The JA McPhail family pictured in front of “the barn” in 1902.
Walter Houlu McPhail was born February 21, 1901, in Sandy Springs, South Carolina to John Augustus and Mary Stevenson McPhail. When Houlu was a year old, his father bought the home place in Oconee, where WH lived until his death in 1979, and where the home-base for Tokeena Angus remains today.
Houlu’s interest in cows began very early with the purchase of a yearling heifer and in 1922, after a year at Clemson College, he walked home to begin his life-long profession as a cattle farmer. In 1935, he married Addie Lucy Prater and, over the years, they raised seven children: Mary, Hazel, Walter, Steve, Floyd, Elaine and Neil. As a farmer who believed in progress and innovation, Houlu saw the changes being brought about by the decline of the cotton economy and the loss of top soil across the upstate. He believed that cattle, not cotton, would be the crop of the future. Soon after his marriage, he established the first registered Angus herd in South Carolina. Mr. McPhail also had the foresight to recognize the importance of a cool season grazer and began planting fescue grass on his farm. He gradually helped established this grass throughout the area, planting acreage on his own farm and selling extra seed to neighbors so that they could increase profits through forage rather than feed. He eventually provided certified seed to such companies as Pennington and was acknowledged as helping significantly improve the agricultural economy of the area. For this reason, the farm is recognized today by the National Register of Historic Places.
“Grand-daddy” was also very interested in showing off his beloved Angus cattle so one or more of his children entered the Anderson County livestock show every year. His entrants won numerous championships and, from that first year when daughter Mary showed until the youngest grandchild Daniel stopped showing in 2003 there were McPhail cattle being shown by McPhail children or grandchildren at the Anderson County Fair for over 50 continuous years.
Grandaddy McPhail cooking BBQ for one of the many production sales held here at Tokeena
Mary (Neil’s oldest sister) getting ready for a show
Daniel and Meghan Showing
Today, the Angus herd is managed by Neil McPhail and his wife Gwen. The highlight each year is a performance-tested sale held the last Saturday in January that includes bulls and females, including Tokeena-sired females that they buy back from past customers. The cattle are raised on a forage-based ration from weaning until sale day. The bulls are ultra-sounded and given a breeding soundness exam and females are pregnancy checked close to sale day. All cattle are guaranteed breeders. Neil selects sires that are moderate framed and positive for traits like scrotal circumference and yearling weight while trying to keep as much calving ease as possible. Foot problems and bad dispositions are culled from the herd whenever they turn up. Carcass traits are a key criteria for selection, but performance and reproductive efficiency are top priority.
Neil and Gwen’s two children, Meghan and Daniel are also actively involved in the cattle operation, from day-to-day management to clerking for the annual sale. After graduating from Clemson, Meghan taught agriculture at Aiken High school until deciding to pursue her PhD from NC State in 2014. After serving two years as assistant director of youth livestock and leadership programs for South Carolina 4-H, she recently entered the corporate world as an educational consultant for Contract Construction, Inc. out of Ballentine, SC. Meghan’s heart remains true to her roots in agriculture though, and she continues to maintain a small herd of registered Angus cows. She’s the one handling the dollars on sale day, keeping mailing lists and records updated and working closely with our sale manager to make sure things run smoothly throughout the auction.
Daniel and his wife Paige own a commercial cow herd and market a number of their females as Tokeena-bred pairs or heifers every year. Daniel designs and builds all new cattle handling facilities as Tokeena expands and upgrades for the future and helps his dad with management chores like branding, vaccinations and preparing cattle for the sale. Daniel and Paige own and operate Tokeena Welding and Repair, LLC and Tokeena Agriculture Solutions, LLC. They provide agricultural services from building site preparation and metal fabrication to crop insurance and consulting across the upstate of South Carolina and Georgia. They have two sons, Watson and Augustus. Watson already owns a registered Angus heifer who will calve this fall and Gus won’t be far behind in getting involved in the ownership and showing of Angus cattle.