- Special Sections
- Public Notices
When Jack McCauley walks up to the pasture gate on his farm, the mooing stops and every head turns in his direction.
“Here girls,” he yells as he swings open the gate. “Let’s go.”
Almost as if he were a pied piper, 22 cows follow McCauley through two gates and into another small pasture covered in almost waist-high native switchgrass. It took McCauley almost two years to get the pasture looking like that.
But it was worth it, he said. Two of his calves recently sold for more than he expected.
They will graze there for about three days, until the grass is about 8 inches high.
After that, at the sound of McCauley’s voice, the cattle will head into a different smaller pasture for three or four days to do the same thing.
Ann Christie, county director of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, smiled and marveled at what she was seeing.
“You can tell these cows are getting what they want and need, and plenty of it,” Christie said. “It’s just a lot of fun to watch.”
The cows aren’t the only ones who approve of McCauley’s farming methods these days.
The Lancaster Soil and Water Conservation District has named McCauley, a veteran farmer and moderate-size beef producer, as its county Farmer of the Year.
Bill Ardrey, Lancaster Soil and Water Conservation District chairman, said McCauley is a role model for his fellow farmers.
“We have a lot of good farmers in Lancaster County who practice good conservation on their land,” Ardrey said. “Mr. McCauley stood out for his work and I congratulate him for being selected the Lancaster County Conservation District's Farmer of the Year for 2012.”
McCauley, a Chapel Hill native who started farming after retiring from Exxon in 1986, doesn't shy away from getting his hands dirty.
“It (hard work) didn’t hurt me one bit and it never has,” said McCauley, who served as a supply coordinator for 66 gas terminals on the East Coast and Gulf Coast.
McCauley still recalls as a youngster when the federal government launched the free-lunch program for schoolchildren.
“My mother just flat refused to go along with it, so I bused the cafeteria tables each day to pay for mine,” he said. “She said if you don’t work, well...you don’t eat.”
McCauley, now in his mid 80s, applies that same work ethic on his Camp Creek Road farm near Stewart’s Crossroads. McCauley has made most of the improvements himself, except for an occasional hand from family members.
He has participated in federal Farm Bill programs and completed two Environmental Quality Incentive Programs contracts. He has also participated in a Conservation Security Program (CSP).
The program provides not only financial, but technical assistance to promote the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life, as well as other conservation purposes.
As part of the improvements, McCauley installed three 400-gallon water tanks with pads for his cows and limited their access to streams and ponds through the use of fencing that created buffer strips to absorb runoff from the surrounding pastures. The ponds were deepened during the 2001-02 drought to allow for additional water storage.
Fencing off the streams and ponds keeps the water supplies cleaner and create wildlife habitat corridors, Christie said.
“I know I’m hearing quail a lot more than I used to,” McCauley said.
As a cost-cutting measure, he installed the fences to cross over the water tanks so that one can provide water to more than one pasture.
“Jack is also the first farmer in the county to have gravity-fed water tanks designed by USDA,” Christie said.
“On average, a cow will take in about 22 gallons of water every day,” McCauley said.
One of the ponds has a floating pipe that raises and lowers with the water level.
“That was pretty ingenious. It was something nobody else had thought of,” Christie said.
“It just made sense to do it that way,” McCauley said.
McCauley also overseeds his pasture with ryegrass to provide his herds with a good permanent mixture of cool and warm season grasses year round.
That way, his cattle always have access to fresh grass, which makes them gain weight faster. Rotational grazing also allows for the cattle to be moved once the grass is eaten down to the correct height.
McCauley said there is also another plus.
“You don’t have to depend on hay so much when it’s cold,” McCauley said.
There are a couple of other farming firsts McCauley has accomplished, too.
One small pasture of switchgrass his cows graze through was very expensive and difficult to establish. It took McCauley more than two years to get the switchgrass, which is native to this part of the Palmetto State, to grow and thrive.
Switchgrass is a perennial, drought-tolerant crop that has a high yield and is environmentally friendly to produce once it gets established. Historically, switchgrass has been used as a hay and silage crop and has been planted occasionally for wildlife habitats.
Recently, the crop has taken on a new role in South Carolina as a substitution for coal in the green energy market.
In 2010, Clemson University announced a partnership with Carolina-Pacific LLA to supply switchgrass to European power plants.
Thanks to this summer’s rainfall, McCauley’s switchgrass is thriving. The secret, he said, was simple.
“Turkey litter did the trick,” McCauley said. “It might smell like manure to some, but to a farmer, it smells like money.”
Christie said McCauley is also one of the few beef producers in the county to successfully manage long-term crimson clover in grazed pastures.
“It’s just breathtaking to see in spring when it’s bloom,” Christie said.
McCauley keeps a close eye on the clover, just as he does the switchgrass.
“I wait in the spring time when I start seeing the red clover blooms along (U.S.) 521,” he said. “As soon as I start seeing blooms in cow patties in the pasture, I move the cows.”
Contact Gregory A. Summers at (803) 283-1156