Turner Shorthorns transforming land and cattle

With stunning views of rolling vistas, columns of vibrantly hued sandstone rising up from the scenic pastures and the gurgle of numerous springs and brooks, the setting of Turner Shorthorns looks to be from the wall of a fine painting gallery. But while the farm has a growing reputation for its quality cattle and scenic views, Tom and Susie Turner are, in some ways, better known for their work off of the farm.

They were the recent recipients of the Industry Excellence Award from the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association (OCA) for their dedication to serving Ohio beef producers. Tom is known around Ohio, the nation and the world for with work with livestock judging.

As a professor at Ohio State, Tom coached 32 intercollegiate livestock judging teams that included 266 students and is the longest serving coach in the 105-year history of the program at Ohio State and the second longest in the U.S.

“Coaching was one of my passions and the judging team was something recognizable but I was involved primarily in teaching and research and some Extension appointments,” Tom said. “I also managed the bull test, worked with research stations and worked with early weaning of beef calves.”

Tom also served on the OCA board and was president in late 1990s. He was on the first committee for the Beef Expo and was instrumental in the start of the Beef Exhibitor Show Total (BEST) Program to get young people more involved with OCA.

“At the time OCA did not have much of a youth component. It was mostly feedlot operators and commercial producers. All the breeds had their own associations. Then OCA started to pull in the breeds but still didn’t do much with the youth,” Tom said. “Preview shows for the youth were really starting to spring up around that time and there was not a consistent set of rules and breed standards. Every show had its own rules. It was very frustrating for parents and exhibitors. What evolved out of that was a standardized set of rules for all shows under BEST. We wanted the kids to have a good experience. BEST under the OCA gave it some structure.”

The initial idea evolved into a BEST committee to set the rules and points and standings over multiple youth shows.

“The OCA has done a great job with it. They have branched off with educational programs. It has gone beyond just showing and turned into a youth program,” Tom said. “Showmanship is also key component of BEST and Ohio showmanship has really benefitted. Kids get to know each other too through all of these things. It is all about youth development and getting kids to have a positive experience in the beef industry.”

The purchase of the Perry County farm in 2001 leading up to Tom’s retirement from OSU opened up new avenues for service to the cattle industry for the Turners. Tom and Susie have hosted numerous meeting and events on the farm. They also coordinate the Shorthorn exhibit at the Farm Science Review and Tom is on the American Shorthorn Association Board. They have both traveled around the world for Tom’s livestock judging work and regularly host agriculturalists from abroad on their farm.

Guests cannot help but to be enthralled with the peaceful grazing of the livestock on the beautiful farm, but the idyllic views of the Perry County cattle operation belie the relentless perseverance required for transforming the nutrient-deprived former silica strip mine into the cattle operation it is today.

“We bought this in 2001. It was a silica mine that was mined like strip-mined coal. We bought this just after they finished reclamation work. They started mining here in 1975 and kept mining it until 2000. It was pretty rough in some places and not as bad in some areas. Water management here is a challenge because the soils don’t have a lot of structure. We have had to do a lot of work on the conservation side to get this where it needs to be,” Tom said. “The reclamation regulations are very strict on how they put the top soil back and before thy can sell this they have to meet those requirements, but we still find challenges with washing and sediment. There were gullies six or eight feet deep.”

One of the initial challenges with the farm was that with the un-mowed grass and brusTurner4h, it was impossible to tell the extent and number of the hillside gullies.

“It hadn’t been mowed for years and you couldn’t tell where the gullies were,” Susie said. “I would drive ahead of the tractor so we didn’t have problems with the tractor falling into in the gullies. We recycled materials on the farm by dredging ditches to fill the gullies. These are very sandy soils and it is difficult to hold on to them. We’ve gotten the gullies filled except for one area.”

With plans to get cattle on the farm as soon as possible, fencing and water source development were also top priorities.

“The first thing we did was build fence. We have six-wire high tensile around the outside perimeter and four-wire dividing areas. We divided the farm into 26 paddocks from two acres to five acres in size with one wire fence,” Tom said. “Water is one of the keys for grazing. We added a mile of water line, put in a concrete crossing and two collecting tanks — one collects from a spring and the other collects from the barn roof and gutters.”

The Turners worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to build facilities including the fence, water lines, spring development, fertility, concrete crossing, the roof runoff collection system, feeding pads, and a hay storage/cattle handling pole barn as a part of the five-year plan. Now they are working on controlling the invasive species in the woodlots and pasture fringes, especially multiflora rose.

