s such a strong breed.”

Those early calculations proved true and it wasn’t long before they were running a purebred operation from 10 bred heifers purchased in 1959, eventually selling nearly 100 bulls a year.

With the farm not large enough to support all the families, Jimmy took a position with Farm Credit Services upon graduation from Auburn University. Decades later, when he transitioned to a real estate business, he advised the family to transition to a commercial herd.

Living on the farm and commuting to town each day, mornings and late afternoons were spent tending to cattle while workdays went to financing crops, cattle and equipment for neighboring ranchers and later real estate sales. For years, three generations of Collins men worked together with their families to improve their cattle and impress the consumer at the end of the line.

The 350 commercial cows are carefully managed and selected with the same detail as the family’s 50 head of registered stock.

Keeper heifers must catch within the first 21 days. Then there are parameters on birth weight, EPDs (expected progeny differences) and results from GeneMax® (GMX) tests to measure gain and grade in non-registered cattle.

The first group for the DNA-based test in the spring of 2013 set a benchmark for the herd, all while helping to identify outliers. GMX scores from 50 heifers showed the top 75% scored 74 or better, compared to the national average of 50. But the Collinses don’t stop with heifers. They run the Zoetis HD50K test on young bulls to increase EPD accuracy. Then they pair that information with GMX Advantage™ scores on all heifer calves to match sires with progeny.

“We try to run a balanced program, rather than chasing outliers,” Jimmy says. “Sure, it’s a slower process, but when you get there, you’re there. We look at growth and carcass quality and strive to be a tier above the industry average.”

Even more, he adds, “We have tried to be more aggressive and balance growth characteristics over time with maternal traits.”
Maternal traits are what keep longtime customers like Omer McCants, Talbotton, Ga., coming back each year.

“I started six years ago and purchased 17 bred heifers and I’ve purchased every year since,” the Army veteran says. “I was impressed with the quality and durability of them. The Collins cows could hit the ground and stay. They didn’t lose.”

Terry Harris, Boston, Ga., can tell of cows he purchased from the Collinses 11 years ago that maintain and reproduce today. Then there are cattlemen new to the business like Jones Woody, Culloden, Ga., who has followed his calves on feed in Iowa and received carcass data showing 81% CAB and USDA Prime.

In an industry that sometimes resists change, the Collins men have embraced it in the transition from complete phenotypic to a combination of genetic and phenotypic selection.

“It’s a matter of surviving really and truly,” Jimmy says. “You’ve got to be productive and you can do what you want, but it better be successful and work for the folks who are going to be consuming the end product.”
Right on down the tracks.

Note to Reader: For a video overview of Collins Farms, visit

State budget cuts spare Chambers

By Alton Mitchell

It has only been a short time since budget constraints at the State House have caused a reduction of services at the department of driver services office in LaFayette and other smaller communities in Alabama. Those same financial downfalls have also resulted in the question of the future of State Parks and National Guard Armories throughout the state. Now once again the State government of Alabama has found another state sponsored venue that must be downsized to make up for the financial shortcomings of the State, and this time it involves accessibility to liquor in state sponsored stores.

The Alabama Alcoholic Beverage and Control Board will have to close or consolidate 15 stores in the state because of State budget cuts. This is because of a $5.5 million shortfall in the budget of the ABC Board. A timeline has been given of three to six months for the closure of the locations on the chopping block.

The fifteen stores set to be closed are from various parts of the state and luckily this time LaFayette and Chambers County were spared in the downsizing. ABC Store #131 located on US Highway 431 in LaFayette is the only ABC store in Chambers County and will remain open. The US 431 ABC store is also the only liquor store in the city of LaFayette. The two other ABC beverage stores in this area will also remain open in Auburn and Phenix City.

However fifteen stores are going to close they include stores in Dothan, Abbeville, York, Marion, Pike Road, Luverne, Spanish Fort, Hayneville, Linden, Orange Beach, Guntersville, Florence, and three locations in Montgomery. Officials with the ABC board are hoping the store closures themselves will be enough to make up for the budget shortfall. The employees of those locations will be attempted to transfer to other locations near their previous store locations.

LaFayette and Chambers County were spared this go around, but were not so lucky with cuts to the states driver services offices. However last week Governor Bentley announced he had come up with a plan that will allow the states drivers licenses office to reopen on a very limited part-time basis, including the LaFayette office. The State of Alabama continue to look for ways to cut spending due to the budget shortfall and more closures of various state related services may occur further down the line.

