When Tom and Sue Clatterbuck moved to Upstate New York from West Virginia, they were pursuing a dream.
“Our families thought we were crazy quitting our 40-hour a week jobs to come here and farm,” admits Sue. “But it’s something we both always wanted to do.”
“My mom’s father was a farmer and I spent a lot of time there when I was a kid,” Tom explains. “He passed away when I was about 15.”
After his grandfather passed on, Tom worked in a factory, with intentions of becoming an auto mechanic, however his love for farming kept a hold on him.
“That farming blood just stayed there and it kept calling me.”
Tom says while working in the factory he made the decision to purchase a few beef cows.
“I actually worked in a factory for 15 years and farmed at night. You know,” he laughs, “I was a midnight farmer, as they call it! That’s how I started. I went out and I bought 10 cows and the next year I bought 40 more!” Tom says he was around 29 when he bought the first group.
In the meantime, Sue was training horses.
“I was into race horses. Thomas was into the cows,” remarked Sue. “My dad used to be a jockey back in the ‘60s. That’s how I got into the horses. I trained at Charlestown Race track.”
Clatterbuck was living 70 miles outside of Washington D.C., in an area that has become a suburb of Washington D.C.
“Property values just kept going up. People were moving out of Washington D.C. and buying up all kinds of land. And the next thing you know, all of the farms were disappearing.”
Since Tom was renting land used for his cattle, he knew it was only a matter of time before he would need to find another location to keep his dream alive.
“In about 2000 we made the decision that we were going to have to move somewhere to farm or we were going to have to give it up. So, when I saw an ad in a farming publication, I thought, ‘Well, let’s go to New York and see what’s up there.’ And here we are.”
Clatterbucks brought 80 Black Angus brood cows and “a bunch of old equipment” when they moved to their new location. Although the dairy barn, which was a main part of the farm was empty of livestock, everything else remained intact.
“The milkers, the tank — everything was there when the lady sold us the farm. They had sold their cows a year earlier, but she kept all of the equipment. There was almost a full silo of feed and half a barn of hay. She said, “I’m not selling any of it, in case whoever buys the farm has animals and they need it’,” Clatterbuck recalls.
In West Virginia, Clatterbuck had pastured his cattle year round. But, the New York climate required a change in the winter diet for the cattle, so corn silage has become a staple, supplementing hay.
“This year is the most corn we have ever planted,” Clatterbuck said. “It’s almost 75 acres of corn — and 10 acres of soybeans.”
The couple credit neighbors Rick and Josh Pugh for their help in many ways on the farm, including getting the corn planted. “I don’t even have a corn planter!” states Tom, explaining that, “it’s been a great working relationship and we’ve been doing it since 2003.”
In 2003, the young couple decided to buy a herd of dairy cows to add to their beef farm.
“We made a deal with Rick to buy all of the feed for the lactating cows from him. But we still make all of the feed for the dry cows and all of the beef cows ourselves.”
He rents fields from four other farms, in addition to using the field on his own farm for pasture, hay, and some corn.
“Here we own a total of 350 acres, with only about 200-250 usable. Quite a bit of our farm is woods, that’s why we rent the extra land.”
There were places where he couldn’t get in to plant this year.
“You’d go in and just get stuck. So we may see some issues this year, but in years past, we’ve always had extremely good crops here. Really good crops. It’s good soil,” said Tom.
Live cover is the only method used for breeding the beef cows.
“We try not to give over 30 cows to one bull. We use registered bulls only and we try to keep it so that we know that bull can cover 25 or 30 cows.”
“There’s a rule of thumb,” Clatterbuck said, “if your bull’s 24-months old, he should be able to breed 24 cows in a 60 day period, and we try to breed everything in a 60-70 day period, so that we can have all of our calves born at one time.”
Clatterbuck’s have eight bulls at this time, including two young bulls purchased this summer, with one being bred by Phil Trowbridge.
“Trowbridge is a well known name. He’s not somebody that’s going to cheat you. He raises quality animals. We only buy registered bulls. I’m a commercial breeder, but I like to use a good quality bull.”
Tom said this year he bought two Simmental bulls.
“I try to make sure everything has a black hat in it, I like the black, because of the Black Angus. So, we try to keep the Angus influence, but I do like to cross breed my animals, you get the best of both worlds when you cross breed. We’ve cross-bred with Herefords and we cross-bred with the Simmental and we use the Angus bulls. I’m not a huge fan of anything pure-bred. I’ve never had really good luck with pure bred animals and I don’t study the genetics part of it.”
Pastures are rotated in a controlled fencing method, and the herd is turned out into harvested cornfields over winter with free choice access to shelter.
“People that drive by don’t really understand that. But, my bunk and the gates are open. They have free choice. The only reason we would keep them in is if it’s real muddy, and that’s just for their benefit.”
Clatterbuck’s have marketed their feeder animals direct to Conquest Cattle Feeders in Cato, NY, for 10 years.
“We’ve had such a good working relationship with them. We vaccinate and we bunk break and we do everything that they want us to do — we even try to breed the type of animal they want. It’s been a really good working relationship.”
Another good working relationship that has benefited Clatterbucks, is with the Madison County Soil and Water.
“I had dealt with soil and water in West Virginia and I knew there were grants out there. I knew there was help out there, so I started asking questions and they have been a huge help!”
To get an access road they had to qualify. Part of that was fencing in streams.
“We put up all new fence and that gave us enough points to get the road — that’s how they do their work, it’s based on a points system. We have all of our streams fenced off so the cows can’t get to the streams. It helps with the erosion.” A crop field down by the barns was also fenced off.
Madison County Soil & Water helped with concrete barnyards, two stream crossings, and a roadway behind the house up an extremely steep incline to access pasture land. “This road here was almost impassable with a four-wheeler when we started! And now it’s about like an interstate!”
A watering system was also done through Madison County, including a half-mile waterline and two hydrants. A watering system behind the barn was also put in by NRCS. “It was cost sharing. I had to pay 30 percent — part of that was from labor — and they paid the other 70 percent. NRCS laid the road out and said, ‘that’s the way you have to do it’, so that’s the way we did it.”
NRCS helped with the access road, fencing, and a concrete pad at the barn.
How did Clatterbuck line all of this up?
“Most of my stuff is just happenstance,” he remarks. “I was in the office and I just said, ‘Hey if you have enough money, I’d like to do this.’ Then they called and said, ‘We have enough money to do this!’ One time they called the first of November and said, ‘Hey, this has to be done by the end of December,’ and we had two months to do it! But, if you don’t do it, you lose out on those projects. So, we just go ahead and bite the bullet and do everything we can to get those grants, it really, really helps!”
Although good working relationships with neighbors and government agencies have brought Tom and Sue Clatterbuck success with their beef farm, they feel that they owe their good fortune to a Higher Power.
“We firmly believe that the only reason we wound up here was by the Grace of God,” Tom attests. “We truly believe that — just the way everything worked out.”