Sutphin aiming to always make cow herd better

AFP Correspondent

PULASKI, Va. (Aug. 2, 2016) — The cows are what bring in the money at Hillwinds Farm here in the Thornspring community of Pulaski County.
This makes his cows top priority and a key factor in Tim Sutphin’s thinking about his successful cattle operation.
Sutphin’s farming operation has grown over the years since he and his wife Cathy bought the farm in 1994 and Sutphin has become a respected leader in the industry.
In the meantime Cathy has continued her education and worked for Virginia Cooperative Extension, now serving as Associate Director of Virginia 4-H.
Sutphin now runs about 800 cow/calf pairs in two counties, Pulaski and Bland.
He said his dad had a small farm and he grew up in farming.
He has been involved in almost all of the aspects of the Virginia cattle industry as well as running his own farm.
For the past 12 years, the Sutphins have operated the Beef Cattle Improvement Association (BCIA) Southwest Virginia Bull Station at the Hillwinds Farm.
This year they made the decision to drop this service to the industry. The bull test station will now be located in Wythe County on the Brian Umberger farm, Dr. Scott Greiner, Virginia Tech Extension beef specialist and BCIA advisor, reports.
While Sutphin enjoyed working with the bull test, saying he enjoyed the consigners, the bull sale, and developing the bulls, he and his wife decided it was time for a change. He said had gotten a little too busy. He expressed a desire to focus resources on other things.
“I wanted a little more flexibility in my time,” he said. “We will miss it some.”
Sutphin explained that his cows are Angus based with about 70 percent of their genetics from that breed. He said there is a strong Simmental influence but he has been working to find a third breed to bring new genetics to his cattle.
He has recently introduced Shorthorn genetics into the herd using a bull his Select Sires partner owns. He finds that his crossbred Shorthorn heifers are making good cows.
“I firmly believe in cross breeding,” he declared. “It is the best thing out there.”
He noted that the Shorthorn gene pool is very small, making it hard to breed for new characteristics. In contrast the Angus breed has a very big gene pool. This is driving the Angus breeders to work for all purebred Angus beef. Some producers are finding the scientific data doesn’t support the contention that purebred beef is better he indicated.
Sutphin has used artificial insemination (AI) to breed both his fall and spring calving herds since 1999. He breeds the herd once following the AI protocols and then uses clean-up bulls.
One of his aims is to breed for maximum heterosis or hybrid vigor. Using AI allows him to improve his herd and make changes in characteristics quicker because he has access to elite bulls.
Sutphin said he has never been satisfied with his cows. He is always working to create a better cow through his use of genetics. Many of his decisions are based on feedback from the slaughter data they get back from the cattle they sell for meat.
The Sutphins retain the ownership of their cattle and send them to a partner feedlot in Nebraska where they are fed out for slaughter.
With all this in mind, Sutphin stays on point with his cows being the top priority because they are the ones who generate the farm income. He sees that they get what they need to do the job. The cattle graze on native pastures and are feed hay and corn silage in winter. He said that using a traditional rotational grazing system is difficult for him since his operation is large and spread out. However, the cows are currently divided into 22 groups.
He feeds them a mineral supplement of 3:1 high magnesium and salt and high selenium. He believes in making the cows do their work to maintain body condition but if a cow loses condition he is quick to work to restore it. The cow is more efficient when carrying the proper body condition.
Sutphin’s workforce include his 19-year-old son Heath, a student at New River Community College in Dublin, and two full-time employees, Mike Hall and Clay East.
“I don’t know what I would do without them,” he said. “They are like family. They do whatever they need to do to get the job done.”
Heath has three older sisters, Laura, 28, a 4-H agent in Plymouth N. C.; Alison, 25, an agri-science teacher and volleyball coach at Pulaski County High School; and Caroline, 20, a rising senior at Virginia Tech.
The Sutphin operation’s is not limited to cattle. They also have sheep. These are basically Heath’s responsibility, Sutphin reported. Each child has taken a turn, using profits to pay tuition. They have 140 ewes. Their approach is a little different in this as it has been in other things, he noted.
They lamb one flock in September and another in December, not the usual seasons for lambing. So far, he noted, predators have not been a problem for them although they live where coyotes are known to roam. He said that they take a sustainability approach to lambing, putting the babies where the coyotes cannot get to them.
“We’ve learned to live with them,” he said, noting they have not lost a lamb to coyotes in four or five years.
Sutphin is something of a philosopher as his views indicate.
“I have learned that there are a lot of ways to do the right thing,” he observed. “People learn through experiences over 30 or 40 years. What works in my operation may not work in another one.”
Tim believes that one key to his success is his willingness to do things differently than others may.
“I prefer to research problems and form my own opinions. Often my approach to farming is a little out of the norm,” Sutphin said.