WINTERSVILLE, Ohio — John Cavanaugh’s lifelong dream of owning his own farm has finally came true.
John grew up in the city of Steubenville, but in the back of his mind, he always wanted to move outside of the city. In fact, when he was in high school, he used to hitchhike to his uncle’s farm after class just so he could work outside on the farm.
But life took a turn, and he found himself married with four kids, and he buried the dream.
And then, in 2007, when he and his wife, Cathy, were about finished rearing children — they were either in college or graduated — a farm came on the market.
Up for sale
John had first mentioned to his wife the farm coming up for sale after the owners died, but she appeared not interested.
Then one Sunday afternoon, she asked to go for a ride to look at the property. As soon as they pulled in the driveway, Cathy knew what was next.
“I just liked the feeling when we came in the driveway. It felt like a whole different place in the world,” Cathy said.
“She knew right then we should buy this place,” John said.
The farm sits along a country road, less than 10 minutes from where they lived in Steubenville, and encompasses 160 acres.
John had watched the farm over the years and knew it would need work. The couple went to work on renovating the property soon after purchasing the farm.
John went to the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District for help and direction to getting the farm in a workable shape. With a lot of sweat and hard work, pastures were cleared, and fence lines were re-established.
And soon afterward, he started his grazing operation with 45 cattle.
Now, both he and his wife are part of the Eastern Ohio Grazing Council.
They see the benefits of what grazing can do for both the land and the cattle. The cattle themselves appear to have limited problems with calving and they attribute that to the grazing. The Cavanaughs began selling beef and can see the benefits of leaner meat.
The cattle are supplemented with hay in the winter months with hay. It is rolled out into one of the larger paddocks closer to the barn.
Three years after buying the farm, Cavanaugh has installed 4,500 feet of waterline and has built new fence all around the property and developed paddocks.
The largest paddock consists of 21 acres and is located closest to the road.
John said the pressurized waterlines have been a big help in the operation because cattle no longer have to be moved to where they can access the ponds or other water areas on the property. The paddocks with watering holes allow the cattle to get the water they need without being moved in and out of paddocks throughout the day.
“It’s been fun. It has definitely been an experience,” Cathy said.
John admits though he would do one thing differently: establishing his grass before building his herd of cattle.
He said his pastures could be better if he had went to work on the grass quality first.
John said he is focusing on fertilizing and creating paddocks to help the pasture mature. He wants to create a more lush pasture so that, in time, less hay is needed in the winter.
He added he has learned a lot about grazing through pasture walks offered through the Jefferson SWCD and other agencies and feels it is the best way to educate yourself.
John said you can see what others have done, how it has worked for them and how to take small things and incorporate them into your grazing operation.
Even Cathy, who describes herself as a city girl, has learned how to handle cattle and helps out during calving time, and even moves cattle from one paddock to another.
“It’s not hard,” Cathy said.
Good in people
The Cavanaughs agree their love for the land has grown since purchasing their farm, but so has their belief that there is good in people.
The couple own just a limited amount of farm equipment — a skid steer, post hole driver, brush hog, tractor and a finish mower, a scale and a chute.
However, the couple has learned some pretty big lessons, including sharing equipment costs with neighbors in the area and tasks.
Cathy said when she found out how much some equipment costs, she knew they couldn’t be the only family not to be able to afford it, so she went to work and created arrangements with other farmers.
She said once you hear the cost of some pieces of equipment, you figure out you are willing to do more labor or help out another farmer in some way so you can borrow their equipment.
Both Cavanaughs attribute the progression they have made on their farm to the help of other local farmers and neighbors. Whenever the couple has asked a neighboring farmer a question, they don’t hesitate to give an answer or find another way to help.
They share the dream, too.