“If we can clear up that brush it gives us more grass to graze,” Tom said. “We didn’t have cattle here until the fall of ’09 when we brought three cows here from my Dad’s farm.”

The cows carry on a long Turner family tradition. Tom grew up in Logan County where his family has raised Shorthorn cattle since the 1940s.

“We had five calves on the farm the spring of 2010, then 28 in 2011, 40 in 2012 and we’ve had about 50 calves each year since then,” Susie said.

Turner Shorthorns seeks to build on the positive traits of the breed.

“Being a student of that industry for my entire life I understand the pluses and minuses of Shorthorns and other breeds. We decided to invest our time in this breed based on that family tradition but also because we need a second viable maternal breed. We need heterosis and when you look at all of the major breeds there are only a handful that are maternal in their makeup,” Tom said. “Different breeds excel at different things. Shorthorns are similar to Angus in that they are of higher milk production, high marbling and not extremely heavy muscled. Sire breeds bring muscle and growth to the party and maternal breeds bring cow traits. If you follow what has happened in poultry and pork, the system has put highly maternal breeds together and that is what we need to do with beef. We think the Shorthorn breed has some potential that way and we are working with Shorthorns to hopefully make them better.”

Turner2A key part of that breed improvement is measuring and documenting those desirable characteristics.

“The challenge in the maternal side is that those traits are harder to measure. You can measure growth rate and muscle for sire traits, but you can’t measure how a cow protects her calves or her maternal instincts. If you are marketing based on maternal traits, how do you do that? How do you monitor those improvements over generations? We do have measurements for milk production and breeding rates and udder quality can be measured, so that has helped,” Tom said. “My background is in data and you can’t manage what you don’t measure. You have to measure the different factors to be able to compare them and discuss them. Some things you can’t measure objectively, though.”

The goal is a moderately framed animal that meets commercial production needs.

“We want them more moderately scaled and easy keeping,” Tom said. “Sometimes we see cattle that are too big. We are trying to mimic what we think commercial producers want.”

As the herd has grown, it has been crucial to work with hay management and grazing improvements on the farm.

“We are in the cattle business, but if you want to be in the cattle business you have understand agronomy and grazing too. It looks like about 50 cows is what we can support here. We didn’t start with any equipment so it is more economical to buy hay,” Tom said. “Buying hay brings in more organic matter too. We unroll hay down hills in areas that need organic matter. This helps distribute manure better and any wasted hay or refusal helps the soil. Last year we brought in some hay with birdsfoot trefoil to see if we can get some of that started too.”

The pastures are primarily fescue with some red clover mixed in. They rotate pastures and stockpile the fescue for winter grazing.

“Intensive grazing helps us get more pounds of forage and we rotate every three to five days. We graze it down tight so red clover can germinate,” Tom said. “When we started, we wanted to get through January with stockpiled fescue. Now we feed hay in November and December and don’t graze our stockpiled fescue until January so it does not hurt the root reserves of the plant because it is trying to regrow in November and December.”

The Turners have been recognized for their service to the beef industry, but have also taken extensive measures to transform formerly strip-mined ground into a viable cattle operation.

The Turners have been recognized for their service to the beef industry, but have also taken extensive measures to transform formerly strip-mined ground into a viable cattle operation.

They have also done some seeding of gamma grass.

“We don’t have flat areas, but on our flattest ground we seeded eastern gamma grass on about 12 acres. The first year germination was about 40% and we got more germination in the second year. It forms clumps,” Susie said. “We planted it in 30-inch rows and each year the clumps get bigger. It thrives in July and August when everything else is struggling. We get a few more days out of it every year. We got more than 14 days out of it last year but you have to have patience with it because it is slow to develop. We want to protect our other pastures and this has been a way to help them.”

The Turners monitor the cattle feed intake and the quality of the feed supply with manure samples being tested for their nutritional balance (NUTBAL) profile. NUTBAL provides information to help evaluate feedstuff values and better understand animal nutritional needs as they change throughout the year.

More than visually appealing, the Turners have hewn the challenging landscape into a productive cattle operation with knowledge, hard work and a vision for something better both for the land and the cattle. And while they have been rightfully recognized for their service to the cattle industry, anyone who visits will remember them for their farm.

 

 

 

 

 

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