Trading the city for the country

Black Herefords are a hybrid cross between Black Angus and an American Hereford.

Black Herefords are a hybrid cross between Black Angus and an American Hereford.

A retirement filled with family and cattle

By Melissa Smith

Debra and Kenn Kelley decided city life just wasn’t making them happy. So after living and working in Washington, D.C., they retired from jobs with the government and moved to Ardmore.

Three years ago, they opened the Kelley Black Hereford Farm, building a business based on the increasingly popular breed of cattle. “We’ve always loved animals and agriculture. We love what we do. It’s very rewarding,” Debra says.

She grew up in Huntsville, and her father was a cattleman. She says the reason they decided to start a farm was both for the nostalgia and for the challenge.

Black Herefords are a hybrid cross between Black Angus and an American Hereford, with at least 62.5 percent registered Hereford blood. Anything greater than 87.5 percent is considered purebred. The animals are known for their unique features: a black body with a white face. All of these cattle must be sired by a bull registered with the American Black Hereford Association.

More farmers in the Southeast are becoming interested in the breed. With the heightened attention, the Kelleys decided they needed a way to communicate with other farms. “Until a few years ago, you couldn’t find a registered Black Hereford east of the Mississippi,” Debra says. People began to show interest, and the couple organized a southeastern chapter of the American Black Hereford Association.

The Kelleys have 20 head of cattle, and they are expecting between six and nine calves in the spring. “Supply is low and demand is high,” Debra says. But, they have really grown considering they started with three heifers and the herd sire, Hercules. Weighing in at 1,942 pounds, Hercules was “without a doubt, one of the best bulls. He was like a big baby,” she says.

Black Herefords are known for being very gentle, docile creatures. Although the process can take well over a year to “ready” a calf to sell, Debra says people are waiting in line. It takes 283 days for a cow to produce a calf, and then another 205 days to wean.
Life in Ardmore is a significant change from earlier careers.

In the mid-’90s, Debra worked directly with the logistics secretary at the Pentagon and at Fort McNair. After returning to the Huntsville area for a few years, in 2004 the Kelleys moved back to Washington, D.C., and Debra worked at Fort Belvoir. Her specialty was program management, and she worked on a fixed-wing aircraft project for the Army. She retired after 30 years of federal service.

Her husband, Kenn, is an Oregon native who retired from the Air Force. Also, he worked for the Department of Homeland Security. He is now a civil servant for the Army at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

Keeping the farm running is also a family affair. The Kelleys have 11 grandchildren, and the whole family pitches in to care for the animals. “We’ve been everywhere, and we found this place specifically for retirement. We love the people and the community. And, we love every day God gives us here,” Debra says.

Debra Kelley makes the rounds of the Black Hereford farm that she and her husband built a few years ago.

Debra Kelley makes the rounds of the Black Hereford farm that she and her husband built a few years ago.