You could call Jerry Savoie a motorcycle drag racer, alligator farmer, cattle rancher, boat launch owner, airplane pilot, entrepreneur or Doosan® equipment owner – and you’d be right each time. Jerry takes on no debt for his business, builds everything himself and is proud to be part of the Bayou Lafourche community in southern Louisiana.
Based on all that, you’d probably call him an interesting guy. “That’s what everybody tells me all the time – I don’t get it,” Jerry says. Even at 60, Jerry doesn’t have time to reflect on his accomplishments. He has hay to bale – he’ll probably be up all night doing it. Then in the morning, he has to catch a flight to his next National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) race.
Jerry Savoie has been alligator farming since 1989. He started when a friend of his got into the business, and Jerry thought it looked like a good way to make a living.
What does alligator farming look like? Picture buildings resembling chicken houses, only full of thousands of prehistoric lizards in pens with about three feet of water. Jerry raises them from eggs to about four feet long on a diet of a dry supplement that Jerry describes as “like dog food.” Once they reach that size, he harvests them for their meat and their skin. The skin is the most valuable part – it is inspected and then sent to buyers in Europe to be made into luxury boots, purses, wallets and other goods. In addition, Jerry works with Louisiana State University to help perform research on alligators.
Getting the eggs is the tricky and dangerous part. It involves collecting the eggs directly from a wild alligator nest. First the required contract is signed between Jerry, the landowner and the state of Louisiana. During an intense, five-week period in mid-summer, a commercial helicopter pilot takes Jerry or one of his employees over the swamp to spot alligator nests and record their GPS coordinates. After they have several nests marked, Jerry sends out crews in airboats (he owns 15) to find the nests and collect the eggs – which are sometimes being protected by a female alligator. Once the eggs are back at Jerry’s farm, he puts them in an incubator, where they hatch in about 60 days. Jerry releases approximately 10 percent of the hatched alligators back into the wild to help maintain the alligator population.
STAYING ABOVE WATER
“We’re in a flood zone down here,” Jerry says. This is one of Jerry’s typical understatements. Water surrounds southern LaFourche Parish, and the land is about as waterlogged as a dish sponge. “If you’re from up north you have dirt everywhere,” Jerry says. “The land is so low down here, you’re just constantly trying to build it up.”
Jerry uses his Doosan DX300LC-5 SLR (super-long-reach) crawler excavator with a bucket to mine dirt on the areas of his property where the water level is lower, which he then transports to lower-lying areas and grades for foundations for new structures on his farm. He purchased the Doosan excavator from Duhon Machinery in St. Rose, Louisiana. Duhon Machinery has been serving customers in the New Orleans area for 50 years.
But even on the more stable areas of Jerry’s property, the soil just one cut below the surface is too unstable to support the weight of a crawler excavator unless he lays down a swamp mat, a temporary timber platform. That’s why he appreciates the nearly 23-foot-long DX300LC-5 SLR excavator arm.
“With an excavator that has a short stick, you make your first cut, and then you mat down in there, and then you make another cut and throw the dirt up,” Jerry says. “Well, with the super long reach – man, you don’t have to do none of that.” Jerry also uses his DX300LC-5 SLR as a tool in his fight to keep his land from turning into swamp. Several drainage ditches carry rainwater from his low-lying land to the surrounding swamp. He uses the excavator to clear these ditches of debris so that the water in the ditch can run off unimpeded. The excavator has a maximum digging depth of 45 feet, which efficiently clears the debris.
Jerry owns a Komatsu excavator, so before buying the Doosan® super-long-reach machine, he checked out two other excavator brands. “I demoed a Caterpillar and a Komatsu, and the Doosan excavator had way, way more power than the other two brands,” Jerry says. “It’s just so much more efficient.”
He has plans to use his Doosan excavator to build up the bulkhead of a boat launch on his farm property that’s used by fishing, oyster and shrimp boats. He also plans to use it for some work on his cattle pasture. And as a private pilot, Jerry is hatching a plan that most people would probably consider a huge undertaking, but that Jerry makes sound like just another day of work. “I’m fixing to build me an airstrip with that excavator,” Jerry says. “I’m fixing to dig a bunch of dirt and build up the land and crown it, so the water can drain off, and build me an airstrip.”
Jerry Savoie is an alligator farmer and cattle rancher – and also a motorcycle drag racer. Jerry raced when he was a kid and then quit when he was 20. He didn’t ride a motorcycle again for 32 years, until at age 52 he decided to pick up the sport again.
“As a kid I was a halfway decent rider, and I just wanted to see if I could go with the best of them,” Jerry says. “And we did pretty good.”
Jerry did more than “pretty good.” Five years after resuming drag racing, Jerry and his team, White Alligator Racing, were the 2016 National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Mello Yello Pro Stock Motorcycle Champions. “Back home, I raise alligators. People around the world know me, and all the big companies want my skins because we don’t cut corners and we deliver a great product,” Jerry said at the championship banquet, as reported by the motorcycle racing publication CycleNews. “I don’t think I’m better than the rest; we just do things the right way. That’s the same with racing. I always feel like others can do this just as well as I can, but then you watch them come out and not succeed. I’m just an old country boy, and it still doesn’t sink in that I can be successful at my age. It just proves that if you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen.”