SHELBURNE, MA — The power and importance of the internet as a business tool was apparent on the last weekend in July when Carolyn Wheeler, who owns Wheel-View Farm with her husband, John, sent out an email invitation to folks to visit their 30-by-60 foot Farm Store/Farm Museum/Tasting Room that is open only occasionally this time of year. After alerting the mailing list to take advantage of the sales, 150 people showed up. The Wheelers raise and sell grass-fed USDA certified beef, about 2,000 pounds a month on average, except for right after Christmas when business slows down. They sell their own farm-produced Standing Bull Hard Cider, cider syrup, maple syrup and their neighbor’s pork and honey. They served snacks and hard cider at the open house.
They opened the farm store in autumn 2016. One end is appealingly rustic, where they used wide boards from the attic floor of the 1842 farmhouse; the rest is rough-sawn pine. Their signature wagon wheel hangs on the building. There is an array of tools hanging on the walls that mark the farm’s progression. The oldest tool is a carpenter’s square with hand etched numbers from 1793.
“Ninety-nine percent of the tools come from my family and my husband’s,” said Carolyn. “He’s from over the next hill. His mother was a Coombs. The Coombs settled there in 1752. We’re relative newcomers; we came in 1896.”
Wheel-View Farm sits on Reynolds Road, a road named for her family. John and Carolyn bought the farm from her parents, Hank and Betty (Reynolds) Gowdy in 1979 and ran it as a dairy until 1988. At that time, both she and John took jobs off the farm. John taught at Mohawk Trail Regional High School for 20 years. In 1993, after 22 years off from college, Carolyn returned to UMass Amherst to earn a master’s degree in plant pathology. She taught at Keene State College in New Hampshire from 2000 to 2012.
They raised and sold cut flowers from 1990 to 1997. In early summer, the hilltop is still awash with a spectacular array of flowers.
In 2002 they started raising Highland cattle to sell for beef. In 2011, they purchased 100 acres that included an apple orchard, making their land holdings 350 acres. The Wheelers are the fourth generation to live at the farm.
Their herd consists of 125 head. Steering away from Highland cattle, they now have mainly Belted Galloway and Murray Greys, part of a concerted move away from horned cattle. “We bred a Belted Galloway bull to the Highlands so now they no longer have horns,” said Wheeler. The polled characteristic is dominate in the Belted Galloways, so none in their herd have horns. This ensures no jostling of horns during feeding time and less potential for injuries.
All their land is used for grazing. They rent an additional 80 acres for hay and more pasture. The herd is solely grass-fed and receives no grain, corn or antibiotics. Essential minerals, such as selenium, are supplied from mineral salt blocks. Studies show that grass-fed beef has more omega-3s, more vitamin E and less omega-6s than grain- and corn-fed beef.
“Grass-fed, pastured beef have a healthier life that is more environmentally beneficial and produce healthier beef for the consumer,” said Carolyn.
For winter shelter, the cattle have a Clearspan barn to enter at will. Enclosed on three sides, it is open on the south side. The cattle prefer being outside, even in the winter, where they are fed via round bale feeders. The Wheelers harvest 800 round bales to feed them.
Their cattle are bred to calve in March and April. They also buy 600 – 800 pound feeder calves from local farms. They are processed at Adams Farm Slaughterhouse in Athol, MA at two and half years old. They began working with Kurt Benson, manager of Foxbard Farm in Shelburne who raises Black Angus beef, to transport their cattle together when Adams Farm burned down in 2006 and they had to transport animals 100 miles to the closest facility. That cooperation continued after Adams Farm was rebuilt. When the beef is packaged, Benson transports it back in Foster’s Supermarket’s freezer truck, available on Sundays. This way, neither Wheel-View Farm nor Foxbard Farms need to own a freezer truck, and the Wheelers don’t have to own or maintain a cattle truck.
“We try to send six animals per month. We don’t want to run out,” said Wheeler.
To supply demand and keep the beef frozen, they expanded from one tiny freezer to 10 big freezers. A 10-kilowatt solar panel array installed in 2011 through a USDA energy grant keeps down electricity costs. “Within two years, they had paid for themselves,” said Wheeler.
Downsizing the old six-acre orchard, they now maintain two acres planted in dwarf trees. They started making fresh cider in 2011 and producing Standing Bull Hard Cider in 2015. They sell the hard cider and ground beef to local restaurants and supermarkets. They deliver beef to email customers in Eastern Massachusetts four to five times a year.
What does she like best of her endeavors? “We meet a lot of really nice people,” Carolyn said. “We have a lot of customers with a variety of interests and talents, a lot of exceptional people.” For more information, access www.wheelviewfarm.com.