Va. farmer embraces his legacy, looks ahead
SHAWSVILLE, Va. — Farming is not the life Tyler Hawes saw calling him as a boy, but it is one he embraces with Heidi Harry, the woman he will marry Sept. 1 in a farm wedding.
The couple talked about their plans for farming and the wedding on a windy March day as they surveyed fields they plan to use in the spring for cattle, hay and produce.
He doesn’t own the land, which his ancestors have farmed since 1779, but he owns the business that manages it. It is named Madison Farm for its early owners, and it’s preserved through a conservation easement.
Cattle are not their only product. They grow hay and a variety of produce as well on 700 acres.
Though he was raised on the farm, Tyler said he did not become interested in agriculture until he was 18. He began helping his grandfather, the late Madison Marye, a longtime member of the Virginia Senate.
“My granddad was slowing down,” he said. “Somebody had to help or the farm got leased.”
Tyler said that when he helped Marye, the cattle herd was down to 12 cow calf pairs. It soon grew to 20 and is now up to 90. He hopes to have 120 pairs in the future.
His herd is basically black cows bred to Hereford bulls. Tyler said he has gone to the Hereford bulls for the calving ease they offer. Since he started aiming for calving ease he has pulled only two calves in 10 years and lost only two calves in the same time period.
The young man is trying something he sees as unique to the cattle business. He is buying “high-risk” feeder cattle and developing about 450 of them each year. He buys all kinds of “high-risk” feeders ranging from light to heavyweight.
They are preconditioned and every animal that arrives at the farm is double-vaccinated, double-de-wormed and quarantined. He said his calves are weaned at a minimum of two months, but he usually shoots for four to five months.
They are started on alfalfa baleage made on the farm and brewers grains from local breweries.
Tyler said he usually buys these cattle at the end of the growing season when he has already harvested and knows how much feed he is going to have. He grows both alfalfa and grass hay.
He said he is able to develop the high-risk cattle as the farm has the capacity to produce more feed than his commercial cow/calf herd needs.
This ability to grow feed is the origin of another of his crops, hay. He is convinced his purchase of a bale wrapper is the best thing he has done on the farm. He said it has generated other income and significantly increased the weights of his cattle.
He usually sells between 100 and 500 bales each year, getting premium prices for it.
Heidi’s main projects are pumpkins and sweet corn. She said Tyler started the pumpkins 10 years ago with a neighbor, Scott Haegood. These were jack-o-lantern pumpkins they sold to retailers.
“I started helping when we first started dating,” she said.
Tyler said his granddad had always wanted to have a roadside stand at the bottom of the farm beside Route 11-460. They decided to try selling beside the road and put pumpkins on a flatbed trailer. It proved popular.
In 2018 they added white pumpkins to their offerings and set out 400 pumpkins in the field beside the road. Then they advertised on Facebook.
“We had 300 people stop,” Heidi said. “Tyler made a cow out of silage bale.”
His creation proved to be an attraction as well.
“My parents helped a lot,” she said. “We plan to do orange pumpkins and extend the list of ornamentals, weird-shaped, and warty pumpkins,” she said.
“We are hoping to bring activities for the kids this fall.”
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