by Laura Rodley
The Wheel-View Farm in Shelburne, MA has evolved since its inception in 1896, supporting four farming generations. Formerly the Reynolds Farms, for which their road is named, John and Carolyn Wheeler bought it from her parents, Harry and Betty Gowdy in 1979. They currently supply a niche market for grass-fed beef, using rotational grazing.
They renamed it Wheel-View Farm, due to its 360 degree vista views of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
“We started out as a dairy farm. In 1988 we sold the cattle and got other jobs. We rented the fields to other farmers and did haying,” said Carolyn, and maple sugaring. “We couldn’t find anyone to help. We had gone one and half years without a day off, kids getting older, didn’t want to stay doing that.” Utilizing his business management degree, John obtained a teaching certificate, teaching computers at local Mohawk High School. Carolyn earned a Master’s Degree in teaching, and taught at Keene State College in New Hampshire.
In May 2002, they purchased three Scottish Highlands cows with an eye to selling grass-fed beef raised on their 220 acres, which now totals 320 acres. “By the end of 2002, we had ten cows and nine calves. As soon as we had any beef to sell, people wanted it, and wanted more,” said Carolyn. “People were coming aware of how feed lot beef was raised, a greater awareness of beef production. That, plus the internet made a difference for us…People doing searches for grass-fed beef, that’s how most people find us.”
The short, shaggy, long-haired Scottish Highland cattle have distinctive steer-size horns, disproportionate in size to their heads. Formerly raised for their foraging abilities, “They don’t share very well, [with] more potential for injury,” she said. When feeding in round feeders, those with the biggest horns would be on either side of the feeder, blocking others.
To avoid injuries and maximize feeding-time, they introduced Belted Galloways in 2005. These resemble Oreo cookies — they are black on the head and rump with a white stripe down their middle and their polled trait is dominant in their herd. Now 15 to 18 primarily hornless Belted Galloway cattle, part Highland, can fit contentedly around the feeder or graze together. Of special pride are six red and white calves born this year, a result of the Galloways’ recessive red gene and Highlands’ coloring. Murray Grays and a few Herefords are mixed in, raising the Murray Grays as feeder calves to over 1,000 pounds steers at two or three years for processing.
John retired from teaching in 2009, with Carolyn following in 2012. “There’s too much to do on the farm, don’t have time to teach. Beef farming got bigger,” said Carolyn. “The demand is incredible. We don’t have any trouble selling the beef. We have a little store on the farm, selling directly to the customer,” said Carolyn. “People drive from Boston and Providence just to get beef,” she said. “We never did a big advertising campaign. People found us. One-hundred-fifty-four animals was the most we ever had, in 2010,” she said. Their current herd totals 140.
They supply wholesale ground beef to local markets and restaurants, and short ribs and brisket to Greenfield’s People’s Pint, whose most popular hamburger is “The Squealer.”
One Boston-based mail-order customer wondered what it would take for them to deliver beef. The answer? “We need enough orders and a place to park. She said we could park in their driveway.” Consequently, they truck “approximately 800 pounds, as much as the van can hold and possibly more,” to Boston every six to eight weeks, filling 50 orders.
In 2012, the Wheelers added 40 by 20 feet rectangular solar panels on an outbuilding that supplies 70 percent of the farm’s power for 10 freezers and electric fencing with a USDA Reap grant and other grants.
“These breeds like to be outside, on grass as long as can be in season, feeding hay in October or November…Calves born in March or April stay with mothers ‘til November or December, when we wean calves in our remodeled barn.”
Her advice to those starting out, “Don’t quit your day job until you’ve built enough to depend on it. It’s a slow evolution. Doesn’t just start immediately; it evolves slowly.”
by Laura Rodley