Government programs exposed

By Paul Richardson

Paul RichardsonHard working, taxpaying citizens, take note, this is a blueprint o9f how to live in luxury without working. In other words, this is what our government is doing.

(I did tons of time consuming research to compile and confirm these figures.)

This is an example for an unmarried couple, a guy and his girlfriend with two kids.
-Don’t get married to her.
-Always use your mom’s address to get mail.
-The guy buys a house.
-Guy rents out house to his girlfriend who has 2 of his kids.
-Section 8 will pay $900 a month for a 3 bedroom home.
-Girlfriend signs up for Obamacare so guy doesn’t have to pay for family insurance.
-Girlfriend gets to go to college for free being a single mother.
-Girlfriend gets $600 a month for food stamps.
-Girlfriend gets free cell phone.
-Girlfriend gets free utilities.
-Guy moves into home but continues to use mom’s house to get mail.
-Girlfriend claims one kid and guy claims one kid on taxes. Now you each get to claim head of household at $1,800 credit.
-Girlfriend gets disability for being “crazy” or having a “bad back” at $1,800 a month and never has to work again.
-Boyfriend buys a Bass boat and joins the Professional Bass Tour. (Okay, so I made that one up, but it was to make a point.)

An unmarried couple with stay at home mom nets,
-$21,600 disability,
-$10,800 free housing,
-$6,000 free Obamacare,
-$6,000 free food,
-$4,800 free utilities supplement,
-$6,000 Pell grant money to spend without restrictions,
-$12,000 a year in free college tuition,
-$8,800 tax benefit for being a single mother.

And this is just the Federal benefits. None of this includes Medicaid supplements which are issued by individual states.

Any idea why this country is $18 trillion in debt and illegal immigrants are climbing the fences to get here! And some of our Presidential candidates think this is not enough, they want to add more benefits, as well as extending these services to the millions of illegal immigrants living within our borders.

It’s socialism, pure and simple. The next step is outright communism where the government owns everything and controls everything.

It would not be a surprise at all to wake up one morning in the near future to find out that Obama has signed an executive order declaring nationwide martial law, banning all elections, and confiscating all guns that day.

That would in effect, make him a dictator.
Opinions expressed may not necessarily be endorsed by this publication.

Red Ribbon Week raises awareness of drug use

Red RibbonSheriff Sid Lockhart invites the community to take a visible stand against drugs by celebrating Red Ribbon Week from October 23-31.

Red Ribbon Week raises awareness of drug use and the problems related to drugs facing our community, and encourages parents, educators, business owners, and other community organizations to promote drug-free lifestyles.

“Red Ribbon Week encourages our entire community to adopt healthy, drug-free lifestyles,” said Sheriff Lockhart. “The campaign brings together parents, schools, and businesses as we look for innovative ways to keep kids and communities drug free.”

The red ribbon symbolizes a continuing commitment to reducing the demand for illicit drugs in our communities. In 1985, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent Enrique S. “Kiki” Camarena was killed by drug traffickers. Shortly after Camarena’s death, citizens from his hometown of Calexico, California, began wearing red ribbons to remember him and commemorate his sacrifice. Congress established Red Ribbon Week in 1988.

“Red Ribbon Week gives us the opportunity to be vocal and visible in our efforts to achieve a drug-free community,” said Sheriff Lockhart. “Research shows that children are less likely to use alcohol and other drugs when parents and other role models are clear and consistent in their opposition to substance use and abuse.”

Chambers one of seven counties with Lyme Disease endemic

TickBy Alton Mitchell

Last week Chambers County was listed on a list of seven Alabama Counties whom are suffering from an endemic. The endemic that Chambers County finds itself in involves cases of Lyme Disease within the county. The disease which is carried by ticks has been found in Chambers County and the Alabama Department of Public Health has released a few safety tips as to what to do to protect yourself and your loved ones from this disease that has shown up our local backyard.

An endemic is far from a epidemic, meaning that the endemic that Chambers County is facing means that there is only a limited number of cases in the county with a number that is greater than two. If the county was under an epidemic it would be a widespread outbreak locally which is not the case. An endemic means that the disease or disorder is located only to an isolated area.

The seven counties which have found themselves under the endemic include; Chambers, Calhoun, Jefferson, Mobile, Shelby, Russell, and Tuscaloosa. Each of these locations has been deemed by the Alabama Department of Public Health to have centralized areas in which the disorder is present and active in humans.

