The West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year competition showcases the best examples of farms owned and operated by people who are dedicated to conservation. Cooperating farms in each county are nominated by their local conservation district for the competition.
Farms are judged on several topics such as resource management, conservation plan, best management practices, cooperator contribution, and involvement in the community.
This year, the Greenbrier Valley Conservation District has selected Dave and Pam Sharpes to represent Pocahontas County.
Here is their story:
After growing up in Parkersburg and Ravenswood, Dave Sharpes met Pam in 1968 while they were in college. They married in 1971 and moved to their Pocahontas County farm in 1972. For the past 46 years, they have strived to be good stewards of the beautiful and diverse homeplace.
The semi-abandoned, fence free meadows and pastures were mostly broomsedge, peppered with healthy populations of thistle and burdock.
“We had no money let alone machinery,” Sharpes said. “Little by little, for decades, we worked on improving the grassland. Ultimately, we settled on following these nine grazing goals and objectives to effect good pasture maintenance:
1. Leave a good cover of grass in late fall. This cover protects beneficial soil organisms from winter cold. Sugars in the grass leaves go to the roots enabling a good start of growth in the spring.
2. In winter, hay is rolled out daily on clean ground. Seeds from hay over-seed the pasture. Manure, urine and excreted supplemental minerals are added to the soil. A large portion of grazed nutrients are put back into the soil.
3. Never overstock or stress pastures by overgrazing.
4. Turn out cattle in the spring when grass is eight-to-10 inches tall.
5. In February and March, re-seed all bare areas caused by cattle and tractor traffic through the winter.
6. Spot spray all pastures in spring for multiflora rose, thistle, and burdock. Multiflora rose must be sprayed during early growth for best results. Manually cut young pest plants throughout the summer.
7. Throughout the summer, rotate cattle through different pastures as weather and grass height dictate. This prevents overgrazing.
8. Mow all pastures after a grazing rotation to cut weeds and add organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Cutting weeds before they go to seed can reduce weed growth the following year. After mowing, do a rain dance.
9. Regularly do soil tests and follow recommendations for lime and fertilizer.
“Over the decades we have built, re-built, patched, tore down, changed our minds, and moved three-to-four miles of fence. With additional machinery and trial and error, we gradually improved our fencing product, especially with sustainable creek crossings. However, as our skills and knowledge improved, our bravery declined. Now as sensible senior citizens, we cannot believe the places we drove our tractor and post driver!
“We have built a herd of red angus cattle with the genetics we value. For four decades we have bred for very low birth weight calves that wean at six months weighing between 600 and 700 pounds. All individuals are above average in every way. We are believers in following recommended vaccination schedules for all individuals against every possible cattle ailment.
The Greenbrier Valley Conservation District would like to thank the Sharpes for their efforts and their dedication to best management practices and conservation.