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A dose of Reality (Farms)

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By Brad Bowman

Roy Jackson’s father dreamed he and his son could farm together.

Jackson continues his father’s dream with his own son on Reality Farms near New Castle.

Roy and Judy Jackson moved their farm from Delaware, Ohio, when urban sprawl started infringing on their farm and way of life. Their daughter Laura had married local attorney and farmer Keith Jeffries, and Henry County seemed like the place where they have both a family and a farm. Roy and Judy, both in their 60s, brought their son Matt with them.

“It’s a slower pace of life here than when suburbanites started moving all around us,” Roy Jackson said. “They may like a farmer’s cows but they don’t want the smell.”

The Jacksons manage 150 Angus and SimAngus on their 500 acre farm. The SimAngus breed is a hybrid breed from Angus and Simmental cows. The Jacksons do calving in the spring and fall. With artificial insemination and detailed records, Matt Jackson considers better genetics the key to improving livestock and consistent quality.

“We can breed out the undesirable traits and produce livestock you don’t have to babysit,” Matt Jackson said. “Through benefit cost share programs like the tobacco buyout programs farmers can now get a better bull with better genetics that meets the needs for their herd.”

The Jacksons focus on the desirable traits in livestock for beef and show cattle: cows that have a more efficient feed conversion rate requiring less feed to achieve that weight and cows that don’t produce lightweight calves.

When they envisioned their family farm, the Jacksons also took care to give it the quality traits they desired.

They tore down old tobacco barns and raised new ones for cattle. They built new fences on the farm and around the ponds, expanded the ponds and installed two miles of pipe to connect to 26 different water stations with 4-ball watering systems across their farm. Matt worked with the Soil and Water Conservation to develop the family’s vision and in 2005 the farm was awarded the Conservationist of the Year for their efforts to reduce erosion and improve the pasture.

“We rotate our cows on different pastures throughout the farm,” Matt Jackson said. “We fed them hay early on and we’ve replaced the Kentucky 31 fescue found on many farms with the Max Q fescue. Kentucky 31 commonly has the endophyte fungus in it. The fungus will raise a cow’s temperature making them less tolerant to heat in summer.”

Cattle that consume pasture with infected with endophyte may also have lower feed intake, lower weight gains, spend less time grazing, have a lower milk production and spend more time in the shade and water with reduced reproductive performance.

Because of their conservation efforts, Reality Farms has preserved a lot of their pasture from the drought conditions.

A typical day for the Jacksons includes coffee a few times a week with fellow farmers who share similar interests in places like the Four Seasons’ BP. Their farm work is seasonal, which frees Matt up to spend time in the Kentucky Ag Leadership Program. He has hosted tri-county regional field days on the farm and traveled to different parts of the world and state to see different agriculture practices.

“Everyone has a different background in the group,” Jackson said. “We may learn about the different darker tobacco grown in western Kentucky, which is cared for differently than the Burley in this area or see what they are doing with the reclaimed strip mine area of the state or the horse industry.”

Jackson has traveled to more distant places like New Zealand to learn about different agricultural practices and does photography for cattle sales. His focus still stays close to home.

“We rebuilt this family farm so whoever inherits it after us will have a better place,” Jackson said. “We have a local market for our bulls and we have clients from as far as the Dakotas, Austrailia and Texas, but it is still a family farm ran by the three of us and my girlfriend Traci Maddox and we can do it as a family.”

Roy Jackson served on the American Chianina Board and worked for 30 years  as a 4-H advisor. Judy Jackson worked as a 4-H leader for 10 years in Ohio and at their County Extension Office.

“I call back to the extension office and tell the girls all about how Henry County is like going back to things as they used to be,” Jackson said. “Everyone here is so courteous and waves to you.”