Home on the range

A former Bulldog standout is raising awareness about organic cattle farming

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Tennessee Titans’ middle linebacker Will Witherspoon doesn’t just defend yards from opposing teams. He defends animals from poor treatment and people from processed food.

“We always had animals in the house growing up,” Witherspoon (BSFCS ’07) says, “and I was the kid that brought everything home when I found it outdoors.”

A three-year starter on the UGA football team in the early 2000s, Witherspoon has played professional ball since 2002, first with the Carolina Panthers and then the St. Louis Rams, where he was named team MVP in 2006. He later played for the Philadelphia Eagles and signed last year with the Tennessee Titans.

But away from the gridiron, Witherspoon is making his mark in another field—organic agriculture.

On his 500-acre farm, Shire Gate in Owensville, Mo., Witherspoon raises cattle naturally as an Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) producer. The designation means that his cattle are grass-fed from birth, and his farm must pass random check-ups by the AWA to ensure the cattle are treated humanely on a pasture or range. His training also equips him to teach other farmers about grass-fed livestock and the problems with processed food.

“I’m in a job where I have to be very conscious of what I put in my body, and I don’t trust what’s on the market shelves,” Witherspoon says. “I started asking, ‘Why shouldn’t I start giving everybody knowledge about eating healthy?’”

Witherspoon bought the farm, then 185 acres, in 2002 as a home for his two Shire horses.

“I was tired of paying for someone to keep my horses, and I wasn’t happy with the way they were being treated,” Witherspoon says.

He soon added 15 cows and about 100 goats to help him clean up the pasture. In the future, Witherspoon plans to add poultry, pigs and perhaps lamb to his farm.

When he’s not playing football, Witherspoon travels to observe other farms and encourages AWA-approved animal treatment.

“It’s really sad how animals are treated sometimes, and it’s sad what big agriculture has done,” he says. “I want Shire Gate to be a beacon of light where people can go to understand.”

For more information, go to http://www.shiregatefarm.com.