Gentle giants now thriving in Lakeshore Belgians’ pastures
RADFORD, Va. — The warm peace of a spring afternoon lends a deceptive quietness to Lakeshore Belgians, a horse farm on the banks of Claytor Lake in Pulaski County.
Despite the tranquility, power abounds.
It comes from Belgian draft horses roaming in paddocks, and from the adjoining 4,472-acre, 21-mile long manmade lake beside the farm and from the hydroelectric dam downstream where the water thunders through turbines to make electricity.
The horses, owned by Alan Graybeal and Laura Bullard, are a recent addition to Lakeshore Farm, a beef cattle operation Graybeal has developed.
The couple farms on land that has been in Bullard’s family since 1808.
The lake was created when Appalachian Power Company built its Claytor Hydroelectric Dam on New River below Lakeshore Farm in 1939.
Over the years, Graybeal has earned a reputation for quality cattle. Ownership of the calves born to the Lakeshore cow herd is retained until they go to slaughter, he said. They are finished in Nebraska.
The couple acquired their first Belgians in 2014, fulfilling a young boy’s wishes, Graybeal said.
“It’s been a life-long desire of mine to have quality Belgian horses,” Graybeal said. “It started when I was six years old.”
He recalled rigging up some harness for his two beagles and hitching them to a little red wagon.
The first two Belgians to call Lakeshore home are half-sisters purchased at weaning from Ben N. Yoder of Holmes City, Ohio, Graybeal said.
The Amish breeder of Belgians works with Graybeal and Bullard to prepare their animals for sale.
Laura and Alan laughed as the gentle giants came up from near the lake to visit them and talked to the horses as they explained the origin of the horses’ names like BY Acres Mary Lou and her foal, Lakeshore Mary’s Essence, Lakeshore Marsha’s Ovation, aka Ollie, NBF Roberta and Maplebrook Lady.
The farm’s two adopted geldings go by Bob and Tom but are formally known as Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson. The pair came to Lakeshore from Fred Scott of Bundoran Farm in Charlottesville, Va.
“We are trying to breed high quality Belgian horses,” Graybeal said. “We use stallions from all over the U.S.”
Their four brood mares are bred through artificial insemination.
The couple works with Dr. Rebecca Funk, a member of the faculty at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine who does their AI breeding. She also oversees their health and nutrition needs.
This year they have two foals and hope to have four next year. They market their yearling colts and fillies at the Buckeye Draft Horse Sale in Ohio and said Yoder prepares them for sale, including shoeing, training and trimming.
“We have a great relationship with him,” Graybeal said. “We respect and appreciate what he does.”
Graybeal said while some farmers still use them as draft horses, a large portion are used for recreation, hitching them as a team to pull a carriage or used in showing. The horses typically weigh about 2,000 pounds and range from 16 to 20 hands.
Graybeal said he tries to use a rotational system in his pastures where the big horses are moved every two to three days in the summer. They graze on pastures of orchard grass and bluegrass with a little clover.
In winter they get hay made on the farm, either orchardgrass or an orchardgrass-alfalfa mix. This is supplemented with a mixture from Big Spring Mill in neighboring Montgomery County made according to Funk’s recommendations.
Fencing is an important part of the farm for keeping the big animals where they belong and defining the rotational grazing system. Graybeal said they used four-board tall oak fences to mark boundaries. The paddocks are divided with one and two strand electric fences.
“They’re a lot of fun,” Graybeal stated, summing up the couple’s reasons for breeding the big beautiful animals.
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