Lyme disease is one of many disease that is classified as a tickborne illness. The disorders and diseases which ticks are known to cause in Alabama include; anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Lyme disease, rickettsiosis, Rocky mounted spotted fever, and tularemia to name a few. These diseases are spread by tick bites which are insects that feed on blood from humans and animals. These diseases are typically inherited when the feeding tick injects a bacteria while feeding. Typically in Alabama and Chambers County the blacklegged tick also known as a deer tick is the carrier of Lyme disease.

State health officials encourage people to protect themselves whenever outdoors. Ticks are native to areas of wooded and bushy areas. It is best to walk in the center of cleared trails when in the woods. The use of insect repellent is also strongly recommended. At the conclusion of outdoor activities a long bath or shower is encouraged with a thorough inspection of ones body as well as those of children and pets.. Gear and clothing should also be inspected.

If upon inspection a tick is discovered on your skin the best way for removal is to use a fine tipped pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible. After grasping the insect should be pulled upward with a steady and even level of pressure. Twisting and jerking of the tick is strongly discouraged because it can cause the mouth of the tick to break off inside of the skin. Aside from the rumor mill using heat or nail polish removal is not a recommended solution for removing a tick.

For individuals who have suffered a tick bite and feel they may have contracted Lyme disease there are a few symptoms to watch for. The most common symptoms include fever, chills, body aches and pains, and rashes. A rash may appear as a skin ulcer or circular pattern rash. Lyme disease is completely treatable by healthcare professionals, yet if left unattended the infections is able to spread to other parts of the body including, the joints, heart, and the nervous system.

The good news is that while the number of cases is up right now the peak of the season for ticks spans the late spring and summer months and is beginning to wind down now. Therefore the endemic that is now present in Chambers County will be going away soon. The Alabama Department of Public Health and the CDC has tons of more information about tickborne illness on their websites.

Inside The Statehouse

By Steve Flowers

Steve Flowers

Steve Flowers

There have been monumental budget battles in Washington and Montgomery this year. The big difference is that the State of Alabama has a constitutional requirement that we have a balanced budget. We cannot spend more than we can take in. Unfortunately, the United States does not have the same constitutional provision. To his credit, our Senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby has proposed just such a measure in every session of his 29 years in the Senate.

Our national debt is the biggest problem facing our country. It weakens us in every aspect of national power, prestige, prosperity and security. Barack Obama has never really cared about this national crisis. This socialist Democratic philosophy has been the downfall of several European and third world countries, as well as early Rome.

Obama’s prescription of higher taxes on upper income workers and earners and increased benefits for non-workers and illegal immigrants has been thwarted by the Republican capture of the U.S. Senate last year. With the Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, Obama and his socialist liberal Robin Hood concept of government with no regard to the federal deficit has been held in check. Obama has become irrelevant in the budget process.

Senator Shelby has moved into an elite circle of power in Washington. Our Senior Senator is one of the five most powerful members of the Senate. As he approaches 30 years in the Senate, Shelby is one of the leaders in seniority and thus power. He currently chairs the Senate Banking Committee. His committee affects every aspect of the U.S. economy. However, he probably will move to chair the even more powerful Appropriations Committee next year. If you think he has been helpful to Alabama in the past, then you have not seen anything yet.

Shelby is an Alabama treasure. At 80 years old, he is in excellent health and looks about 10 years younger than his chronological age. Fortunately for the state, he plans to run for reelection in 2016. Shelby will be a prohibitive favorite to be reelected to a sixth six-year term. Therefore, the bigger question is what happens nationally and can the Republicans keep control of the Senate after the 2016 elections.

Of the 34 Senators up for reelection in 2016, 24 are Republicans and 10 are Democrats. These numbers put pressure on Republicans to retain control of the upper chamber. It will also be a problem for Republican retention if Hillary Clinton routs the GOP candidate for president. This could very well happen if the Republicans nominate someone from the right-wing.

The 10 Democrats up for election are from solidly blue liberal Democratic states. Therefore, the incumbent or another Democrat will likely win. On the other hand, several of the Republicans are running in states that have voted repeatedly for Democratic presidential candidates.

