Cattle, sheep have a Ball roaming on family farm
GRAHAMS FORGE, Va. — Family working together to raise cattle and sheep and a unique history are all part of Cattle Creek Farm in this Wythe County community.
Shannon Ball, the third generation member running the farm, farms with his father, Larry Ball, and his grandfather, Harold Hart, on the farm they bought in 1978. Shannon said he was 8 years old when they moved from Russell County.
Through the years, the farm has been diversified, he said. Reed Creek runs through the 1,650-acre spread where beef cattle and hair sheep graze and a pair of bald eagles fly overhead.
While sheep have been part of the farm off and on for many years, hair sheep are a relatively new venture.
Ball said he purchased 28 Katahdin sheep from another Wythe County farmer, Eric Crowgey, in 2013.
Today, he has a flock of 500 meat animals.
The family runs about 350 head of beef cattle, both brood cows and yearlings, Shannon said. He said his cattle are crossbred with Angus-Charolais and red cattle.
“Anything that will raise a calf,” he said.
They breed Katahdin ewes with Dorper rams when he feels he needs more thickness in his lambs.
He said he does not like thin, spindly Katahdins.
Shannon said his family sells most of the cattle from the farm to order buyers, a system he likes.
The pasture-raised beef has a good reputation, and he often has repeat buyers. The farm is becoming known for its sheep and the service the family is providing to the New River Valley Goat and Sheep Club.
It is the gathering point for the club to collect sheep and goats to send to market in New Holland, Pa.
The club usually does this four times a year.
Information about the collection and club is available at email@example.com.
But he said he is not satisfied with the way he has to market his sheep, hauling most of the lambs about 400 miles to New Holland, even though the prices are often better than local markets.
He said he is looking for a good way of marketing sheep from the farm. Shannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shannon said their pastures are primarily a mixture of bluegrass, orchardgrass and clover.
While they do have some fescue, he added he is not excited about it, though it is a good winter feed.
He estimated he grows about half of his hay and buys the rest. He finds this works well for their operation.
The large L-shaped hay and livestock barn that dominates the front of the farm enables the family to provide the staging for large numbers of sheep being shipped north during the sheep club’s collection events.
The barn was built by George L. Carter, a native of Hillsville, Va. in 1934.
Ball said a local farmer told him that Carter who was involved in coal mining in West Virginia used the farm to grow food for the miners who worked for him. The local history indicates he paid the miners in mine script and they used it to pay for their food.
According to historians, Carter’s business ventures led to the development and modernization of many parts of the southern Appalachian region during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The barn is still sound and exhibits incredible woodworking and carpentry skills in the huge hayloft. Over the years, the Ball family has found various uses for the loft.
It has been used for drying burley tobacco, storing round bales and old farm machinery.
The club was able to comfortably herd more than 1,200 sheep through the barn and load them onto livestock trailers going north.
Shannon said that nearly all the work on the farm is done by his immediate and extended family.
He said he has one full-time helper.
In addition to his father and grandfather, his wife Carrie Jo, his18-year-old twin daughters Sally and Sydney, and 15-year-old daughter Darcie help on the farm.
He also calls on other family members as needed.
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