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Farmer gets Conservationist of Year award a second time

For many farmers, monetary profit is the primary objective. However, some farmers, such as local producer Billy Mays, look for profit of a different kind.

In October, Mays was honored as the 2011 Conservationist of the Year by the McDuffie County Soil and Water Conservation District. Mays, who had won before, accepted the award in front of friends and family at the annual affiliate member banquet held Thursday, Oct. 20.

"It was a pretty good honor to win, but it was a lot of work," Mays said.

Mays began farming as a child, working with his father on a 61-acre farm in Columbia County.

"When I was only 8 years old, I was plowing with a mule and planting cotton, peanuts and sweet potatoes," he said.

Mays also milked the cows every morning before school and every evening when he got home. It was tough work for a young boy, but it helped build the character and determination that would help him achieve his dream of one day owning a farm.

Mays now owns and manages Lake Lodge Farm, a 409-acre farm in McDuffie County that boasts a range of conservation practices. He has the opportunity to do what he loves every day of his life, while striving to leave something better for the generations to come.

Mays worked at Georgia Iron Works for 38 years, beginning in June 1953. He started out as a maintenance apprentice, making $1 an hour. After six years, he was promoted to maintenance superintendent.

He married Marjorie Cooper in September 1953. They have been married 58 years. The four Mays children were raised into farm life. On a 12-acre farm, the family planted vegetables that would end up in the freezer for the winter ahead.

They also raised cows and pigs and did a lot of deer hunting. After a full day of work at Georgia Iron Works, Mays would work on the farm, plowing, planting, cutting, raking and baling hay until sundown with his four children's help.

In 1985, Mays purchased a 102-acre tract during the Harrison farm auction that later served as his family's new home. With this purchase he increased his herd of cattle to 85, quickly learning that the only way to raise 85 cows on 102 acres was to maintain a good soil sample, fertilization and irrigation.

In 1994, Mays added another 307 acres to his farm, which is now known as the Lake Lodge Farm.

In 1999, after years of drought, he had to reduce his herd of cattle to 35 head. The family now operates a 35-head Limousine Angus Cross beef cattle operation.

Although Mays had a very successful career, his passion for farming and the wise use of the world's natural resources was a driving force in his life.

Mays said conservation is important to him because it enhances water quality and wildlife.

"It's just a general, all-around project that every farmer needs to be involved in," he said.

Over the years, Mays has made great strides to maximize the output on his farm while conserving the natural resources. He has fenced off the creek so the cattle could not get into it and poured concrete in the part where they do cross the creek. He has also put in wildlife plots for deer and turkey.

Mays has installed such conservation practices as cross fencing, pest management, nutriment management, riparian forest buffer, stream crossings and wildlife habitat management.

He recently received an irrigation permit that allows him to pump an unlimited amount of water from a nearby 130-acre lake. Mays continues to make efforts to ensure the natural resources he uses will be available for generations to come.

Web posted on Thursday, December 01, 2011

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