Va. family moves to warm season grasses
JONESVILLE, Va. — A Lee County husband-wife team is combining the serious business of farming with a sense of adventure, a willingness to try new things, good management skills and grit to develop their own approach to farming.
Jerry and Judy Ingle talked about their search for sustainable farming in a nighttime telephone interview after a busy day on the farm.
The couple usually has about 50 head of commercial beef cattle and several calves in a rotational grazing system that has been streamlined through the years. The grazing system and introduction of warm season grasses mean that most years they graze all year.
The Ingle’s beef herd is unique in some ways. One is that they provide recipient cows to a purebred Angus producer. If these cows selected to be surrogate mothers to the registered cattle fail the Ingles breed them as commercial cows when they cycle again. This leads to year-round calving although they strive for most of their cows to calf in the fall or spring. They also sell cows to commercial cattle producers.
Another factor that requires special management is a field that is underwater about 45 days a year.
Judy, the herd manager, said she has to take this into consideration each season. The problem is flat land with underlying karst limestone caverns. It takes awhile for the ground to absorb the standing water.
The family works to share what they are continuing to learn as they go forward. Last year they hosted a pasture walk, partnering with the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council, Extension, the Soil and Water Conservation District, the Black Diamond RC&D and local NRCs staff.
Jerry explained the process of site preparation, establishment and management of these grasses in his telephone interview as well as during the farm tour. It is a two-year project to establish the new crop. He said they started with 12-acres of corn stubble and planted their way through crops that could be harvested before getting the warm grasses established.
“We’ve really just been amazed,” he said.
The warm season grasses have provided both grazing and two cuttings of hay.
The pasture walk let farmers see the cattle grazing on the warm season grass and see the rapid regrowth of what had already been grazed.
“When we started, “Jerry said, “I really wanted to make a farm pay for itself.”
He explained that they did not have the acreage to raise crops. Only 65 acres of their 115 acres were grazeable and only half of that was tillable.
Finding what would work was a process of trial and error over the years. They wanted to raise sheep and ran sheep and cattle for a while. Then the sheep market tanked and they could not sell the wool.
They found it time for a change. They had been raising vegetables too and working full-time off-the-farm jobs.
“We were killing ourselves,” they agreed over the speaker phone connection.
At that time, they decided to finish beef. They also went on a tour in Bland County where they learned about growing Shitake mushrooms. Following the tour, they tried that as did some of their neighbors in Lee County.
Jerry recalled they had 1,300 logs on which to grow the mushrooms but the spawn inoculant was bad. The mushrooms grow on dead logs.
“Nobody’s logs produced,” he reported.
The couple then tried raising registered cattle, first breeding Simmentals and then going to Limousins. Jerry said he was interested in genetics and was able to do his own AI work, having learned that at Virginia Tech.
The Ingles once again found themselves working way too hard. Jerry was a meat inspector for the state and making a round trip to Virginia Tech, Bland Correctional Farm and a facility in Richlands every day.
At the same time Judy, who had gone to work for an explosives company, was on vacation when her employer was killed in a plane crash. She was also expecting twins. She said these circumstances were God telling her to stay home and educate her children.
She turned to farming and homeschooling the boy and girl born in 1991 through 12 grades.
The couple turned to rotational grazing, a method Jerry had learned about during his college days at Virginia Tech.
He explained that they started by creating six paddocks. Over time they doubled the number of paddocks to 12 and then doubled them again. This created 24 paddocks. They are divided so water is available throughout. Jerry reported these paddocks allows grass to rest from 50 to 60 days.
The system lacked shade so the Ingles invested in shade structures that are very portable. Jerry said they are moved from paddock to paddock with the cattle.
These farmers indicated time and again they see their way of farming an adventure.
“We’re still learning,” Jerry declared.
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