Rolling R Farm-Keeping those Dogies Moving*
Shortly after they met in Ohio, when John proposed to Kelli he was not the most clear in what he was offering; he asked her if she wanted to move to the farm he had purchased in Kentucky. She was thrilled, not only because she always wanted to farm, but she was pretty sweet on him, too.
Located on 220 rolling acres south of Olive Hill, Kentucky, the Ruggles have been providing farm-raised beef and lamb for years. They used to go to farmers’ markets but decided to sell only from the farm and word of mouth has brought them a very steady business with people coming regularly from as far as Ironton, Ohio. Kelli is also a nurse and works 36 hours a week. She wishes she could be at the farm full time, but the income and the insurance benefits are needed.
Currently they have 10 sheep and 12 lambs. The lambs are in the process of being weaned, so are kept apart from the ewes during the day, fed a commercial lamb feed, and all are together in the barn for the night. After two months, the ewes will be dry and all will be moved to pasture and grass.
I noticed the ewes had been shorn recently. There are only a few sheep-shearers who travel the state. He generally takes the wool with him, as the Ruggles found only two sources for it and received only ten cents a pound, not worth the transportation costs for delivery.
Rolling R Farm also has about 150 head of cattle. John breeds via artificial insemination, watching his herd carefully and bringing the cows going into heat to an area closer to the barn when it is the proper time. He processes 3 to 4 cows a month and by managing the breeding this way, he can stagger the births in the herd year-round.
The cattle are rotated through six paddocks over the course of a year, ending up close to the barn in the winter months. A field where he cuts two crops of hay in May and July has enough time to grow more so the cows start their winter pasture there with fresh grass. They then progress to stored hay and feed pellets until the spring grass is back in, and the cycle starts again in the various paddocks.
The cattle are ready at about 20-21 months and John uses an USDA processor, Boone’s in Bardstown. He purchases pork there for butchering, confirming it was also pasture raised and offers pork for sale at the farm as well.
John and Kellie proudly told a few stories about how people have been impressed with their beef. A blind taste test at the University of Kentucky compared their burgers and rib-eyes to another producer as well as grocery store purchased beef; they were selected best tasting. Recently, at a state Cattlemen’s Association meeting, his T-bones fed the crowd. Two separate speakers interrupted their talks to comment it was the best T-bones they had ever had. High praise from cattle experts.
When I asked John if he had magical power and could fix a current issue he laughed and said, “You mean, besides the weather?” The dry summer is reducing the growth of the hay and of course adds additional concerns for keeping the animals well watered. Both John and Kelli decided that the biggest issue they have is help. John starts his day at 5 a.m. with a 5-mile walk, then his share of the house chores and then heads up to the barn by 9a.m. to feed and water and then on to other farm chores. He goes back to the house for lunch and finally back for dinner at 9p.m., which they have been trying to move earlier.
John’s children have no interest in working on the farm and although Kellie’s kids are interested, they are young and the full training and successful transition would still be some years ahead. Kellie works with John most days when she is not working at the hospital, and John says it is great how much more can be done when there are two adults. He has checked into extern programs but says the students would only be assigned there for a couple of weeks, which means a lot of hands on training and really no supervision-free time, so essentially little benefit to the Rolling R. They have thought about building a cabin to provide free lodging and attracting someone who would like to spend more time there to learn about cattle raising, but it is a concept that has not been fully researched yet.
* In the mid 1960s there was a tv show called Rawhide with a very young Clint Eastwood who played a trailhand for cattle drives. A dogie is a young steer. While the Rolling R Farm does not drive their cattle to market the Old West way, I couldn’t help but play off their name with a bad pun for the title of this blog.