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Seclusion for environmental inclusion

Seclusion for environmental inclusion

THE RUFFNERS ARE PLANNING TO INSTALL NINE WATERING TROUGHS IN THE FIELDS FOR CATTLE TO UTILIZE. FENCING OFF THE WATERWAYS WILL AIDE IN KEEPING CREEK BEDS FROM EROSION AND IMPROVE THE OVERALL HEALTH OF THE CATTLE. THIS YEAR, MUCH OF THE CREEK BEDS HAVE BEEN DRY, GIVING THEM THE OPPORTUNITY TO INSTALL FENCING WITH MORE EASE. ONCE THE WET SEASON COMES ALONG, THE CREEKS ARE FULL TO THE BRIM, AND THE FENCING WILL KEEP CATTLE OUT. THE NEW CONSTRUCTION OF THE BED-PACK BARN HAS FED THE NEED FOR AUTOMATIC WATERERS TO BE INSTALLED IN DIFFERENT CATTLE GROUPINGS. DRILLING FOR WATER TO ACCOMMODATE THIS IS JUST ONE OF THE PROJECTS ON THE FARM’S CHECK-OFF LIST TO REACH THEIR ENVIRONMENTALLYFRIENDLY GOAL. 
STORY AND PHOTOS BY ANDREA HAINES | MANY RESPONSIBLE LAND OWNERS TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION THE VALUABLE ESSENTIALS WHEN IT COMES TO PROPERTY VALUE: NUTRIENT BASE, LONGEVITY OF ANIMAL INHABITATION, AND WATER SOURCES, TO NAME A FEW.

John and Holly Ruffner and family, along with their son, Cody who is a full-time caretaker of the farm, have some major plans for their Virginiabased property. The Page County land is nestled in Stanley, Virginia, home to Angus x Simmental cow and calves, and replacements. “We own around 500 acres of land and lease 850 acres,” explains John. “Our beef cattle numbers run about 275 head for the cow and calf operation.”

For the past five years, John and his son have been setting the new project in motion on their farm. “Stream exclusion has already been implemented by some neighboring farmers,” expresses John. “We’ve been working with the local NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) to develop a plan to protect our waterways and build a bed-pack barn for our livestock to preserve the land.”

As described in a press release by NRCS, “Farmers in 22 Virginia counties have applied for funding to help improve Chesapeake Bay water quality through livestock exclusion and forestry practices in targeted rivers and streams. The new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) project will focus on fencing, watering systems, and establishing/maintaining forested areas along waterways.”

John advises that the process takes some time. “We weren’t approved in the beginning,” he shares. “I would urge others not to give up on the process.” They can already see the benefits, even in the early stages of the project. “Our cattle won’t be muddy and feeding will be more convenient and controlled,” he says. “The groupings of animals will allow us to be able to keep tabs on health concerns, too.” This is referring to the new bed-pack barn currently in construction that they began building this year because of the extra wet season in 2018. John and Cody have visited other beef operations so that they can consult their building needs. “Manure will be contained and driveways will be installed to make for a cleaner environment for the cattle, but also for the land,” expresses Cody.

NRCS advises that, “Keeping cattle and other livestock out of streams is critical for clean water. The wading animals erode stream banks and excrete waste, increasing bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution for those downstream.” John also notes that clean cattle are healthier, suffering less foot and leg injuries from slippery mud and bacteria.

“We also have to think about our crops,” says John. The family grows corn and barley for animal consumption. “We want to be able to preserve the land as much as possible to keep the nutrients in the soil for future yields. Our family’s history is four-generations long, with some portions of the farm being in our family since the 1700s with land grants from Lord Fairfax.”

“I believe that no farmer is willing to pollute the environment,” shares John from atop a hill overlooking his home, surrounded by cattle. “We don’t overuse pesticides and we recycle nutrients for the next season when we can.” Just like many farming operations, John and his son run soil tests and work closely with their soil conservation program.

While RCPP encourages farmers to work in cooperation with other conservation partners, the Ruffners have been working closely with Farm Credit for years. “Farm Credit understands agriculture, many of the employees have an existing agricultural background,” explains John. “They’ve been great people to work with over the years and seem just as invested in our business as us.”

Jason Miller is the family’s current loan officer. “He comes to the farm, walks around the properties,” shares Cody. “It’s nice because we are busy most of the time, it’s just more convenient for him to come to us.”

Overall, the Ruffners feel that by implementing these changes to their property, they’re headed in the right direction. “We are always looking for ways to improve the land and environment, just like any other farmer,” concludes John.