Strip mine turns to dream for Youngs

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BELMONT, Ohio – Selling the farm. Retiring from a career that lasted more than 30 years. Moving to a different state.
Each is daunting in itself, but it was doing all three that molded Rick and Jayne Young into the cattlemen they are today.
The Youngs, of Belmont County, will be recognized this weekend in Columbus as the 2007 Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Commercial Cattleman of the Year. Farm and Dairy sponsors the award.
Going west. The Youngs moved to Belmont County from Moundsville, W.Va., in 1995, and called this place Honey Ridge Farm.
The 283 acres they bought were reclaimed strip mined ground and “so much easier to fence and maintain” than the hills they were used to, Rick Young said.
The Youngs were ready to change their address, but not their farming traditions. They brought along the family’s 50-cow Simmental herd, with plans to background feeder cattle.
Emptiness. The farm in West Virginia sold quicker than the Youngs had planned, leaving them only weeks to build a barn, fences, and a house on their new Ohio property.
The Youngs spent days, sunup to sundown, fencing the boundaries of their pastures. Within five weeks the barn was completed, and the house was finished five months later. All the while, Rick worked full-time off the farm, leaving Jayne to manage the herd.
It was quite an adventure, the Youngs said.
When his father died, Rick cut back on backgrounding and moved toward a cow-calf operation. He trucked in 400 bred first-calf heifers, and they gave him a strong taste of what strict management could do: In a one-week time frame, he had 100 calves on the ground.
But he still wasn’t happy, he says. He liked backgrounding, and wanted to get back into it.
Then, in the spring of 2005, Rick retired from his career at AEP and went full-time on the farm.
Changes. Today the Youngs manage around 2,800 acres total, and run about 400 Angus-based commercial brood cows and background up to 4,000 animals per year.
They sell the preconditioned animals by the truckload to feedlots in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and western Ohio. The stockers are grouped by genetics and age for consistency.
Their backgrounding facility includes paddocks and a barn that lets them move cattle in and out with minimal headaches.
Conservation. Though Rick Young is retired, he believes he still works in a factory: The land and the cattle are his employees.
He and Jayne use municipal sludge to build their pasture fields, and use a variety of conservation practices to keep the land – whether they own it or rent it – in tip-top shape.
For their heavy-use pads, spring developments, fencing the herd from ponds and waterways, and other conservation-minded practices, they’re finalists for the state’s Conservation Farm Family of the Year award, too.
Cows matter. The 2,800 acres is divided into a series of 65 interconnected paddocks, which let the Youngs and their employee move the cattle – which are also separated into groups of 75 – with ease.
Eighty percent of the cow herd is 2-4 years old, and the cows are bred naturally by the farm’s 25 sires.
Each spring, the Youngs semen test each of their bulls, and offer their farm as a hub for any neighbor to bring bulls for breeding soundness exams at cost.
“When you feed a cow all year, you want to know she’s got a good bull walking behind her,” Rick said.
The breeding season is a strict 60-day window to get February and March calves. After a pregnancy palpation, any young cow that’s still open is bred for a fall calf; older cows are culled.
And in order to keep their bulls around longer, the Youngs buy replacement heifers to keep the gene pool wide open.
The careful genetic selection is paying off. Rick said they never have birthing problems from calves that are too large, and have never lost a cow while she was calving.
And as long as a cow has good feet, udder and body condition score, she stays around, Young said.
“We’ve got some cows around here that are 13 years old and have body condition scores of 7-plus. You’d never guess they were that old.”
Herd health. Herd health is a major concern for the Youngs, and they start their regimen as soon as calves are born.
The Youngs are strong believers in tagging each calf to identify which cow it belongs to, as well as dipping navels and giving E. coli preventative shots. All animals in the herd go through a regular vaccination schedule.
“You spend a lot on vaccines, but it’s nothing like the losses you can have from sickness,” Rick said.
In the summer, the Youngs take special steps to be sure the cattle are comfortable, too, spraying weekly for flies and mowing pastures.
Sweet deal. Though sometimes all those little herd health procedures are stressful for the cows, the Youngs have found a way to make it easier for everyone involved.
Inexpensive 55-gallon barrels of waste from the Nickles bakery – hot dog buns, smashed loaves of bread, crumbs – are a tasty treat for the cows, and can lure the herd almost anywhere, the Youngs say.
When the herd sees them coming with the barrels, they run as fast as they can to get in line.
“Once they have a taste for that bread, they’ll jump over grain to get to it,” Jayne said.
Dream come true. Rick says it’s always been his dream, for as long as he can remember, to walk outside and look as far as he can see in every direction, and see only his own cattle.
From his house atop a Belmont County hill, one thing is for sure: Honey Ridge Farm has made that all come true.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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