11/24/2012 7:00 AM
By Jennifer Merritt Virginia Correspondent
HUDDLESTON, Va. — It may be his commitment to the Virginia Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Program that earned Sam Gardner the title of Bedford County’s Young Farmer of the Year, but it is his flexibility and ability to embrace diverse opportunities that has helped make his family’s agribusiness a success.
Sam is the son of veterinarians, Susan and Don Gardner. Although Susan recently retired from veterinary practice, she is still very active in the Virginia Farm Bureau and on the family farm. Don Gardner is a large animal vet with a focus on bovine veterinary services.
Along with his brother Andy, Sam and his parents run Gardner Custom Heifer Growers, with Sam serving as president and Andy as vice president.
The Gardners are currently raising 500 heifers for four different dairies. The heifers are raised from about 5 months old until two months before they are ready to calf and are bred using artificial insemination.
By paying attention to the younger stock, the Gardners free up time for dairy farmers to concentrate on the rest of their herd while still maximizing their investment in their new animals.
The Gardners recently expanded their business to include 140 Holstein steers that they are raising for sale. They’ve also added 20 beef heifers.
“We have some extra room and decided we’d try our hands at beef heifers,” Sam said. “We also sold 64 acres of corn for grain this year.”
All three families, Susan and Don, Andy and wife Katie, and Sam and wife Ashley, are partners in Gardner Heifers.
“It can be tough to work with family, but you don’t have to worry about hurting each others’ feelings,” Sam said with a smile. “We tell each other how we feel about things even if everyone might not want to know it.”
The brothers are partners in more than just the business their parents started. Recently, Sam and Andy, along with their wives, bought land near the family farm.
“We may use it for beef heifers or for pasture,” Sam said.
Sam and Andy are also partners in Gardner Brothers Land, a company they started to build custom fencing and poured concrete bunk troughs. A lot of thought went into the design of the troughs, which include threaded inserts to allow eye bolts to be screwed into the troughs to facilitate placement.
The 8-foot-long troughs have larger drainage holes in the ends and are the width of a standard scoop shovel, making them easier to clear if needed.
“We are starting to get more interest in the bunk troughs,” said Sam. “We have some here (at Gardner Heifers) and we’re looking to put some on the new place.”
Sam, a 2005 graduate of Virginia Tech with majors in dairy science and fisheries science, is one of 15 Virginia Young Farmers in Bedford County. Along with W.P. Johnson, he represents the Valley District on the State Young Farmer Committee and he was the leading chairperson on the YF Summer Expo, held in the Bedford and Lynchburg area this summer.
Gardner organized the tour stops, which included farms in Pittsylvania County and talks with then-senatorial candidates George Allen and Tim Kaine. Gardner, his mother and their accountant spoke to the group about farm transition and how to move things from one generation to the next.
“The Young Farmer committee gets together, sits down at a table and writes down the name of the person they think has had a (positive) impact in the Farm Bureau and on agriculture,” said Johnson, president of the Bedford County Young Farmers. “Sam was selected by a group of his peers.”
Gardner has shown he can adjust to change and he’s ready for new challenges. Whatever opportunities present themselves to this Virginia young farmer, however, it’s sure to be a family affair.
“We can all trust each other,” he said.
For more information on Gardner heifers, visit www.gardnerheifers.com. For information on custom fencing and bunk troughs, visit www.gardnerbrothersland.com.