Late planting producing promising early results
FRIES, Va. — Neither Kendy Saywer or Bob Hines intended to be farmers. Sawyer grew up in a military family, living in Hawaii in the 1960s, in Northern Virginia in the 1970s and then in Florida where she earned a degree in science education from Florida Tech and then did graduate work in environmental science.
The couple was looking for a small house that would provide them privacy when they found a house tucked high in the hills near the border of Carroll and Grayson counties, hugged by the Blue Ridge Mountains that define this area of Virginia.
The couple purchased the house and 50 acres surrounding it, still not intending to farm. They leased the land to a cattle farmer for a time but were not satisfied with the situation. They decided that raising cattle themselves would be a good use of the property for them and a way to be good stewards of the land as well. This led to Sawyer becoming an advocate for the historic Devon and Kerry cattle breeds and Bob being her backup, she related.
Sawyer said they considered raising commercial beef cattle but realized that their small herd would bear the brunt of downward price spirals.
They saw cattle as being the best option on their steep hills, able to eat the grass and return nutrients to the soil. The farm high above the New River is at the top of the watershed she said she feels a real responsibility to farm in a way that doesn’t impair the land below it.
“We wanted to find where we would be doing good for the cattle,” Kendy declared. “Rare breeds need someone to take care of them.”
Both breeds are small. The Kerry cows are approximately four feet tall and weight 800 pounds or less. The bulls range around 1,000 pounds.
The Red Devons or American Milking Devon Cattle are slightly larger with cows weighing in at between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds and bulls reaching over 1,500 pounds. She added that they are one of the breeds least changed by time. They are known for their easy-going attitude and docility.
For Hines, who served 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, working with the cattle, horses and dogs on the farms is good therapy for issues related to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
The cows in this breed make good mothers, she said. She told of a 13-year-old cow that had not calved in five years and took a young heifer into her life. She said the old cow protected the heifer and saw that she was first to hay and was a special part of the herd. She has also noted that mothers and daughters tend to bond and stay together within a herd over the years.
One of the attributes of the breed is their ability to survive on hay, grass and minerals.
“The cattle are expected to buy their own groceries,” she said.
“I’m not going to make a living but we eat well.”
The couple does not confine their work to just raising cattle. They also use them to educate about the heritage breeds, the role they played in the founding of this nation and how they can be used in modern times.
Sawyer travels to various fairs, museums and events telling the small breeds’ story and demonstrating their use as draft animals. She works with training Devon cattle to be used as oxen, beginning with young calves. She currently has a yoke of young Kerry oxen she is training to move timber from the woods.
She also volunteers with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and veterans’ organizations.
A joy for Sawyer is talking about what makes her cattle special. One is their long history. She said there is evidence the Kerry cattle may have been domesticated as early as 6,000 BC.
Sawyer said these cattle are aware of their horns and seem to always know where the tips are. She said the horns are useful in training the animals but noted that they can be used to control people as well.
With this in mind, she cautions people to remember a rule she and Bob have on their farm: Never get between a large animal and an immovable object.
Sawyer said children especially enjoy her little cattle at the events she attends with them. In addition to talking about the cattle and the role they played in colonial times, she offers rides on the animals. She also likes to explain the technology of the ox yoke and how it developed from ancient times until oxen were no longer used at the beginning of the 20th century.
During her life Sawyer has steadily moved north, finally settling here in Virginia.
“I’ve always felt like the mountains were home,” she stated.
Cattle from HineSite Farm leave in several ways. Some are breeding stock, some are sold to be trained as oxen and some are used for meat.
Kendy goal is to find owners for her cattle that will enhance the preservation of the breed.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925