William Snow has raised cattle since the 1980s, but a career in IBM meant his passion for cattle farming had to remain a hobby. In 2010, however, William’s dream of becoming a full time rancher came true. Based 200 miles from Washington DC, William and his wife, Melody, now own 120 acres of lush pasture in the rolling hills of Rockbridge County, Virginia, leasing a further a total of 1,000 acres of pasture and woodland for their beef cattle operation at Dutch Hollow Cattle Company.
The couple currently raises around 60 head of cattle, raising and finishing entirely on grass. Melody understands the benefits of grassfed beef: “We decided to focus our efforts on raising and finishing our cattle in a way that maximizes the potential health benefits of the beef they produce,” she says. “Grassfed beef contains significantly higher levels of omega-3 essential fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, less saturated fat, calories and cholesterol. We really have not found a huge finically cost in raising and finishing our cattle on pasture, rather than the hidden costs of a feedlot.”
Choosing the right cattle breed for the farm was an important decision. “We searched long and hard to find which cattle breeds not only best suited our farm environment and grassfed approach, but which produced the best possible beef,” Melody explains. “We started with Angus cows and then we used a Gelbvieh bull, a breed which originates from Germany, to produce high-quality grassfed beef with just the right marbling and tenderness without feeding any grains whatsoever. We are hoping to double the number of finished cattle next year.”
Careful grazing management and high-welfare practices form the foundations of farming operations at Dutch Hollow Cattle Company. “We have sectioned our grassland of into 19 pastures and the cattle rotate through these on a regular basis,” explains William. “So once they leave a particular pasture they would not return for the next 45–50 days, which allows the grass to recover before the cattle set their hooves back on. We have stopped making hay we have had no need for it we find the winters to be mild.” The Snows are passionate about farm conservation and are working to improve the water ways on their property. “We are working with the USDA cost share agreement to build new wells to provide fresh water for the cattle and to prevent them from drinking from the streams, which can cause erosion of the banks,” William explains. “This is already having a positive impact on stream water quality and our pastures.”
William decided to become approved by AWA because it seemed like a natural fit: “Once we read all the standards we felt it was right for us and that it was not too different to what we were already doing,” he says. “AWA validated our farm and the practices we follow. We feel AWA is doing the right thing; the guidelines are good and help to promote excellent animal husbandry.”
William and Melody are not planning too far ahead and are concentrating their efforts on providing good quality, healthy beef, and educating their customers about the significant benefits of grassfed beef for health, animal welfare, and the environment.
Grassfed beef from Dutch Hollow Cattle Company is available at a number of local retailers, including Middlebrook General Store (Middlebrook, VA), Farm To You (Lexington, VA), and Healthy Foods Coop (Lexington, VA). The couple is also hoping to start selling at local farmers’ markets—check the website for updates.