Some men use their free time to golf. Others hunt or fish.
When Steve Kelso isn’t working with developers and contractors as a Decatur city planner, the Lawrence County resident is breeding Red Angus cows.
It’s a job he enjoys more so than the extra money it generates for his family — including his 15-month-old granddaughter, who receives money for her college fund each time Kelso sells a calf.
“I answer questions all day long at work,” he said, standing in his sloping pasture, feed bucket in hand, as his cows grazed nearby his family’s pond.
“I’m getting paid for what I know, so at the end of the day, it’s hard for me to put my finger on what I’ve done, how I’ve helped,” he said. “But when I’m out here, building a fence or chopping wood, I can see it. It’s something tangible. It’s a real simple way of life, but it keeps me balanced.
“Some days, I just come out here to feed the cows and then turn the bucket over and sit and watch them eat. I get to see my blessings.”
Kelso raises Red Angus/Hereford calves and has just started breeding SimAngus, a Red Angus cow bred with a Simmental bull, on his small family farm in the Morris Chapel community. Health codes forbid him from selling meat, but customers can buy a calf for him to raise, then carry to the slaughterhouse of their choosing.
The butcher carves up the meat to their specifications. One cow is enough to load a freezer and feed a family for the year, Kelso said. Those who have tasted Kelso’s beef say they won’t ever go back to the grocery store for it again.
“I’ve been spoiled. Steve’s beef is so tender and lean. I can’t go back. I won’t even buy the other stuff,” said his co-worker, fellow city planner Karen Smith, a loyal customer since Kelso began his cattle operation 10 years ago. “If I have to buy beef from the grocery store, it’s ground sirloin.”
Eight to 10 City Hall employees buy his beef each year, including former colleague Todd Russell, who left his post as information systems director this year to work at Carpenter Technology.
“I like it because I know what I’m getting,” Russell said. “It tastes better, too. Sometimes I don’t even have to use a knife to cut it, it’s so tender. I just use my fork. And even though I’m paying two people, it ends up being cheaper per pound buying it this way.”
Kelso has 30 cows and three bulls, one of which is his new prize — a 1-year-old pure Red Angus he bought from Danny Osborne of Oof Farms in Athens.
“Check out his butt,” Kelso said as the hulking, brassy-colored bull buried his thick head in a hay bale, oblivious to his admirer. The bull dwarfed its pasture mates, two female Red Angus/Hereford cows that are 2 years old.
“I’m really excited about him,” Kelso said with a smile. “He is the prime example of what a Red Angus bull should be.”
Kelso is two years from retirement from the city. He has worked in the Planning Department the past 23 years. And although he loves his job — particularly now as new businesses and projects pop up around his hometown, he’s beginning to look forward to devoting his time fully to his cattle operation.
“It’s my hunting, fishing and golfing all rolled into one,” he said. “I think you’re born with it. I feel like I’m their shepherd. They’re God’s animals. I’m just taking care of them for a while.”
As a child, Kelso was drawn to a Bible passage in which God tasks Adam with naming and caring for the world’s animals. Kelso said he was called to preach 22 years ago, and since then, he has been pastor at a string of nearby country churches, filling in when their pastors leave.
“I’ve never went seeking,” he said. “I feel like I’ve always allowed the Lord to open doors for me. I’m so thankful for my blessings. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart’s character in the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’) doesn’t have anything on me.”
Kelso longed for a family as a young boy growing up in Decatur. Much of his childhood did not include his father. But he said his cup runs over now. He has the “perfect preacher’s wife” in Cindy, whom he married 30 years ago.
Together, they have two adult children, Jeff Kelso and Emily Dunlap. A second grandchild is on the way, and Kelso is set on making one of his grandchildren “a cow person.”
“I buy Chloe all these tractor and farming magazines, but her parents throw them away,” he joked. “Her cow was born around the same time she was, and all the proceeds from it go into her college fund.”
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