Va. farm goes goo-goo for Wagyu
DUBLIN, Va. — Back Creek Wagyu is the brand for one of the newest beef cattle herds in Virginia and perhaps one of the most unexpected.
Tom Hoge finds himself the seventh generation to farm the land his ancestor settled in 1767. He did not know of his legacy until recently but is now working to create a sustainable beef cattle farm.
He is quick to say he does not have a farming background. He is a successful engineer with a business in Ohio.
Hoge’s approach to farming is to develop a full-blood herd of Wagyu cattle using modern genetics and techniques.
Their path here to Belle-Hampton Farm opened while he and his wife Madeline were looking for a place to settle after moving 11 times in their marriage. During their search, they were introduced to a woman who turned out to be Tom’s distant cousin. Both are the direct descendants of James Mayo Hoge, the farm’s founder.
She owned the historic home that has been known locally simply as the Tyler Place for another relative, James Hoge Tyler who served as governor of Virginia from 1898 to 1902.
The newly discovered cousin owned the family farm, having inherited it from her mother, a member of the Tyler family. She had been leasing it to a cattleman but was not interested in farming it, Tom reported. She wanted to sell it.
Tom sees the introduction as serendipitous.
“We were looking for a final destination,” he said in an interview in the kitchen of his home beside the Bell-Hampton House. “After 18 months, we decided to buy the place. We wanted to bring it back but so it is economically sustainable.”
Bringing the traditional cattle farm back includes both developing a farm operation and restoring the historic buildings.
“My nature is to be a little bit different,” Tom said.
This characteristic led him to look at different options for stocking the farm that includes 180 acres of grazeable land and 100 acres of forest.
The Hoges said they looked at different cattle breeds and even considered bison.
About that time, someone mentioned looking at Wagyu cattle, a breed originating in the Kobe region of Japan. Tom said the Wagyu means “cow” in Japanese.
The couple researched the breed and liked what they learned.
Tom said the cattle are smaller than the Angus that had been raised on the farm. They can be either black or red. He chose to breed black cattle. They are horned and so far, he has not dehorned any of his animals. He noted that they have a much calmer demeanor than Angus and they calf easily.
The quality of the meat from Wagyu cattle is a major plus, Tom said. He found it has a very high grade of marbling, flavor and value.
He said while only two percent of all U.S. beef grade prime while about 90 percent of Wagyu score the prime grade.
Tom said that they sourced 16 Jersey-Holstein heifers to be the surrogate mothers of their first cattle. The heifers were implanted with full-blood Wagyu embryos to start the herd. He reported doing two more embryonic transfers and finishing breeding with their own full-blood bull.
Tom said he will be finishing his first cattle in April.
“We’re finally to the point where we are able to start selling some finished cattle and some animals,” Tom said with satisfaction.
Back Creek Wagyu are registered with the America Wagyu Association.
The Hoges anticipate selling breeding stock and fresh meet as well as leasing bulls. They want to build a herd numbering between 100 and 150 cattle.
Madeline has set up their marketing program on the Internet to sell their meat. In addition, they plan to approach selected farm to plate local restaurants as possible customers.
“I’m still looking for a niche,” Tom said.
He is considering collecting straws of semen and flushing embryos in the future.
“Whatever means to make money,” he continued. “To get the farm to sustain itself.”
The Hoges have worked through the Skyline Soil and Water District with NRCS to fence the cattle out of Back Creek, a tributary of New River. They have also fenced springs on the farm, some ponds and Shuffle Branch that originates in one of the four bold springs and runs into Back Creek.
Tom said keeping the cattle out of the water is better for the quality of the water, the cattle and the land. It allows him to practice conservation measures and to use rotational grazing.
Working with NRCS has also enabled the Hoges to plant a mixture of hardwoods in their forest. Cattle are fenced out of these. They are working to establish habitat for the three pairs of bald eagles that with their three young birds that call Belle-Hampton Farm home. This increases the habitat for other wildlife including bear and turkeys.
The Hoges who bought the farm in 2015 were able to move from Cincinnati, Ohio in September 2018. They live in a brick building that is part of the historical complex. It has been renovated and restored. Renovation on the main house is expected to be finished in February. Plans are to use the first floor for office space for the couple’s various businesses.
Renovation is complete on another brick building on the farm. In its early life, it was a general store. The Hoge’s have created an Airbnb and are now hosting visitors in it. This is another effort to make the farm sustainable using all the available resources.
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