Although they didn’t grow up farming, Chuck and Lou Ann Neely have raised and direct-marketed beef in Highland County for years – “before it was in anyone’s mindset,” explains Lou Ann, who farms full time. Eschewing grain completely for the past two years, the Neelys have now established a grassfed, grass-finished Animal Welfare Approved protocol for their beef cattle that results in tender, high quality beef – earning them a loyal customer following.
The Neely’s farm is nestled in the hills of western Virginia, called “Virginia’s Little Switzerland” because of its similarity to the European country. Riven Rock Farm’s herd of 25 Belted Galloway cattle (including 2 bulls, 5 calves, plus steers and momma cows) are rotationally grazed on the Neely’s 117 acres of pasture and woodland, and on an additional 80 acres of rented pasture across the road. Lou Ann says the couple chose Belted Galloway cattle because of their suitability to the local environment: “It can get extremely cold here and is a very similar climate to their country of origin, Scotland. In contrast to the more common Angus breed, Belted Galloways have two layers of fur, which allows them to thrive in our western Virginia winters. They will also forage on things that Angus cattle won’t eat. This breed is the most important aspect of our farming practices – that we have this breed in the right environment.” Lou Ann adds that the farm’s pasture-based management practices are good for animal health and help maintain the nutritional quality of the grass, too. She says that the couple’s long-term farming goals include improving their cattle’s genetics to the point where they have the highest quality product possible: “We are going slow so we can focus on quality.”
On applying for AWA certification, Lou Ann says, “We joined AWA because we were already doing what AWA described as the best way to raise animals. It’s important to our customers that the animals are well taken care of. They are interested, they want to come out to the farm, and they are willing to pay for high quality, healthy meat.” The Neelys report a higher ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids as compared to conventional beef. “I don’t take what we do lightly,” says Lou Ann. “We take great care of our animals – for us it’s all about them and what’s best for them. While they’re here, we want them to have the best possible life they can.”
Riven Rock Farm’s primary markets are farmers’ markets, at which the Neely’s Certified AWA beef has been a big hit. “We have been very surprised at the response,” Lou Ann says, adding that they regularly receive rave reviews about the quality and taste. Riven Rock Farm also offers shares of beef in halves, quarters, and whole animals. The farm’s premium ground beef is available at area retailers. Visit www.RivenRockFarm.com for more information.