Jennings chosen as top forage producer
ESSEX, Va. — This year’s Virginia Forage and Grassland Council choice for the 2020 Outstanding Forage Producer of the Year traces his introduction to cattle to when he was three years old.
Kevin Jennings, manager of Kinloch Farm in Fauquier County, is a native of upstate New York who grew up on a conventional crop farm and moved south to the Mid-Atlantic region where he became involved in the cattle industry.
Forages are a key part of the management plan Jennings has developed on Kinloch Farm since arriving there in 2005.
Jennings said in a telephone interview that he and farm owner Andrea Currier are using genetics to breed Scottish Aberdeen Angus cattle to perform well on grass.
“We would like to farm it more naturally and have the cattle work for us,” he said.
Jennings said he got his first calf when he was three years old because he could not have a puppy. Living too close to a road, he said his parents feared a dog would not survive long, so Jennings said his next request was for a steer.
It happened that his uncle had an orphaned calf which he gave to Jennings. The calf became his responsibility within his abilities at the time. Two years later, he sold the animal and made a little profit, he recalled.
The second calf he got became sick and died and that ended Jennings involvement with cattle for many years.
Years later the family moved to Maryland where he and his father managed estate farms.
Allen said Jennings started with several goals: to improve soil health; to renovate pastures; and to improve grazing efficiency; and to create a registered all-grass genetic herd of historic Scottish Aberdeen Angus bloodlines.
“Under his management, Kinloch has not only achieved these initial goals but also achieved Certified Natural Grown, a designation and organization that holds the operation accountable to third party standards,” wrote Melissa Allen with John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District in nominating him for the award.
She explained that the standards prohibit genetically modified seeds and all synthetic inputs to livestock and land. It encourages continuous lessening of the operation’s environmental impact.
“In addition, Jennings’ management led Kinloch Farm to become Beef Quality Assurance certified, a national certification that recognizes the need to implement best management practices for improved animal well-being, meat quality and record keeping,” Allen added. “Jennings initiated the farm’s first conservation practice in 2006, recognizing the importance of clean water and a rotational grazing system.”
He worked with the conservation district to bring changes to the large farm. The collaboration resulted in smaller highly managed grazing units that has more controlled rotational grazing.
Jennings said he sees working with the district as a win-win situation for both the taxpayers who help fund the projects and farmers.
“To date, Kinloch Farm has protected over 34,500 linear feet or 6.5 miles of streambank,” Allen said. “This benefits 485 acres and creates nearly 80 acres of riparian forest buffers.”
Jennings said they have gone back to the genetics of the 1950s to develop their herd of cattle.
The farm was able to find semen that had been frozen in the 1950s to use in developing smaller fatter cattle that are finished on grass.
He added that their veterinarian said the Kinloch cattle are the fattest in his practice. The vet asked what they are fed. Jennings answered simply “grass.” He said the calves they produce average half the weight of their dams at weaning.
The farm is home to 300 cow/calf pairs grazing on about 750 acres of improved pasture and an additional 56 acres of Native Warm Season Grasses raised for hay.
This acreage is divided into four management units and each is divided into several fields, with bull lots designated on each of the units. Future plans call for four new water troughs and the creation of two additional fields.
Allen reported that tall fescue and orchardgrass are the primary grasses Jennings uses. Other grasses grown in the operation are switchgrass, big and little bluestem, Indian grass, Bermuda grass, johnsongrass, sorghum Sudan grass, Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass and timothy.
Jennings includes legumes in his management, growing alfalfa and red and white clover.
“Jennings uses the ‘grazing stick’ to help estimate grazing days per acre on stockpiled summer and fall pastures,” Allen wrote.
“He integrates a controlled rotational grazing plan with the primary purposes of maintaining forages in a palatable and nutritious vegetative state, maximizing forage production and utilization and evenly distributed manure across the farm,” Allen said. “Cattle are rotated in and out pastures based on average plant height with a goal of moving at least every seven days throughout the year.”
Jennings said he stockpiles about 40 percent of the pastures in each management unit to help feeding less hay. The stockpiled forages include sorghum Sudan grass and ryegrass and are strip grazed in the winter.
“Soils are tested annually to determine the nutrient needs of the fields,” Allen wrote. “Jennings continually looks for new and innovative ways to improve Kinloch farm’s grazing system.”
He also strives to protect wildlife by not cutting warm season grasses until after July 15 to protect the nesting birds and planting trees and switchgrass together to create silvopastures of the future.
As he moves into the future, Jennings said he is hoping to graze the Kinloch pastures as close to year-round as weather permits.
CORRECTION: The Virginia Forage and Grassland Council’s name was misspelled in the article and the photo caption. Both errors have been corrected.
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