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.
Butch Snow and his wife Melody Tennant have a beef cattle operation in Rockbridge County in the headwaters of the James River. It's a cow/calf operation and a grass-finished beef business called the Dutch Hollow Cattle Company. They own one farm and lease four adjoining farms.
The pair rotate their cows and calves through 19 grazing pastures, allowing each pasture at least 45 days of rest. This allows Snow and his wife to extend their grazing into mid-January, which has cut their need for hay in half.
"Because of our rotational grazing system, we've sold all of our hay equipment," explains Snow. "I'm buying better hay than what I could make."
Snow contends that by rotating his cattle herds, he gets more grazing days and has healthier livestock.
"Since we started rotating, we have fewer pink-eye outbreaks and fewer parasite problems. We are also weaning heavier calves."
But "you can't rotate if you don't have water," Snow continues. The couple has used several combinations of CREP, EQIP, and the state's agricultural cost-share program to get their cows out of the streams and build rotational grazing systems.
"I attribute my better herd health to better water. They would rather drink out of a trough than in the creek. When I found out these programs help pay for wells, I was motivated to enroll. I could not have swallowed the cost of these improvements. It actually works."
Snow also persuaded the owners of the farms the couple leases to enroll in programs that help pay for cross-fencing, stream exclusion, and alternate watering systems. The owners enrolled in the programs, and Snow coordinated the conservation work.
"It was definitely worth it for me to make these improvements on farms I didn't own," he says. "We get healthier, heavier calves, and the owner gets capital improvements on the land and better forage with fewer weeds."
Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.