top of page
  • Briley Richard

The Surgeon Stockman

How Williams Angus Farms applies medical methodology to the Angus business, resulting in a century’s worth of success. 



For an Angus operation to stand the test of time, it must be strong and healthy, with a central heartbeat — a vision. Each decision must be made as meticulously as a surgeon with a scalpel in hand operates. 

While not all ranches base their business model on the practice of medicine, this philosophy worked well for George “Alex” Williams II of Williams Angus Farm. 


In its century of existence, Williams Angus Farm pivoted from a follow-the-leader mentality to a forward-thinking, innovative approach, resulting in a legacy of genetic performance. It’s this progressive and adaptive mindset that earns the honors of being 2023 recipients of the American Angus Association Century Award.


A student of the practice

Started by Williams’ father in 1921, the original operation went by Williams Stock Farm and sat on the outskirts of historic Jonesborough, Tenn. Sweaty days in the field or in the barn tending to the chores on the 250-acre farm provided plenty of time for bonding among the five Williams children. 


“The cattle and the farming were always a major part of my life, as well as my sisters’,” Williams reflects. “In our younger years, we were big into showing. We showed at seven or eight fairs a year, and it kind of was a glue that held the family together.”


Reaching college age and being the only son, Williams had expectations to pursue a career as a veterinarian. Despite acceptance into Auburn’s veterinary program, he decided another path suited him better — same white coat, just a different patient. He began his five years of medical school in 1970 in Memphis. 


Being laser focused on his studies left little time to spend on the farm. The anticipation of his father’s weekly call helped him stay involved and stay afloat. 


“Every Saturday night, my father would call me in Memphis, and he would tell me what was going on at the farm. Usually, he had been to a sale that day, and we would go over the [sale book],” Williams says. “To be honest with you, that kept my sanity while I was going through medical school.”


As the end of medical school approached, Williams became increasingly interested in orthopedic surgery, landing him in a five-year orthopedic surgery residency in Knoxville. While overwhelmed by tiring days learning surgical procedures and studying umpteen pages of medical jargon, Williams endured another challenge: overcoming the loss of his father. His passing left Williams juggling medical training, grief and the responsibility of running the family farming operation. 


Williams spent the majority of his time away from the farm, prompting his mother to disperse the herd and land she inherited. Not ready to throw in the towel on his lifelong passion for Angus, Williams kept his handful of cattle and struck out on his own. 


“I rebooted from those four or five cows, and it didn’t take long to get the numbers back up,” he says. 

In 1977 the opportunity arose to lease additional land in the nearby village of Boone’s Creek. The 500 acres of lush pastures in Boone’s Creek is home to the present-day operation, Williams Angus Farm.  



Shifts in procedure

Living a double life between pristine white coats and tattered blue jeans, Williams still made time for the cattle operation while prioritizing his education. He became close with a family friend, John Crouch, and the two road-tripped to Angus sales across the region, discussing pedigrees, high-sellers and everything in between.


“I would take a week off in the spring, and I would travel with him — man, did he teach me a lot,” Williams recalls. “I really found out what the Angus cattle business was all about.”


To market his cattle, Williams participated in bull tests, primarily focusing on serving commercial cattlemen. After receiving harsh results on his cattle’s performance, he reached out to Crouch, who encouraged him to find proven performance herds in the area, like Graham Angus and Quincy Darbyshire.


“When I realized I needed help, I went down, I bought every heifer he [Darbyshire] had for two years,” Williams says. “That immediately got me back on the right track, and I was off and running ever since then.”


However, when the recession and drought hit in 2010, the performance data alone wasn’t enough. Struggling to stay afloat in hard economic times, Williams remembered the advice of a former chief resident who said in medicine, solutions derive from evaluating where a patient’s been, where they are now and where they want to go. He realized applying this same theory to his Angus herd could yield desirable results, giving him the edge he needed. 


“That day changed my life, because it changed my way of thinking,” Williams adds. 

Looking back on the tactic used by his father — simply following the trends — Williams recognizes it left them in the dust of fellow breeders. 


“We were always playing catch-up,” Williams says. “Like a dog chasing his tail can’t ever catch it.”

Examining his current operation, Williams needed to make vast improvements to be competitive. An Angus pal, Steve Johnson, introduced Williams to genomics. Without hesitation, he decided genomics held the key to making rapid improvements for not only his herd, but the larger Angus breed. 


Since then, Williams’ primary focus has been on genomics, curating a herd nationally recognized for a reputation of impressive, accurate expected progeny difference (EPD) data.


“I wanted to be the genomics man, and I wanted to have the reputation,” Williams says. “It put me on the map.”



Lessons learned and lessons carried on

The evolution of Williams Angus Farm is one of constant innovation and adaptation to survive. However, the lessons passed down through generations still ring true as the key to success. 


“Your honesty and your integrity is everything,” Williams says. “I often quote my mother, ‘Son, always do the right thing — you’ll never be wrong by doing the right thing. Be fair and honest in all your dealings, and things will take care of themselves.’” 


Much like a doctor in the operating room, Williams Angus Farm stands strong and steady. As he ponders what the coming century may bring, Williams knows his dedication to the breed will carry him into the future.


“I do have a real passion for it and I love the business — I’ve got everything I need,” Williams says. 


Editor’s note: Briley Richard is a freelance writer from Grand Chenier, La.

Comments


bottom of page