Parents finishing siblings’ Christmas gift: a cattle barn
BLAND, Va. — How many teens ask their parents for a cattle barn for Christmas? That is exactly what Rachel and Robbie Penley wanted last year. They are getting it. It is a work in progress on the Penley Simmental Farm here.
The family sat down recently in the partially completed barn surrounded by show heifers in individual stalls to tell their story.
The cattle, back from several shows this summer, seemed content in their new home as sun shown on them and their owners shared their stories. The Christmas present pole barn is 32 by 40 feet with six stalls and a 12-foot breezeway. When it is finished it will have metal siding and sliding doors.
Jim Bob and Kathy Penley, are excited about the interest their high school students are showing in Simmental cattle and farming.
“The kids have been interested in cattle since they were little,” Jim Bob said. “They’ve always been at side of the chute. We try to find them something to do.”
Kathy said they try to support Rachel and Robbie any way they can. She said Jim Bob’s parents, Robert and Brenda Penley, are an important part of the team. They look out for the farm when the next two generations are away at shows, youth activities and high school events.
Both Jim Bob and Kathy said they could not do what they do for and with the kids without the help grandparents provide.
Robert and Brenda got in on the barn building with a Christmas gift for the kids — the 2-by-6s needed in the project.
The entire family is dedicated to raising and showing quality Simmental cattle and are thrilled with the advances they have had in their farming and showing.
The lifestyle the Penley’s enjoy on their farm comes naturally to them as both grew up in farming and have off-farm occupations in the industry.
Jim Bob said he started in Simmentals in 1994 in 4-H and has kept with it. Kathy said she grew up on a dairy farm that moved to beef. He now manages a feed and farm supply store in Wytheville. She is a dairy inspector for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Both young Penleys are students at Bland County High School. Rachel, will be a sophomore and Robbie a freshman. They are each involved in FFA and 4-H.
When Jim Bob and Kathy married they went in to farming together. They first discussed buying his grandfather’s farm but he decided he did not want to sell so they bought one in neighboring Giles County.
Kathy said that about the time they had renovated the farmhouse and gotten the farm up and running, Jim Bob’s grandfather decided he wanted to quit farming. They were able to sell the Giles County farm and buy his. It is now home to their family and a registered Simmental herd.
Jim Bob said they usually have about 50 cows and retain their heifers.
“Most of the time there are from 80 to 100 head on the farm,” he said.
They are looking forward to being part of a new Simmental show and sale Oct. 12 at the APEPX Center in Wythe County. Jim Bob said about eight Simmental producers in Southwest Virginia where the breed is really big right now decided to get together and hold a sale closer to home.
The Penleys are working hard to produce quality purebred cattle in the breed Jim Bob likes for their growth potential, maternal characteristics, muscling and good dispositions.
They retain their purebred heifers for brood cows and sell 10 to 15 bulls annually. The bulls are marketed through purebred sales like the Virginia Expo and the Norths Carolina Fall Harvest Show.
They use AI to breed their cows. Kathy said they like to breed about 75 percent of them between Christmas and New Year for fall calving, something she really prefers.
They have also done some embryo transfers and are working to develop their own donor cow so they do not have to buy embryos.
The operation includes 150 acres of owned land and another 150 of rented land. They grow native grasses which provide both pasture and hay. Jim Bob said they do a little rotational grazing but it is not intensely managed.
Rachel reported she started showing cattle when she was seven. She and her younger brother have been doing it for eight years now. They have shown in local fairs, the Bristol Junior and Heifer Show, and the Dixie Classic in Winston-Salem, N.C. as well as the Eastern Regional American Junior Simmental Association Show. This is held in different locations. They were able to show when it came to Lewisburg, W.Va.
Both sister and brother are looking forward to showing for the first time in the State Fair of Virginia.
The young Penleys are members of the Wythe County Livestock Judging Team coached by Extension agent Matthew Miller. This has enabled them to go on a trip visiting cattle industry destinations in Wyoming last summer and to Memphis this year.
Both have won in the various contests they have been in judging and showing cattle.
Jim Bob is proud of what the farm accomplished this year in a nearby regional fair. He said after showing at the New River Valley Fair in Dublin for 25 years they picked up first place and Grand Champion Simmental-Angus Heifer and best of all, Reserve Supreme Champion Heifer shown by Robbie.
The family is active in Simmental breed associations, including the Virginia Simmental Association and the Virginia Junior Simmental Association. Jim Bob is a past president of the senior group and Rachel is currently treasurer of the youth group.
“I show with my friends,” Rachel answered when asked what she likes about showing. “You get to go a lot of places you don’t get to go, get to see what other breeders are doing in their operations.”
Robbie, a man of few words, said he agrees with his sister.
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