When Alyssa Fee is in college, her mind much of the time is on a farm 200 miles away in Jackson, TN. Her accomplishments there helped her win the National FFA Organization’s top forage production proficiency award last year, and she goes back every chance she gets.
“My friends call me crazy because I love working with cattle and being in the hayfields,” she says.
But the farm she calls “my favorite place to be” doesn’t belong to her parents. It’s Woolfolk Farms, a registered Hereford cattle and commercial hay operation where she’s worked since age 14. From the beginning, she has worked closely with owner Scott Woolfolk. As her mentor, he in many respects functions more like a parent than an employer.
“He taught me literally everything I know,” she says. “I wouldn’t be around today if Scott and the rest of the Woolfolk family hadn’t taken me in and taught me the skills that they did. Then they gave me the freedom to take some leadership roles and make some decisions that a lot of kids don’t get the opportunity to do.”
Fee’s parents don’t farm and have no interest in agriculture. Her interest was kindled at age eight, when she began helping an Angus breeder across the road from her home. Among other chores, she helped in the show ring and soon developed a love for showing cattle.
Woolfolk, another neighbor, was at some of those shows, and she got to know him there. Wanting to work more hours, she went to work for him as a high school freshman.
“Scott let me help him a few days, and after he saw my work ethic he asked me to work for him all the time,” she remembers.
“She started out doing just odd-and-end chores on the farm, like spraying fencerows, and she helped quite a bit in the show barn,” says Woolfolk. “Within about a year she could do just about everything. Within a couple of years she was raking hay, and it wasn’t long after that she was operating about any piece of machinery we had.”
She was good with the cattle, too, and he soon felt comfortable leaving the herd in her hands.
“After a year or two, I got to where I had 100% confidence in her taking care of them when I needed to be gone,” he says.
"She’s a very remarkable young lady,” he adds. “Most kids who grow up on a farm don’t have the passion for it that she does.”
Today Fee is Woolfolk’s show-barn manager and assistant manager of the cow herd and hay enterprises. The latter includes about 80 acres of mostly bermudagrass hay made into small bales and sold to horse owners. That enterprise has more than doubled in size during her tenure.
The biggest change over the past four years has been a steady transition from hay to baleage for the cow herd. Forage for Woolfolk cattle is packaged in 4 x 5’ round bales, and an increasing portion of it is wheat and ryegrass grown between cotton crops. They’re no-tilled into cotton stubble in October, then are harvested in April before the fields are planted back to cotton in May.
Rain is a big issue in April, and making baleage instead of hay helps avoid the problems it causes. But Woolfolk is making more and more baleage mostly because, thanks to its superior quality, his cow herd now is raised on grass and baleage with no supplements.
“With these $250- to $270-a-ton feed mixtures that we’re looking at now, we’ve had to do something different,” he says. “By next year 70% of our total cow feed will be wet hay.”
Fee has beeninstrumental in the effort to improve the amount and quality of forages produced at Woolfolk Farms.
“The best piece of knowledge Scott has told me is that behind every good cattle operation is an even better forage operation,” she says.
She’s a sophomore ag business major at Tennessee Tech University at Cookeville. After graduating, she plans to go to law school and focus on agricultural law. She hopes to earn enough money in that profession to buy a farm and build a herd of registered Hereford cattle.
“If I could start farming tomorrow, that’s what I’d do,” she says. “But I’ve got to build into that.”
As a reigning state FFA vice president, she makes chapter visits where she often gets career-related questions from younger members.
“The best advice I can give them is to find a job they like doing,” she says. “I tell them farming is a 24/7 job, but I’ve never worked a day in my life because I love doing it.”