MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. – Jeff and Janet Allen don’t hesitate to share what they have learned in their 30 years of running their beef cow / calf operation: Using conservation practices is good for forests, water and the environment as a whole. But it’s also good for farmers.
The work the Allens do on the Meadow View Farm includes analyzing the soil and manure and applying fertilizer to it, rotational grazing and more. These practices allow them to grow more hay and grass and, in turn, raise more livestock on the same land. It takes money, time and effort. But they see the benefits on the other side.
âIt’s better for everything, all around,â said Jeff Allen.
The Allen’s work has not gone unnoticed. The West Virginia Conservation Awards Council recognized the Allens as the 2021 West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year for their work on their farm near Moundsville, West Virginia.
âThey’ve been practicing what we’ve been preaching for years,â said Katie Fitzsimmons, a district ecologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service who has worked with the Allens since 2008. âIf I have a farmer who says, ‘to whom can I talking is actually that ‘â¦ Jeff is the first person that comes to mind.
The Allens have several different markets for their cattle: 4-H and FFA projects, feeder calves, frozen beef. With some of the brood cows, the Allens contracted with another farmer to perform embryo transfers – the cows have embryos transferred, they calve, and the other farmer collects the calves once they are weaned.
They have been on the farm near Moundsville since about 2006, when they bought it after renting another farm for about 15 years. Jeff Allen grew up showing cattle in 4-H, and his grandparents had a 300-acre beef farm a few miles away.
He also grew up just down the road from the farm they bought and often helped the farmer who owned it before. When the farmer was ready to sell the farm, he first offered it to the Allens.
Janet also grew up in Moundsville, but did not have close family ties to farming. They met when Janet started taking patching classes at the same place Jeff was helping to teach. The two joined an exhibition team that performed at fairs and festivals in the region. Later, Jeff introduced her to farming. He proposed to her one day in a barn, right after they had finished cleaning it.
“I think I just fell in love with [farming] right off the bat, âsaid Janet Allen.
Since buying the farm in 2006, conservation has been a major focus for the Allens. Right away, they started talking to the NRCS district supervisors to find out what programs and funding were available to help them use more on-farm conservation practices.
âWe want to make the most of what we have,â said Jeff Allen.
There was a lot of work to be done. Over the years, they have developed five new springs, installed about five miles of fencing to divide the fields into smaller pastures and keep livestock out of the woods. They increased hay production from about 1.5 tons per acre to 3 to 3.5 tons per acre, by testing the soil and manure and applying fertilizer and lime based on those tests.
âJeff saw what needed to be done, he had a plan, he had a vision, and that vision developed,â Fitzsimmons said. “I’m just really proud of them.”
Meadow View Farm started out with 25 cows, but by using rotational grazing the Allens have doubled the number of cows they can run in their pastures, now keeping around 45 to 50 brood cows. The increased hay production also means that they can support so many people during the winter.
Most years the Allens get two cuts of hay. Then they store their hay fields for a few months and move the cattle to these fields to graze there in late fall. This extends the grazing season until Christmas, and sometimes even a week or two in January. Before they started doing this, said Jeff Allen, they must have started feeding hay around Thanksgiving.
They have also added a winter feeding facility to feed the hay during the months when they cannot rely on grazing. This prevents cattle from tearing up a field around a hay feeder in the winter, allows them to clean the facility and store manure for use as fertilizer later, and reduces the amount of hay they need to feed each. winter of almost two bales per cow, because less is wasted.
Part of setting up the springs was also making sure that any overflow went into existing ravines or streams, instead of ending up in fields, where cattle trafficking could mess it up and contaminate the water. . Water from the farm eventually ends up in the Ohio River, after crossing smaller streams, so the Allens are aware of runoff and contamination.
The Allens think it’s important to tell other farmers about conservation programs available and show them what they can do with their land, said Janet Allen. They held field days and talked to other farmers about their conservation practices and how those practices work for them.
Having farmers like the Allens, who can show others the benefits of these practices on paper and in their fields, makes a big difference in educating other farmers, Fitzsimmons said.
“[Jeff] really sets a good example for other farmers in the community, âshe added.
West Virginia University Extension recently asked them to serve as mentors for a new and entry-level farmer program.
âI’ll be happy to sit down with someone and go overâ¦ exactly what we’re doing,â said Jeff Allen.
Down the road, the Allens have a few other springs they plan to set up, some frost seedlings to do, and another field to split in half.
One thing the Allens are especially proud of is that the farm is now self-sufficient.
âWe had to take out several loans to do things, but the cattle are making money to pay off the loans,â Allen said.
Jeff and Janet both recently retired; he from a job as a welder and she from a job as a school cook. Since the farm can look after itself when it comes to costs and income – they usually end up above the breakeven point, leaving room for unforeseen expenses – they were able to take their retirement and continue to cultivate. This is in large part because of the conservation practices they have adopted.
âYou can’t just cultivate it. You have to go out and take care of your land and everything to make it all come together, âsaid Janet Allen.
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