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The Mid Atlantic Beef and Dairy Farmer a supplement to the Delmarva Farmer

Pasture-fed beef works for Va. farmer

By JANE W. GRAHAM
AFP Correspondent

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (May 23, 2017) — The past 30 years using rotational grazing to produce quality beef has taught Guille “Gil” Yearwood a lot about the business, a recent presentation and follow-up interview revealed.
Yearwood hosted a rotational grazing field day at the home farm of his Ellett Valley Beef Company May 11 and explained to his guests some of the practices that make his operation successful and unique.
Another day he discussed his farming with this reporter and included a golf cart ride to inspect his herd of momma cows and their calves grazing in shoulder high grass growing in the creek bottom.
Yearwood grazes approximately 70 cow/calf pairs on the 180-acre home farm but says he is currently under-stocked due to the way his grass is growing. It is abundant this spring.
His bulls also graze there.
In addition to his home place he grazes about 700 acres of leased land in Montgomery and Floyd counties. Depending on the season, he can be running from 250 to 400 head of cattle on these farms.  He said making his rounds to check cattle is an 85-mile trip.
The Ellett Valley farm is divided into four paddocks with about a 90-day rotation, he told his visitors.  He reported feeding hay only 24 days the past winter.  He does not make hay himself, preferring to purchase it.  He said he doesn’t have either the help or the time for hay making.
One of the differences in Yearwood’s approach is he likes smaller cattle and he likes red cattle rather than the popular black cattle.  His reasoning is that small to medium cattle do better on pasture and red cattle handle heat better than black cattle.
Another plus he finds for red cattle is that they attract fewer flies.  He believes the red hair produces an oil that repels flies.
His herds are combinations of Red Devons, Red Angus and Tarentaise, a buckskin colored French breed.  He is working to develop a composite or hybrid breed using these three breeds.  He sells some of his hybrid bulls and bred heifers to other pasture based producers. Many of his steers are sold to others who use rotational pasture grazing.
Yearwood has a list of characteristics that make him like the Devons.  He said they are the most docile breed these days and their meat is high quality when they are grass fed. 
He likes the Red Angus because they have a better utter quality, easy calving, more growth impulse and structural soundness.
The Tarentaise add muscle and milk he continued. They also offer a really good meat to bone ratio.
The uninitiated might think Yearwood has a very relaxed approach to growing grass, but his success with it shows a very deep understanding of the how and why his approach works.
“If you leave grass behind, you never run out of grass,” he told his guests when talking about rotation.  “Rest and residual and if you get a little rain, you have some grass. This is what works best for me.”
He told the group that the difference between a mediocre grazier and an excellent grazier is six to eight inches of rain, bringing a collective chuckle from his listeners even as rain clouds approached.
Yearwood said his pastures consist of the grasses that grow on the farm.  He likes clovers, especially white clover to be mixed in with his fescue and other grasses.
“I like Johnson grass,” he declared of a grass some consider a noxious weed.  “You can graze it multiple times.”
He said he has not used fertilizer since 2006-07, depending on manure to replenish his soils.
Yearwood does nothing for weed control but spray the fence rows that divide his farm into large paddocks.  He depends on the cattle eating plants many consider weeds and stomping down the ones they do not eat.  Thistles get stomped.
This producer has taken part in the federal CSP and EQIP programs to improve his water systems and help maintain his high level of sustainability, conservationists report.
Lack of shade is a problem, he admitted.  This is true for a lot of producers and is a consequence of people cutting trees to clear the way for easier hay making a few years ago.  He said he is now planting trees he wishes he had done 40 years ago.
Yearwood markets most of his pasture fed meat on his website.  He said he can ship the meat but most of it while bought and paid for on the internet is sold locally in the Christiansburg-Blacksburg region. 
Yearwood markets most of his pasture based on his website.  He said he can ship the meat but most of it while bought and paid for on the internet is sold locally in the Christiansburg-Blacksburg region.  He has an office in Christiansburg that is open on Tuesday and Friday afternoons so people can pick up their meat. 
The meat is harvested and processed at the USDA approved T & E Meats in Harrisonburg, Va.