GREENHILL, ALABAMA —
Brian Smith said Southern hospitality is alive and well — in South Dakota.
Smith, president of the Lauderdale County Junior Cattlemen's Association, led a group of 56 students and adults to South Dakota earlier this month.
The group delivered 21 heifers to ranchers who lost cattle during last winter's blizzard.
"They just gave us a huge welcome," Smith said. "They opened up their homes to us. There were 12 families that divided 56 of us into their homes."
The junior cattlemen delivered one heifer to 21 different families.
"All the ranchers had their own branding so the kids got to help with that," Smith said. "That was something new to them. They still have branding up there so they can round up their herds in the fall."
Smith said the kids will remember the experience for the rest of their lives.
They spent their days working on fences, clearing brush and other ranch chores. Each night, the families gathered for a potluck supper for their visitors from Alabama.
"They learned a lot of things with all the sights they got to see and about beef production," Smith said. "But the most important thing was the citizenship and the bonding, the relationships that were formed. When I was leaving, I felt more like we were leaving home instead of heading for home."
Smith said the group had lots of invitations to come back.
"It would be interesting to see what kind of calves these heifers give birth to next year," Smith said. "There's already a group of ranchers talking about chartering a bus and coming to Alabama to pay us a visit."
Smith said the area the group visited was 60 miles from the nearest town.
"I was really impressed with the ranching heritage of the area," he said. "They remember the stories of their pioneer ancestors. The old schools, old homesteads and barns are still there."
Smith said the elementary school students still attend a two-room school. Once they get old enough for high school, they move into town and board with someone.
"They do that just to get to go to high school," Smith said. "It's a great sense of community there. They are so incredibly remote that they really bond with each other. They are so proud of their heritage."