AmericanFarm.com

Retirement working out just fine for Shorters

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

LONG SHOP, Va. (July 5, 2016) — Farming is a career with many phases for Chuck Shorter in this Montgomery County, Va., community on Tom’s Creek.
Chuck and his wife, Joan, combine farming with helping others learn about agriculture, the origins of food and serving the farming community.
A few years ago Chuck transitioned from being a full-time farmer for Virginia Tech and a part-time farmer for the Shorters to being a retired Virginia Tech employee and a full-time farmer just a few miles from the university.
The Shorter home farm consists of about 150 acres of hills and creek bottom where a commercial cow herd and goats roam in a casually managed rotational grazing system.
Shorter has divided about 75 acres into eight paddocks where around 55 cow/calves pairs graze around a week in each one.
He also finishes 25 steers and sells the meat locally as freezer beef. He markets others through nearby outlets.
He plants about 15 acres of corn annually for silage for his steers. They also get hay and pasture as they approach harvest time.
The Shorter family also grows sweet corn each year for the grandsons to sell.
This year with its strange weather has been challenging for the start of the corn growing season, Shorter reports. He has planted it twice. He has corn plants from each planting now growing and reflecting improved moisture in its healthy green color.
Hay is another cash crop for the Shorters. He told visitors he aims for quality in his hay which he sells eithers as round or square bales. The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary medicine is one of his customers, Kelli Scott, Montgomery County Extension agent, told the visitors. She sees this as a testimony to the quality of his hay.
Shorter said he has in the past had sheep but coyotes caused him to give them up. He does keep goats. Last year he had about 150 but had gotten the flock down to 25 this spring. He said at last count it is back up to about 45 and growing.
Sheep and goats are very different, he said. He explained that sheep like to rest in the daylight hours and graze at night.
This makes them vulnerable to predators like coyotes and dogs. He said after losing 50 lambs one year to coyotes he gave up on sheep farming.
Goats tend to graze more like cattle, he continued. They eat in the daytime and make several passes across the pasture and anywhere else their fancy takes them. He noted good fences are essential for goats. He uses both American wire and electric fencing on his farm.
Stream restoration is one of Shorter’s big interests.
Tom’s Creek which carries the run-off from the Town of Blacksburg, Virginia Tech and four-lane U.S. 460 runs for three-quarters of a mile through the farm, creating challenges for Chuck, a committed conservationists and lover of the land.
Flooding is frequent as the stream rises quickly but through the years Shorter has taken steps to control the stream. He says the biggest problem is that the town and university do not have a storm water management plan in place.
His battle with the creek has been funded in part with cost share programs from federal and state sources he explained to a recent group of visitors.
Fencing the cattle out of the creek has also been one of his conservation projects.
Shorter believes in working for a better future for farmers. His record of service includes being a member of the New River-Highlands Resource Conservation District. He is a past president.
He has been on the county board of supervisors and also its zoning board. Other organizations benefiting from his membership are the State Farm Service Agency Board, the Extension Leadership Council, boards of Southern States Cooperative, Farm Bureau and the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council.