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Love of farming keeps Hornbaker in livestock business
By JANE W. GRAHAM
BLACKSBURG, Va. (Nov. 3, 2015) — It was a hot summer day at Kentland Farm when the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association presented Gary Hornbaker its 2015 Industry Service Award for his contributions to the beef cattle industry in the state.
The award was one of several handed out during the group’s annual meeting held this year at Virginia Tech’s research farm as part of the dedication of the new Dairy Science Complex.
Hornbaker is a humble man who said there are many others who deserve the award more than he does but the facts show he has made an impact on many facets of the industry.
“I’m honored they gave me the award for something I love to do,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
Hornbaker grew up on a small family farm in Fairfax County, a place in Virginia where many farms have given way to urbanization.
He now lives in Clarke County and works part time in economic development in Loudon County. The rest of his time is devoted to raising cattle and sheep.
Hornbaker earned a degree here at Virginia Tech in animal science and went to work in Maryland managing a livestock operation.
He soon returned to King George County to join Virginia Cooperative Extension as a county agent.
After brief service there he became an agent in Loudon County where he served for 22 years, taking early retirement in 2003 during one of the state’s budget crunches.
VCA outlined a list of Hornbaker’s service to the industry as a producer, an educator, an organizer and agricultural representative in making the presentation.
The organization recognized his work with the state graded feeder cattle sales in both Fredericksburg and Winchester.
“He worked closely with VDACS graders to help select and market fed cattle in Loudon County for many years,” the cattle group said.
Hornbaker is still educating people as he works as a producer and talks with this peers about the recent drop in cattle prices.
He noted in the interview that farmers cannot expect the record high cattle prices experienced in the fall of 2014, saying that is not realistic.
Those prices were driven by a series of disasters that decreased the national cow herd and pushed prices up. He said in the Oct. 20 interview that feeder calf prices had fallen 70 cents in seven weeks in the Mid-Atlantic.
However, he is not discouraged, saying if a person cannot make money on a $1,000 calf that person is doing something wrong.
Hornbaker and his wife own 62 acres in Shenandoah County and rent another 800 acres in the region, he reported. They run 85 cows and keep most of their replacement heifers. This brings their numbers to around 100 cows. They also have a flock of 400 predominately Dorset ewes.
Hornbaker makes all of his own grass hay with the first cutting going to the cattle and the second to the sheep.
He said as grain prices went up a few years ago he began going more to forage and now considers his operation a forage based one. He said he buys the little grain he uses.
He uses pasture rotation loosely as his economic development duties keep him too busy to do intensely managed rotations.
For him rotation can mean moving from one field to another or from one farm to another.
VCA citied Hornbaker’s leadership in 4-H over the years and his work with livestock teams for both 4-H and FFA. The father of six and grandfather of 14 is now enjoying 4-H in a different capacity. He is introducing those grandchildren to the club and its many learning experiences.
He was also honored for his work in founding the Loudoun Cattlemen’s Association and his leadership in the Blue Ridge Cattlemen’s Association.
“Perhaps Gary’s greatest service to the Virginia cattle industry, besides the producer education, is his representation of traditional agriculture to local, regional and state boards,” VCA said in a recent association newsletter. “He served as a Soil and Water District director in Loudoun for 22 years. He is currently the second governor appointment to the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board as a farmer representative. His input has helped craft the BMP Cost-Share programs, adoption of storm water policies and over-sight of Virginia’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ management.”