This post kicks off a series of interviews that will give you an inside look at our market and the farmers and producers that make it possible.
This week we interview Ray Shatney and Janet Steward who run Greenfield Highland Beef and Shat Acres Highland Cattle. Janet began selling her photography and greeting cards at the Capital City Farmer’s Market in 2001. The photography has had to take a back burner to the beef, which she and Ray began selling at the market in 2007. This spring, Greenfield Highland Beef received the US Small Business Administration’s award for Family-Owned Small Business of the Year.
How long have you been farming?
Ray’s family has been raising Highland Cattle for over 50 years. Ray and Janet have the oldest registered herd of Highlands in the United States. They began selling Greenfield Highland Beef in 2007.
Did you start your farm or was it a family operation?
Ray began supporting his parents and their small herd of Highland Cattle in 2004. Prior to that Ray had worked on the farm all of his life. Up until recently Ray also worked for Washington Electric full time and Janet taught first grade. They both now farm full time.
How large is your operation?
Ray and Janet own just over 200 acres between their two farms. They lease an additional 150-200 acres for hay production and pasture land. They now have approximately 150 animals.
In 2004 Ray’s family had 30 animals; Ray and Janet now have 150. The need to grow the herd was to meet the demand for their beef. They are now crossing many of our Highlands with Beef Shorthorns. Crossbreeding improves the quality of the product by adding hybrid vigor. Ray and Janet also maintain purebred Highlands to sell for breeding stock and to be brood cows for beef. An important change Ray and Janet have seen over time is the customer’s awareness and appreciation for locally produced food, and commitment to support their local farmers.
Baby cows! For Ray and Janet calves are the product, which grow into breeding stock and beef. The calves stay with their moms until they are about 7 months old, when they are weaned. Weaning takes a lot of time as when the calves are separated from their moms they must stay in the barn and get feed brought to them to eat. The calves are tamed and tattooed for identification. Calving is a busy time as the cows need to be monitored and most are brought into the barn for calving. Sometimes the barn gets pretty full! Haying is very time consuming with the work days averaging 10-14 hours. In the winter it takes a lot of time to feed the bales out to the cattle and keep everything plowed out. Ray and Janet admit that everything about farming takes a lot of time. It is a seven days a week job, for sure!
This is baby Starshine and her mother Shye. Starshine was born in February when it was 3 degrees outside. We brought momma and baby into the barn, but even with the heat lamp on her Starshine would not have survived. Ray carried her into the house and she spent the night in our mudroom. She got dried off and warmed through. The next morning Ray carried her back to Momma Shye, who eagerly greeted and accepted her. Starshine is now five months old–alive and well!
Being a farmer means using all parts of your brain, and requires complex skills and knowledge. Farmers need to be mechanics, meteorologists, veterinarians, marketers, statisticians, public relations experts, carpenters, machinery operators, and require very little sleep! Every day is different, and accepting that the best made plans may have to be put on hold is a fact of farming.
Because the Highlands are not only our valued employees but our friends and companions, the most difficult part of Ray’s and Janet’s business is the loss of an animal. Even though Highlands are easy calvers, good mothers and inherently healthy they do occasionally lose a calf or older animal. This is always difficult. Because Greenfield’s product is beef, it is necessary for some of their animals to make the ultimate sacrifice to supply their customers and sustain the herd. Ray will say the most difficult part of his job is driving an animal to the processor. Even this part of our operation is never handled by anyone but Ray and always in the most humane way possible.
For Ray and Janet spending time with customers and spending time with their animals is the most satisfying aspect of their business. They love getting positive feedback about appreciation for the beef and new ways customers are preparing their product. Combing the Highlands brings peace and calm to an otherwise hectic and sometimes challenging world. Calling the cattle onto a new rotational grazing paddock with lush green grass is so rewarding. Providing high quality feed to the animals that in turn feed the customers delicious, high quality locally produced beef brings great satisfaction!