Beef & Dairy News
Va. farmer named producer of year
By JANE W. GRAHAM
MONETA, Va. (Feb. 28, 2017) — A Bedford County beef cattle producer has been honored by the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council (VFGC) as Producer of the Year. Keith Tuck was presented the award during the American Forage and Grassland Convention recently in Roanoke.
Moving from conventional grazing to more and more rotational grazing and intense record keeping are factors that led to Tucks Farm receiving the award, a recent interview with Keith, 43, and his 15-year-old son Andrew revealed.
Tuck Farms was one of two Bedford County farms toured during the national convention when forage growers from the 22 affiliate members of VFGC came to Virginia Jan. 22-24 for the annual event.
Keith grew up on the farm where cattle have always been raised, he said. Until the tobacco buyout the focus was on tobacco. When that happened he and his wife and four children started to focus on the Angus based cattle herd. In 2010 they started the movement to a totally grass based operation with the goal of grazing 365 days a years. Fescue and clovers provide the grass base.
Since beginning the move from a conventional hay-based operation to a rotational grazing and stockpiled system the Tucks have cut their days of feeding hay in half and even grazed almost the whole of 2015. They have also cut the expense per cow from $380 per year to $245, their records show. Keith said the national average is between $650 and $700.
He said his fertilizer bill has fallen from $17,969 in 2009 to $3,037 in 2016.
The intense management of his rotational grazing system enables the grazing cattle to spread their manure over the land as they move across it eating, thus providing nutrients to the soil.
Keith explained that he started in 2010 working with the Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Peaks of Otter Soil and Water Conservation District to make improvements to his farm. These have included fencing cattle out of surface water and installing a water system.
“The fencing and water infrastructure required for rotational stocking have supported better grazing (and nutrient) distribution by the livestock,” Bedford County Extension agent Scott Baker wrote in his nomination of Tuck Farms for the award. “These improvements have been made possible through participation in USDA and Soil and Water Conservation Best Management Practices.”
He went on to explain that the BMP practices have let Tuck exclude livestock from 100 percent of surface water.
“He has installed two wells, eight water troughs, 16,519 feet of fence and 7”185 feet of pipeline,” Baker wrote. “The farm now has 14 permanent paddocks. To further protect water quality and enhance wildlife habitat, he planted 7.5 acres of trees in the riparian areas. Tuck has observed a sizable increase of wildlife on the farm that he attributes to protecting these riparian areas.”
Keith seeks to make the best use of his forages by using a breeding plan that allows cows to calf in the fall. His approximately 100 cow/calf pairs can then take advantage of his stockpiled fescue during the winter and the calves are big enough when the spring grass flush hits to add the weight they need to be marketed in June. This allows the cows to graze the summer pastures, mostly fescue, he reported.
“During the growing season, “Baker explained, “pasture grazing periods are five to seven days long. Tuck is careful not to let his animals graze the sward to less than four inches in height. This residual allows for rapid regrowth of forage. By limiting grazing periods to seven days or less, he prevents animals from grazing the regrowth. He moves the mineral feeder every few days tor educed potential compaction around the feeder. The automatic waters have allowed Tuck to subdivide his large pastures into smaller paddocks. Some of his waterers are situated in 40 x 40 foot corrals located in the middle of four paddocks. The corrals have a gate in each corner, allowing access to each paddock.”
In 2016, Tuck sold his machinery and stopped making hay. He now buys the hay he needs from local producers.
Tuck has come to rely on his son Andrew’s judgement in making decisions about keeping and selling animals. The high school sophomore is active in FFA and was a member of the winning Virginia FFA Livestock Judging Team in 2016 that competed nationally. He said he was the youngest competitor in the national competition and came in 58 in individual judging. He plans to attend Virginia Tech.
Tuck said he wants to add more variety to his pastures and wants to talk to Tommy Watson, owner of Dawn Dairy, the other farm on the tour. Watson has been using rotational grazing since the early 1990s and maintains diversified pastures.
“I do a lot of reading research,” Keith said of his efforts in cutting costs and improving his operation.