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#Fridaysonthefarm: Beginning Farmer Uses Conservation Plan for Sheep Farm

#Fridaysonthefarm: Beginning Farmer Uses Conservation Plan CoverStory by Katherine K. Burse, NRCS Tennessee; photos by Mackenzie Painter, Soil Conservationist and Cory Hodge, District Conservationist, NRCS, Bedford County, Tennessee

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.

This Friday, we visit the small, southern town of Bell Buckle, Tennessee for a behind-the-scenes look at Crossroads Farms. Tomm and Martha Brady recently established a successful sheep herd operation on the farm, guided by a sound conservation plan for land health and productivity.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Beginning Farmer Uses Conservation Plan Map


New Beginnings 

Drive through the hills, farmland and walking horse country of Bedford County, Tennessee, and you'll find the preserved railroad village of Bell Buckle, population 500, nestled quietly.

Tomm Brady, his wife Martha and their children have called Bell Buckle - with its antiques and crafts, country music, home cooking and Southern hospitality - home for the past 25 years. In those years, they've lived on a 159-acre farmette, Crossroads Farms. 

Out the farmhouse window, Martha watches the family's indoor dog Jack run circles around their sheep dogs Max, Xenia and Rose. And she admires their latest addition to the farm - 62 ewes and 82 lambs.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Beginning Farmer Uses Conservation Plan Photo 1


For many years, Tomm Brady leased out the 80 grass acres on his farm for hay production, but he noticed a steady decline in his grass stand quality and density over time. To improve the health and profitability of his land, Tomm decided to actively manage the farm and raise a commercial herd of Dorper and Katahdin cross sheep. 

“I wanted to be able to involve my wife Martha, so I started out with sheep,” says Tomm. “My goal in the future is to run a multi-species herd of sheep and cattle.” 

A Good Plan

Tomm selected his sheep herd after extensive research, and his approach to a more efficient grazing system was no different. “I began researching information about sheep online and ran across a video of a cattle producer in East Tennessee that had worked with NRCS,” says Tomm.

In 2016, Tomm signed up for the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to plan and implement conservation practices that improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related natural resources on agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland.

Tomm and Martha soon met with NRCS District Conservationist Cory Hodge to discuss the options for improving the farm health and increasing profitability. They discovered several problem areas with Tomm's continuous grazing system - livestock had unrestricted access to the stream, and they were spot grazing with inadequate forage. At that point, it became evident that Tomm needed a conservation plan. 

"This project is the epitome of what we do to help provide a system where the farmer can be productive while improving water quality and increasing soil health,” says Hodge.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Beginning Farmer Uses Conservation Plan Photo 3After identifying the resource concerns and Tomm's objectives, NRCS and the Bedford County Soil Conservation District (SCD) worked with Tomm to develop a plan restricting livestock from sensitive areas and providing a grazing system where grazing heights could be managed and soil health maintained.

Tomm worked with contractors to install conservation practices - such as pipeline, heavy use areas, water troughs, exclusion fence and cross fence - that provide multiple paddocks for keeping his herd of sheep in and predators out.

The plan included strategically placing troughs so that his livestock would not travel more than 800 feet to water. Because Tomm's farm goals include cattle in his operation, the distance livestock travel to water will play an important role in grazing efficiency.  Tomm tapped into municipal water—his only reliable water source—which allowed livestock to access water in eight pastures on the farm. His water troughs have helped with keeping water cool in the summer and with preventing it from freezing in the winter.

Tomm explains that “the EQIP program has helped tremendously with getting troughs installed to supply each paddock with water."

Positive Results

Already, the conservation practices have offered tangible results for the Brady family and their farm. By rotating his sheep, Tomm has noticed fewer diseases and foot problems in the herd, along with an overall sense of calmness. 

#Fridaysonthefarm: Beginning Farmer Uses Conservation Plan Photo 4


With a more efficient grazing system, Tomm can stockpile grass in two paddocks for the winter, using fewer rolls of valuable hay. Livestock will graze the stockpiled fields after his other fields’ production ceases due to cold temperatures.

“NRCS has helped me with being able to graze efficiently and give my fields a period of rest,” Tomm says. “This has really made an improvement in grass production.”  He shares that the successes could not have been achieved without a good, science-based conservation plan.

With this solid foundation, Tomm plans to increase the farm's soil organic matter, raise a registered Katahdin sheep herd and introduce cattle onto his operation to run a multi-species herd. He hopes that the farm will continue to function and improve over time, even long after he is gone.

Visit the NRCS website to learn about voluntary conservation programs near you.


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