This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.
"Any successful business has to have a goal to continually improve," Charlie says, "and we've been doing that on this farm my whole life."
Their commercial cow/calf operation began with Charlie's father in 1944. "We knew long ago that the most effective use of the land was for grazing, and in order to have an efficient grazing farm, you have to have abundant water," Charlie said.
Supplying abundant clean water wasn't easy during several drought years. "I tried to partially fence out the creeks with 'T' posts and temporary wire, but we didn't have the alternative water to really make it work," Charlie recalls.
The farm's rotational grazing system is now fully operational, thanks to several Farm Bill programs and Virginia's Agricultural Cost-Share (VACS) program. "We started by getting the cows out of the stream in the barnyard. It was a mess," Charlie said. "Then when the CREP program opened up in Virginia, we used USDA technical support and funding to set up the watering system for the whole farm."
They now have 20 grazing units and 11 livestock watering stations, with plans to add four more, using a combination of programs including CREP, EQIP, and VACS.
"Prior to fencing the stream, you would have to go to church twice on Sunday to ask forgiveness about what you called the cattle trying to get them into the barnyard," Charlie remembers. "It's a whole lot easier to get the cows in now. When we open a gate, they come."
Charlie and Bobby offer a host of advantages for rotational grazing over their former continuous grazing system on the farm: ease of herd movement, better forage utilization, healthier cattle, no more muck and mud, better manure distribution, and reduced hay needs.
This 365-acre farm has also dedicated about 25 percent of the land to riparian buffer and wildlife areas. "Before we got into CREP, we never saw a turkey on this farm," Bobby says. "Now we see them regularly. And it's nice to see the water leaving our farm clear even after a rain."
Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.