The list of Republican Senators from swing or blue states is lengthy. Included on the list are Sen. Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), Sen. Pat Toomy (Pennsylvania), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire), and Sen. Mark Kirk (Illinois). Besides Senator Shelby here in Alabama, there are three southern Senators who should be safer than their six colleagues mentioned above. That list includes Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul and Rubio are running for President. However, another Republican would probably take their place.

Another problem awaiting the GOP’s retention of seats in blue or swing states is that historically there is an increased voter turnout in presidential years, which tends to favor Democrats.

On a positive note for Republicans is the presence of the deep-pocketed GOP benefactors the Koch Brothers. Top officials in the Koch Brothers political organization have a staggering $900 million budget to fund the billionaires’ involvement on behalf of right leaning GOP candidates in 2016.

Charles and David Koch’s political involvement is monumental. It is obvious that the Koch Brothers intend to continue building an operation that rivals or exceeds the national parties in size. They are dedicated to advancing their libertarian principles.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at

Local Attorney Bill Harris running for District Attorney

By Alton Mitchell

Bill Harris runs a law practice out of the Valley area in Chambers County and recently he has announced his bid for candidacy in the District Attorney’s race for the Fifth Judicial Circuit. The Fifth Judicial Circuit is made up of a regional area that includes Chambers, Macon, Tallapoosa, and Randolph Counties. Mr. Harris has announced his candidacy for the Republican primary to be held on March 1st, of 2016.
In his announcement of intention to seek candidacy Mr. Harris cited his actions in seeking the position as being one that relates to getting out and speaking with local citizens within the fifth judicial circuit over the past year and learning about their needs and desires in an District Attorney. He also cited his lifelong career in law enforcement including 25 years as a police officer and ten years of practicing law as giving him a sound foundation for the position.

Harris also outlined his plans on improving the District Attorney’s office to include focus points including; efficiency, accessibility, reviewing cold cases within the county, professionalism, and the removal of politics from within the District Attorney’s office.

Social media has been a driving force for Mr. Harris’ pre-campaign efforts. A growing area of support is being shown on local social media groups that highlight Mr. Harris’ reputation as one of integrity, a good guy, honest person, and well known local man with a stern reputation in his home community.

October all about Breast Cancer Awareness

By Alton Mitchell

The month of October has arrived again and with this months arrival comes a lot of things to look forward to in the area. These anticipated occurrences will include of course everyones favorite Halloween as little ghouls and goblins will embrace the hours of dusk as they roam the streets as scavengers of candy and goodies. Also the change to the Fall season will become more apparent as temperatures will continue to decline and the colors of a southern autumn will begin to decorate the landscape. However a different color is also significant to the month of October and that is pink. Pink is used a way to bring awareness to breast cancer and October is national Breast Cancer Awareness month in Chambers County and the rest of the nation. Several upcoming events will help to bring awareness to this deadly disease in the local area.

On October 16th, East Alabama Medical Center and the Chambers County Development Authority are hosting a Lunch and Learn, to honor breast cancers survivors and remember those whom have lost the battle to the disease. The event is being held at the Chambers County Bradshaw Library at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time. Special honored guests will be onsite including Dr. Kim Owens, a Board Certified Family Medicine Physician. Also Jennie Smith, whom is a proud survivor and Ashlee Baggett, Community Manager of the American Cancer Society. In order to attend reservations are required and more information can be obtained by calling (334)642-1408 or (334)756-1402.

Awareness in numbers is the goal of an event to be held on October 25th as local residents will pour out in a Breast Cancer Unity Walk at the John D. Hoggs Pavilion Park in West Point. This is setup to be community walk to honor those in pink. All in attendance are asked to wear pink as walkers will walk from John D. Hoggs Park to the T-mobile store in Lanett and Back to the park to raise awareness and show support and honor to those whom battle breast cancer. The walk begins at 3 p.m. eastern time more information can be obtained by calling Audrey B at (706)518-3696 or Narfunda R. at (706)585-5810.

Several other events will be occurring in the area throughout the month to raise awareness to breast cancer. Just as the local community came out last month and painted the town teal with Teal Magnolia’s and their quest for Ovarian cancer awareness, breast cancer awareness is just as important this month. Let the pink that will embrace the local community be a reminder to get loved ones as well as yourself tested, as is the case with any disease early detection is the best medicine for saving lives

No bond for Gray

GrayBy Alton Mitchell

A Chambers County murder case from this past summer that has gripped the headlines of two states has proven to grow even larger over the past week. New evidence was brought to light last Tuesday as Stacey Demar Gray appeared before a Chambers County Judge. The evidence that came out at the hearing was enough to show that probable cause exists to push the murder charges against Gray to the next level.

