Adventure of a Lifetime
Well, here we are at Whiskey Creek Angus. I’m 65 years old; Jeanne is 60. We sold our dream house of a lifetime, Meadowview, and bought a farm during the worst pandemic in a century. What’s up with that?
Meadowview, located in Swoope, Virginia, was built in 1817 by Jeanne’s ancestors. It’s a grand old brick home with 10 rooms and a 60-foot-long front porch. It was the last place I thought I would live. But we needed a place to farm on our own, and the sale of Meadowview would help pay for it.
We left the mother ship—Hoffman Farms—in September of 2019. We were in our dinghy in the open sea, looking for a safe harbor.
Swoope Cattle Company, Northern Division
The transition from Hoffman Farms to Whiskey Creek Angus took a little over a year. At first, we put our herd of cows on the small farm we owned on the Middle River. It’s a pretty famous farm because of the riparian buffers and research performed there. But it’s too small for the number of cows we have. We searched for places to rent or buy. We almost bought a farm in Tennessee, but nothing opened up that we really liked. Then a miracle happened. Joe Orlick and Bob Powell of Last Raid Farm in Swoope asked us if we would go into a partnership with them. We were delighted! We named the new partnership the Swoope Cattle Company, Northern Division. In December 2019 we moved our herd of pregnant cows to their farm. There, we had the best calving season ever, with zero mortality.
The Old Galen Back Farm Becomes Whiskey Creek Angus
In July 2020, we saw a for-sale sign for a 150-acre farm tacked on a fence post along Buffalo Gap Highway. Jeanne called the number on the sign, and we made an appointment for a showing.
Howard Lickliter, a slender gentleman in his 80s with a deep, growly voice showed us the farm. As we walked the land, I used the soil app on my smartphone to find out what the soils were. I was amazed. Shenval, Bookwood, and Frederick soil showed up in most fields. These are some of the best soils in the Valley—deep, well-drained, and fertile. I fell in love with the soils; Jeanne fell in love with the four barns. We both had that feeling that this was the right place. At the end of our walk, we sat in the shade under a giant Silver Maple tree next to the shop, and I asked Howard what we needed to do to purchase the farm.
“You bring me a check,” he said, “I’ll give you the deed.”
Well, it was a little more complicated than that. After the surveyors and lawyers finished their work, we signed the papers on September 29. We bought the farm! It was the old Galen Back farm on Whiskey Creek Road in Churchville, Virginia, just nine miles from Meadowview. Finally, we had found a safe harbor and set our anchor.
Whiskey Creek flows along the northern border of the farm, and an unnamed tributary of Whiskey Creek flows along the southern border. Livestock always had access to both streams. Jeanne and I believe in excluding livestock from streams, using rotational grazing, and creating native wildlife habitats.
Programs Abound to Help Farmers Keep Cows Out of Streams
I’ve lost track of how many programs there are to help landowners and farmers exclude livestock from streams. So I contacted Alston Horn, a field technician for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to find out the current status of the programs. I was amazed. The programs just keep getting better—they’re more flexible and offer greater incentives. There are federal programs through the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, state programs through local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and private programs through various nonprofits. They are all good, but each one is a little different, and some can be combined. It’s worth studying them so you’ll select the one that’s right for your operation.
We Chose Virginia’s Program for Whiskey Creek Angus
We chose the Virginia Agriculture BMP Cost-Share Program through the Headwaters Soil and Water Conservation District. It offered the most reimbursement for the practices that would work best for us. For example, if we put 50 feet of buffer between the creek and the fence and agreed to a 15-year contract, we would be reimbursed 100 percent of the average cost for the fence and watering system. In addition, we would get a buffer acreage payment of $80 per acre per year in a lump sum.
Wait, There’s More!
The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay has a unique program called Healthy Streams, Farm Stewardship. If we planted trees in the buffer, the Alliance would give us conservation vouchers worth $3,000 per acre of buffer for needed farm practices plus $1,000 per acre to help with buffer maintenance. How cool is that?
Six Watering Stations for Our Cows
Jeanne and I use rotational grazing for many reasons. For starters, the resting period for pastures from grazing allows more grass to grow and breaks up potential livestock parasite cycles. But in order to rotate pastures for grazing, we needed more water distributed throughout the farm. The Virginia program enabled us to develop six livestock watering stations strategically located for rotational grazing. The first one was completed on December 30.
The Cows Come Home
On December 31 we hauled our pregnant cows from Last Raid Farm in Swoope to their new home, Whiskey Creek Angus, in Churchville.
The Programs Made the Farm Easier for Us to Operate
We now have 11 permanent grazing units on the farm that can be further divided with electric fencing and six watering stations. This system of rotational grazing helps us get the cows into the barns easier, keeps cows and their babies out of wet areas, and provides abundant clean water for the herds.
So Many Benefits
Everyone benefits from clean water and healthy soil. That’s why there are so many programs to help pay for it. But what’s in it for the farmer? A lot!
Our number one benefit is knowing a newborn calf will not perish in the wet areas on the farm. When it’s below freezing and it’s raining or snowing, we don’t want cows giving birth in a wet area. We also don’t want our cattle drinking dirty water. If your cows are drinking water from a stream, the biosecurity of your herd is only as good as the worst farm upstream. That’s because more than half the cattle diseases in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are transmitted through the fecal-oral pathway.
If you have livestock in the streams on your farm, there are organizations and agencies standing by to help you install an alternative watering system. And they have funds to help pay for it. To get more information contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District or local USDA Service Center.