Forage newcomer takes top Va. award
CROZIER, Va. — This year’s recipient of the Virginia Grassland and Forage Council’s Forage Producer of the Year Award is a relative newcomer to seriously growing forages but is adamant about learning more.
Ronnie Nuckols’ Overhome Farm has been in the family for five generations. He is raising beef and forage on his 175-acre portion of the farm divided between his brother after their father’s death in 2008. The following year he decided to try to make a go of it in agriculture.
Since 2009, Nuckols has worked to turn a conventional, free-range beef cattle operation to better suit his management goals. He said in a telephone interview that he views his farm as two operations: the cattle and growing forage. He said success comes when both mesh.
Nuckols said his most important tool is the wide availability of advice for farmers between the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Virginia Tech and Extension. He said other industries do not have this kind of help available.
Cattlemen willing to share their knowledge and help one another is another important factor for learning, he said.
“I was soaking it up,” he recalled from attending pasture walks and forage conferences. “I wanted a clean slate. I was open to try anything.”
His first step was a state cost share program through the Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District in Goochland County to keep the cattle out of the steams and ponds.
This involved building fences to keep them away from the running water on the farm in the James River Watershed in Goochland County and developing a water system for the farm, Keith Burgess, Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District’s manager said in a telephone interview.
“Ronnie has just done an exceptional job in transitioning the farm and being a great steward of the land and sharing his passion for managing his beef and forage operation to be successful,” Burgess said.
Nuckols said in the process he gave up about 50 acres to the exclusion project.
Farming was not his goal when he attended Virginia Tech and earned a degree in landscape architecture, Nuckols said. He became a part of his father’s excavation business and eventually had his own excavation/construction business.
Nuckols said his land has been farmed since 1768 and was owned by two other families before his. His grandfather who farmed it was one of eight children. Even though the family scattered, the main gathering space was his farm. He said family members always said they were going “over home” for these events. So when he and his wife Cheryl were choosing a name for their farm she suggested “Overhome” due to this family habit.
The brothers farmed together at first, dealing with the cattle that had been running on 300 acres of forage and were at sometimes wild and even dangerous, he said. They ultimately decided to divide the farm and work by themselves, still helping each other as needed.
One of Nuckols’ changes include limiting grazing to two days at a time.
Nuckols also tried summer annuals such as millet, sorghum and cowpeas to defeat the weeds and dormant fescue in the summer.
About this time, he got to know several advisors in the forage industry including J. B. Daniel, Virginia NRCS forage agronomist and grazing specialist and Chris Teutch, then an Extension researcher at the Southern Piedmont Agricultural and Extension Research Center.
Nuckols said he called Daniel who asked to come by for a visit. From there Daniel asked Nuckols to host a field day in 2015.
This proved to be a learning experience for Nuckols, who now grows both summer and winter annuals.
With his new management he has found his cattle are in better health and condition and added the animals look forward to seeing him.
“It’s so much more enjoyable,” he said.
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