A Living Legacy

5/4/2013 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent

Middleburg Farmer Moves Her Herd to Top Genetics

MIDDLEBURG, Va. — Dixie Noffsinger is living, breathing proof that, as she says, “You can take the farmer out of the country, but you can’t take the farming out of him.”

Or her.

She and her late husband, veterinarian Dr. Glenn Noffsinger, grew up on farms — she in Colorado, he in Botetourt County in the Shenandoah Valley —and went on to other pursuits.

But they always came back to farming. She’s still there and plans to stay.

She learned early that farming is hard work. Her family raised Herefords on a Colorado ranch, and when her father died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1951 her mother was left with a ranch, a large herd of cattle and four small children.

“We became farmhands. At the time, I couldn’t wait to get off the farm. I associated it with hard work. But here I am,” she said. “The same was true of Glenn — he always wanted to get back and be a farmer.”

Their marriage and farming partnership started at the Alexandria National Bank, where Dixie was the head teller. Glenn always showed up late, money and checks and receipts fluttering from his pockets. He was not, Dixie said, a good keeper of records.

When she told him she’d be leaving the bank to spend more time with her two young children, she advised him to hire some office help. He offered her the job and the rest, as she puts it, “is history.”

Glenn bought his first farm in the 1950s, a run-down operation in Madison County. He got it back into top shape, sold it and parlayed that into the 715-acre Analoch Farm in Orange County. He built that one up as well, and sold it at top price.

Then in the 1960s, he made his way to the lush farmlands between Middleburg and the Blue Ridge in western Loudoun County. He bought two properties on rural Quaker Lane — Kentfields on the east side, Kentwood on the west.

“I never liked the Kentfields house,” Dixie said. “In 1983 he said, Would you be happier if we built a house across the way (on Kentwood)? And I said, Yes, I would.’ ”

The house today — built from stone salvaged from old rock walls on the farm, all beams, paneling and wainscoting in the interior from walnut trees felled and milled on the property — sits where two flocks of geese crossed paths over their heads as they walked in an old apple orchard.

When Glenn sold the Orange County farm, he moved his Angus herd up to the Middleburg properties — losing five or six to a faulty latch on the trailer. “Someone got six good heifers,” Glenn told Dixie when he finally got home, because they never could find them.

The herd has always been Angus, primarily cow-calf and feeder calves, Dixie said. But several years before Glenn died in September 2006, he started adding more registered stock. Since his death, she has continued and strengthened a relationship with nearby seedstock operation Whitestone Farm and has transitioned her herd to better genetics.

Two years ago, she bought two bred heifers at the Whitestone auction and both obligingly delivered bull calves that grew up at Kentwood: one a Duff Jet Set 7122 son, the other a Sitz Upward with HSAF Bando 1961 on the cow side.

The third they purchased — a Final Answer son with Lookout on the dam’s side.

“I’ve been real pleased with his calves, good, substantial calves,” said farm manager Rob Ashby. “We want a cow that’s going to have a good, marketable calf in the first place — not too big a frame, not too small a frame, heavy muscle and big middle.”

The herd has grown to about 160 brood cows today and functions as both commercial and seedstock. “The lower end goes for feeder calves, the upper end for seedstock,” Ashby said.

Ashby’s eye is pretty good, Dixie added, and he can and does get a second opinion from Whitestone when evaluating young bulls.

And, via artificial insemination, he’s been adding the Pathfinder sire OCC Emblazon 854E bloodlines to the Kentwood herd.

They keep everything grass-based, Ashby said, and the key to that is as much how he takes care of the grass as it is the genetics of the cows and bulls.

“A lot of cows will do perfectly fine if you do a good enough job rotating the fields, keeping the grass good.”

Their grass is mainly fescue, Ashby said. He grows hay and summer annuals — millet, sorghum Sudan grass — every year for wet round bales to be put out in the winter.

“I use the summer annuals to rotate the fields. I’ll go in and spray the field, plant the summer annuals, grow it for a year and plant rye that fall. Next spring another summer annual and rye goes into round bales. The following year I’ll put in rye with grass seed in it,” he said.

Not that he’s not paying attention to the genetics, Ashby said. When he took on the manager’s job in October 2005, the herd already had a lot of GAR Precision.

“Dr. Noffsinger liked him, there was a lot of that and it worked very well,” Ashby said. “We also had Final Answer, the other big names.”

A year ago, Dixie was one of a consortium, including Genex AI and semen services, that went to $70,000 for Whitestone Armando at the Whitestone Pasture Performance-Tested bull sale. Armando will be adding more top genetics to the herd, emphasizing low birth weight and fast growth.

As for the future, Dixie says she intends to keep on doing what she’s doing as long as she is able — and her 99-year-old mother is still going strong out in Colorado.

Then, with luck, her daughter might pick up the pitchfork and carry on cattle farming at Kentwood.

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