DAMASCUS, Va. — Investing in new technology is helping a Damascus cattle farmer keep up with the times.
By the time cold weather rolls around, Adam Wilson plans to be feeding his thousand head of beef cattle with the help of a computer.
The second-generation farmer, who’s well-known in Washington County for his innovative approach to farming, is stepping outside the box — or, perhaps, the field — and investing big money in a feed facility that will offer him substantial savings down the road.
Wilson’s farm-raised beef is highly regarded in the community, supplying meat to local restaurants Seven Trails Grill and Mojo’s Trailside Cafe, both in Damascus.
The farmer has laid out an automatic ration system that will allow him to customize the feed rations for his cattle while also having a greater influence on the quality of feed — all without even leaving the farm.
“I don’t know of any other farms creating a feed system to this extreme, so I’m either crazy or innovative,” he said with a laugh.
Commodity feeding from tractor-trailer load lots is often a practice primarily afforded by larger farms.
According to Phil Blevins, Washington County extension agent for Virginia Tech, the system is unique to the Washington County area.
“I’m not aware of another local farm making an investment like this. Usually you see these feeding systems on a company level rather than a farm level,” said Blevins.
“I think it says that Adam is a farmer who’s in it for the long haul. He wants to be an efficient producer so that he can survive in this industry.
“The farmer doesn’t have a tremendous amount of control over prices because farmers are basically price takers. They can’t hold their products to any extent to wait on prices to go up. They have to take what they can get. Their opportunity a lot of times rests on the cost-savings side for being more efficient to reduce their input costs.
“Adam is being innovative by maximizing his efficiency by managing his input costs and still getting the job done.”
Saving time, money
The new feeding system will be a time-saving measure, allowing the local farmer to distribute the feed in a quicker and more efficient way.
Instead of purchasing premixed cattle feed, Wilson will use an automatic ration system to blend choice grains that contain the preferred nutrients without the additives. “I’ll also use grain by-products from food and ethanol production that would otherwise be thrown away. This is just one example of how the beef industry strives to be sustainable,” he said.
Once the system is up and running, four steel feed bins that tower 30 feet into the air will each hold different grains or grain by-products delivered to the farm by tractor-trailers loads. Each bin can hold 35 tons of grain for a total of 140 tons of grains kept on the farm.
“It’s cost-advantageous to buy the grain by the trailer loads instead of buying it already mixed,” said Wilson. While Wilson learned a lot about agriculture from his father, he also pays close attention to the business side of farming and earned a business management degree from Virginia Tech in 2007.
A “Roto-Mix” will blend his selection of grains — corn, corn gluten, soy hull and distiller’s grains — into a mixture without damaging or tearing the fibers. A separate computer operates the mixer, allowing the farmer to control the machine from his phone and through the internet.
An automated auger will send the grain mixture to a mixer before going into another bin for storage.
“All I will have to do is turn the auger on and fill my truck up with the feed and leave,” he said.
A feed box on his pickup truck holds 1,500 pounds of grain, allowing Wilson to deliver the custom feed to his cattle that graze throughout the 1,200-acre boundary.
The young farmer, 33, said the investment has the potential for saving him $20,000 to $25,000 each year. “It’s a sizeable investment. The mixer costs about what I will save in the first year.
“Feeding straight corn is not the most economical choice,” he said. “You have to balance what’s the most nutritious with what’s the most cost-effective. You don’t always want to buy the cheapest ingredients, but you can’t always buy the most expensive.”
Found his niche
Wilson treats his farm career as a business, finding niches that will help the business thrive.
“I want to help the farm to continue growing. If there is a third generation, I’d love for the farm to be even more viable when they take it over. That’s why I’m willing to take risks and to invest in the farm. In any form of business, you’ve got to be willing to put your name on the bottom line and stick your neck out.”
The farmer operates several money-making ventures. In addition to a cow-calf operation, he raises stockers, young steers and heifers kept until matured or fattened. “I keep steers and heifers, some of which will be added back to the herd to reproduce. Not many people are willing to keep heifers if a bull is nearby. Good fences always make good neighbors.”
A few of his calves are sold to Abingdon Feeder Calf Association in the summer. Most of the stockers are sold off the farm in tractor-trailer load lots.
To increase his income, Wilson does custom farming by offering his services to other farmers. “Some farmers don’t have the time or resources to raise calves after they’ve been weaned. It’s easy for the calves to get sick once they’re taken off their mothers. I give the weaned calves a better start before they are turned out to pasture to fatten up,” he said. He generally accepts calves that range from 300 to 600 pounds each.
Whether his day begins helping a cow deliver a calf or harvesting hay for winter, the farmer never stops loving the work he was meant to do.
“I’ve never thought about farming as a job. It’s a way of life,” he said.
He began helping on the farm as a child as soon as he could slip on a pair of boots.
“I guess you could say I was the low man on the totem pole when I was a kid growing up on our farm. I did a little bit of everything from spraying weeds to digging thistles.”
As soon as he was tall enough to reach the clutch, he began driving the farm truck and tractor.
“I’ve never considered doing anything else but farming. There is nothing else I’ve wanted to do.
“It’s in my blood.”