Charolais for Easy Keeping
Virgil Anderson came to Barry County, Mo., to raise Quarterhorses.
Fifteen years later, the hills of his 90-acre farm are dotted not with the equines he first envisioned, but with the white, sturdy bodies of Charolais cattle. The horse project just hadn’t worked out — his mares wouldn’t breed and the market was turning gloomy.
“We switched over to cattle in 1998,” recalled Virgil, who moved to southwest Missouri with his wife, Audrey in 1993, after both retired from IBM. The Andersons had lived in the country in Colorado, but their farming experience was largely as parents of 4-H kids whose projects included raising a few Simmentals, a few Jerseys and a few horses.
The seeming setback, however, didn’t deter Virgil, who simply searched for a backup plan. His search turned up the Charolais, which also seemed ideal for someone with minimal farming history. “I read an article that said the only thing you need to know about Charolais is they’re white and they make money,” Virgil laughed.
While that promise might have been an oversimplification, the choice has been a good one for Virgil, who appreciates the breed’s ease of care, including their docility, mothering abilities, calving ease and rate of gain. Growth rate is excellent, Virgil said, and weaning rates are consistently over 600 pounds. “They’re fairly easy to take care of, and they grow real good,” he said. “You don’t have to pour a lot of corn into them, you just put them on grass and let them grow.”
His place, which is about half timber and half open, has good pastures — mostly fescue, Virgil said, and provides enough forage that hay needs are low. And he ensures his pastures stay viable withannual applications of fertilizer.
“The best thing I do is raise grass,” Virgil joked. “As long as I raise enough grass, the cows take care of themselves. My main objective is keeping grass in front of them.”
He purchases all the hay used on the farm, helping with the hay harvests on neighboring farms for a share of the crops, reducing cash outlay.
Virgil also credits his neighbors with teaching him much of what he has learned about farming since he and Audrey moved to Missouri.
“I have a lot of good neighbors,” Virgil said. “All I have to do is ask, and they’re right there.
Virgil’s cow/calf operation features a herd of 12 to 14 females, which swells to twice that with calves, and he plans this year to raise a couple of registered bulls. Calves are weaned at about seven months and are sold at about eight months. For the most part, Virgil raises his own replacement heifers, although he may purchase one or two as needed when numbers are down.
Because he is retired and is farming simply for the love of it, Virgil said he doesn’t plan to enlarge his herd, but just will enjoy the status quo. Overall, the move to Missouri has been a good one — even without the quarterhorses — and both Virgil and Audrey enjoy the peace of the Ozarks hills that surround them.
“Virgil fell in love with the trees here, and I’m originally from upstate New York, and this looks just like it,” Audrey said. “I walk with the dogs every morning, and we go out to check the cows,” Virgil said.
“I can walk across that field back there and feel like I own the world,” Audrey concluded.