In July a young woman from Columbus, Georgia was reported missing over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Only days after her disappearance from her 46th Street home in Columbus investigators over thirty miles away discovered her body in Osanippa Creek near Hopewell Road in Valley. Investigators from Valley worked closely with detectives from Columbus to see if the body they had found belonged to 26-year-old Renee Eldridge. Forensic evidence was used to determine that the body discovered in Valley was that of Eldridge.

A week following the July 7th discovery of Eldridge’s body in Osanippa Creek investigators had developed a suspect. The suspect was a 45-year-old man who was identified as Stacey Demar Gray whom had multiple address ties to East Alabama and West Georgia. Investigators were hot on Gray’s trail pursing him by vehicle and foot through Macon County, Alabama in a more than 10-hour manhunt that took resources from several local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Gray was taken into custody and brought back to Chambers County to face charges related to the gruesome death of Eldridge. On Tuesday the true extent of the brutality of Eldridge’s death was brought to light in the courtroom.

The details behind the death of Renee Eldridge were horrific in the description that was given in the courtroom. Evidence was presented that suggested prior to her death Eldridge was bound and tied with nylon rope. Evidence also suggested that a cement block was used as a source to conceal her body in Osanippa creek as a sinker that was also tied to her face down body at its discovery.

Before being disposed of in the creek it is also believed that suspect Gray kidnapped, raped, and ultimately beat Eldridge to death. The relationship between Gray and Eldridge as well as her family goes back beyond the July kidnapping and murder of the young woman who friends described as energetic yet a people person. In the hearing on Tuesday DNA evidence collected from suspect gray showed that his DNA was a match to those of a suspect in 2014 rape case of Eldridge from December of 2014. In that case an Army Ranger from Fort Benning was arrested and held in custody for nearly three months before DNA evidence released him as a suspect.

Evidence has also surfaced to show that Gray was a friend of the Eldridge family even having a sexual relationship with the mother of Renee Eldridge at times. The family viewed him with a lot of trust and he was believed to even be in possession of a key to the Eldridge home. On the night of July 4th when Renee Eldridge disappeared Gray, along with Renee Eldridge and her

Pow Wow festival here Oct. 17-18

Pow WowBy Alton Mitchell
As the heat of summer has taken a break and given way to cooler Fall temperatures, those mild temperatures have also ushered in a host of outdoor festivities including Fall Festivals. One of the most popular ones in the local region will be held in LaFayette on October 17th and 18th. On Monday night the LaFayette City Council was able to get an update on the project from Barbara Andrews, the Executive Director of the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Council members listened anxiously as Barbara Andrews outlined the exciting events that will grace the Chambers County Agricultural Center in the coming weeks. The two day event that is being held for only the second time in the Chambers County community will be packed with fun and educational opportunities at the same time. Mrs. Andrews summarized the events to include food, demonstrations, and so much more.

Prior to coming to the Chambers County area the Native American Heritage Festival and Pow Wow was held in Hamilton, Georgia in Harris County. However about 3 years ago interest and turnout in the event seemed to be dwindling and the event was cancelled. However despite the low turnout there was still an interest in holding the heritage event. Prior organizers reached out to the Chamber and was able to get the festival relocated to Chambers County for its inaugural year last year. The popularity was there to allow for the festival to grow in popularity and that has led to a much larger festival to be held this year.

Barbara Andrews explained to the Council exactly how much larger this year’s event will be thanks to a mass marketing campaign that is taking place to grow interest in the festival. This year there will be radio advertising, as well as media advertising to boost awareness in the event. Mrs. Andrews also expressed the importance of the educational attribute the festival brings and was happy to inform the City Council that last year only schools from Chambers County Schools were able to send students to the festival this year that number has increased tremendously as the festival will host 1100 students from around the region including students from Chambers, Lee, Randolph, and Tallapoosa Counties. Those students will be able to attend the festival on the opening day of Friday from 8 a.m.- 2 p.m.

Andrews noted to the Council that the cost of hosting the event was a little on the expensive side, but she also notes that it despite the cost it will be a beneficial event in the long run. While not only paying off in the educational enrichment of youth and attendees the event will allow Chambers County to showcase what it has to offer and be able to showcase the Chambers County Agricultural Center. More information on the event can be found on the Chamber of Commerce’s website.

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