By Stephen Smoot
Chilly evening temperatures and lingering snow on the ground did not dampen attendance at the West Virginia University Extension meeting dinner last Tuesday night. Brooke Alt, Pendleton County Extension Agent, told the group, “This is probably the largest group that we’ve had since pre COVID.”
This despite the postponement for weather from last week.
Festivities opened at 6:30 with social time and the serving of dinner. The Upper Tract 4-H Producers prepared a meal of baked steak with gravy, green beans, dinner roll, potatoes, lemonade, iced tea, coffee, and a range of different pies to enjoy.
Before excusing tables to line up and get dinner, Alt implored guests to help fill the other extension agent position. She said, “If you know anybody who is interested in being an extension agent, tell them to go to the WVU website and apply for the job.”
Vanessa Harper, United States Department of Agriculture veterinarian for the state and Seneca Rocks resident, discussed updates to the premises ID program. She said, “We’ve updated to 911 addresses. If we have some kind of disease outbreak, it’s important that we do that. The premises ID program from USDA, according to its webpage, “is a unique code that is permanently assigned to a single physical location.” The purpose “allows animal health officials to quickly and precisely identify where animals are located in event of an animal health or food safety emergency.”
Alt then introduced the new Pendleton County service forester from the West Virginia Division of Forestry. Curtis Betty discussed the three priorities of the agency – working with logging and loggers, landowner assistance, and the prevention and fighting of wildfires.
Betty reported that 2023 presented a challenging year for those engaged in the third area of focus. He said that more than 1,000 fires damaged approximately 43,000 acres across the state. They came in “different sizes and different complexities” from the two massive fires that afflicted Pendleton County last year to a single one “the size of a tabletop.”
He said firefighting success is helped by the fact that “we work closely with the VFDs.”
Betty also advised that landowners can partake in the “firewise” program where “we come out and give your property a rating to see how susceptible you are to wildfires.”
Alt then brought forward the keynote speaker, Quill Ward. Ward joked during his presentation that many regular attendees had tired of “professors who don’t own cows” advising them on how to farm. His bio described him as a “sixth generation agriculturalist to live and work on his family’s beef cattle operation. He owns and manages 280 cows, as well as 60 yearling heifers.”
Ward shared his years of experience in using “trial and error” to develop his own best practices in “keeping grass grazeable for as long as possible, even after ice and snow lay on it.” He admitted that even sometimes “my family thinks I’m nuts” and that some things worked and some didn’t.
He spoke about where he got his ideas and encouraged attendees to go to every informational dinner meeting possible. Ward explained that his father taught him that some will work and some won’t, but that “it’s what you take out of it and move forward with” that matters.
Ward described one of his “errors,” using chicken litter to fertilize his pasture in such a way that the hay grew in too thick. Cutting the 18 acres took three hours and resulted in the sacrifice of a lot of broken equipment.
He also shared ideas that he said allowed his pastures to continue supporting grazing well into winter. Ward advised that hay should never be cut or grazed too close to the ground, that leaving more inches allowed the pasture to continue to sustain itself. “The biggest factor,” he stated, “to extend your time is rest period.”
The presentation included videos of cattle using their noses to dig through inches of snow to get to the grass beneath, rather than going to the hay bale on the nearby truck.
One of the main benefits of adopting this system may also promote keeping farms in family hands. Ward said, “After my generation, there isn’t anyone wanting to do hard work.” Taking as much labor from the work of farming as possible may keep more young people interested in the field.
Of his own kids, he said of their farming future that he wanted them to do it if they wanted to, not out of a sense of legacy. Ward added that “I want them to come back and have every opportunity I had.”