Silent sentinels

Published 9:53 am Monday, September 15, 2003

By By Connie Nowlin Managing editor
They stand like soldiers against the Alabama skyline, testaments to a way of life that is gone forever.
They are silos, the concrete block towers that once held silage, chopped green feed for cattle. It is sometimes used for other livestock, but most often for milk cows.
When the farms and feedlots they serviced went out of business, the tall gray ladies that dot the landscape hereabouts lost their reason for being. And now they are so much a part of that landscape that almost no one ever notices them. Such is the case with a derelict pair of silos on Greenland Road.
Now they are without tops, vines choke their midsections and brush and trees throng around the bases. A peanut field surrounds them.
But once they were a vital part of the feed yard that was part of the farm of Dr. Floyd Findley, an area veterinarian.
The farm flourished in the 1950s and 60s, when Findley fed out cattle.
"When we started, we were feeding them out of a trough," said Leland Helton, a nephew of Findley's who worked with him on halves.
"Then we built the silos, one in 1965, the second one in 1967." That enabled the lot to hold the larger groups of calves, and Helton had an identical lot at his place. His is still in existence, although not in operation.
Some of the calves came off the farm itself, where Findley raised cattle, some Brahman he had brought out of south Florida, using a Charolais bull to cross them with. But others were bought and brought in.
"We could feed three groups per year," Helton said. "If they were heavy when they came in, we could turn 400-500 per year."
The cattle, when fat, went to Hayes Davis packers in Mobile.
The feedlot ticked along for about 10 years, and then things began to change. Dr. Findley retired from his veterinary practice and moved away to Georgia.
About the same time, the Mobile packing plant closed, and Helton, who continued to feed cattle, had to ship his to Montgomery.
"It got to be like everything else," Helton said.
"You can't afford to do just a few. It's as easy to feed 1,000 head now as 100."
In the early 1980s, when the Montgomery packing house closed, Helton gave up on feeding cattle. He farms, growing cotton and some peanuts.
The silos for the feed lot, as well as the loading chutes on the south side of the field, fell idle. Findley sold the farm to Jim Moulton, in Pensacola. Moulton in turn, leases it to the McElhaney brothers who grow peanuts there.
The silos stand watch over the crop, sheltering the stray owl now and then. They are mostly alone, though, kept company only by each other and the memories that fill them now, of the days when they had a job, and cattle filled the ground below them.

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