PACES, VA – Earl McDaniel has been raising high-quality commercial cattle at Toby Creek Farm in Halifax Co., VA, for 45 years. A native of Tidewater Virginia, McDaniel came to Southside Virginia when he married his wife and moved to her homeplace, a former tobacco farm. McDaniel lost his wife Deborah in 2006, but she remains on the farm, in a family cemetery.

Today, McDaniel does almost all the farm work – tending to the cattle, making 100 acres of hay – himself. Because of that, in recent years he has been reducing his herd size. But he hasn’t lowered his interest in experimenting with management practices to improve his operation.

This year, for example, he bought a registered Hereford bull from Knoll Crest Farm. “I’ve been raising Balancer cattle for years,” he said, appreciating their docility and good growth characteristics. Because the Hereford bull is for the herd’s heifers, McDaniel asked James Bennett, proprietor of Knoll Crest, for a calving-ease bull.

“I was impressed with the service of James Bennett and Knoll Crest,” McDaniel. “I’m a smaller buyer but they treat me the same as they would a bigger buyer.”

McDaniel is interested in adding Hereford genetics to his herd to bring about the hybridization benefits from a three-way cross. He’s confident the resulting Black Baldy cattle will find a strong reception in the marketplace.

McDaniel continues to innovate at Toby Creek Farm

This year Earl McDaniel bought a registered Hereford bull to use on his Balancer heifers. He’s looking forward to their Black Baldy offspring. Photo by Karl H. Kazaks

Animals from the Toby Creek herd, which calves both spring and autumn, are sold at six to seven hundredweight at the market in Lynchburg.

Another innovation at McDaniel’s farm has been in place about a dozen years: a solar-powered ag well.

“The setup is very simple,” McDaniel said, “but a lot of things could go wrong.”

The solar array is composed of three panels on one ground mount. The panel are wired to a converter behind the array. The converter is connected to four golf cart batteries in an adjacent enclosed box. The system is DC and powers a submersible well, which provides water to three different waterers, one of which is three-quarters of a mile away and uphill. The flow rate is not exceptionally high but sufficient.

Over time, McDaniel has learned that deer are curious about the wires on the back of the solar panels, as they have pulled them loose. He’s also found the DC pumps he’s used have had a shorter lifespan, as he is already on his third pump.

When it’s cloudy for six or seven days in a row, McDaniel said, the system will lose its stored power. However, when it’s icy and utility power goes out, affecting the watering system on other parts of his farm, the solar powered waterers still get water to the cattle.

If you think a three-way cross may benefit your cattle herd, or if you have been considering a solar-powered well, consult with your local Extension agent for more information.

by Karl H. Kazaks