Though Chuck and Lou Ann Neely produce 100% grass-fed and -finished heritage breed cattle, sheep, and pigs, they see themselves as primarily grass farmers. “You have to have healthy pastures for your livestock. If you are taking care of your grass, the microbe activity, and creating healthy topsoil then all the rest falls into place,” says Chuck.
In the nineties, the Neely’s were among the first to raise purely grass-fed beef in Highland County. Though the couple followed a job back to Richmond for a while, the 2007 financial crisis made them rethink their decision and shortly after, the mountains called them back to Highland.
They purchased a 180 acre farm in Halterman Hollow, just north of the town of Monterey with the dream of creating a sustainable operation promoting biodiversity and organically managing the balance of the meadows and hardwood forests on their land. They began to research animals that were well suited to the rugged mountains, cold winters and cool summers in Highland. “The Belted Galloway really stood out.” says Chuck. “I descend from a Scottish line and I liked the idea that my great-great-great-grandfather might have had a Galloway herd as well on his farm.” In addition, the heritage breed thrives purely on pasture “Heritage breeds like the Belties are designed for grass and finish with nice marbled beef,” said Chuck. “Not only does it taste wonderful, but it is also healthy with 5-times the Omega 3 and four times the CLA of grain fed beef.” When they started selling their beef at the Farmers Market, he reports that consumers couldn’t believe it was 100% grass-fed.
Starting with five Belties, the Neelys expanded their operation to average more than 60 Belted and American Galloways. He uses his registered Belted Galloway bull to produce Belted Galloways as well as the solid Galloway cows. “Our Galloways are raised in a natural, humane, low-stress environment and are completely hormone, antibiotic and grain- free,” says Chuck. Recently, the Neely’s began a flock of Katahdin sheep, a heritage breed known for its hardiness and mild and sweet meat. In addition, their heritage Tamworth and Old Spot pigs are raised on pasture and woodlots and have a diet free of GMOs and soy. The resulting marbled pork, says Chuck, “is like nothing you’d find at a supermarket.”
With this expansion, the Neely’s began leasing nearby land. Today, they manage 680 acres, breaking the land into “grazing cells” and rotate their animals around in order to build topsoil, fertility and stocking density. The sheep follow the cattle, complementing the cows grazing practices and controlling parasites.
Their meat is processed at nearby Alleghany Meats. “We are lucky to have a local community owned agriculture center with a USDA processing facility located just minutes from our farm gate,” say Chuck. “Our cattle are born, raised, and finished on our farm, then are on a trailer for just minutes before they arrive to be processed at an Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) processing facility.”
Chuck and Lou Ann have a passion for local food, the local food movement, and Highland County. They like to share that passion and have two lodging options on their property available to visitors to the area. The Laurel Run Cabin is stocked with plenty of modern conveniences, but also allows visitors to experience Highland County and the hills that comprise the farm. Their newly completed Rainbow Springs Retreat includes an 1870’s log house and plenty of space for fly fishing, with 6 ponds and a half-mile of trout stream.
Please contact Chuck and Lou Ann Neely for more information about their certified grass-fed beef, grass-fed lamb, pasture heritage pork. Riven Rock beef, lamb, and pork can be found at the Highland Farmers’ Market and the Bath County Farmers’ Market as well as by contacting the Neely’s directly. The Neely’s also own and operate a mobile sawmill rental business. Lodging at either their Laurel Run Cabin or Rainbow Springs Retreat is available by appointment.
(Photographs by Sarah Collins and Chuck and Lou Ann Neely)