It is also home to the owner of Oakdale Farm
, Mary Howe diZerega
Without question, diZerega
, 71, is a veteran to the seedstock business.She
grew up helping her
father on the family farm, and when he
was 18 and a freshman at Wellesley College
near Boston, she
began helping her
mother with the operation."At the time, we had a commercial operation," she
remembers."After I graduated from Wellesley
, I started helping my mother with the books while I taught school.I helped with the marketing and contributed to the general, bigger decisions on the overall farm operation."
In 1964, diZerega's mother chose to get out of farming and divided the family farms among her
was the only child who chose to continue farming.In 1967, with some advice from her
husband, Thomas, she
made the decision to purchase a Charolais bull and started a breeding up program with her
"My husband is not interested in cattle or farming, but he
has always been very supportive," diZerega laughs."The decision to breed Charolais was based on his
reads a tremendous amount and suggested I look into this new breed of cattle.I did, and went from there." diZerega
worked hard to build her
herd, registering halfbloods and three-quarter-bloods, and in 1978 she
purchased a small Charolais herd, which was the "big push towards a purebred herd," she
says.Today, after the long process of breeding her
herd up (it took her
over 15 years), Oakdale Farm
is home to over 600 head of purebred Charolais, and diZerega estimates that they calve out over 250 females each year.
Along the way, diZerega
has paid close attention to maintaining consistency in her
herd.This has been accomplished by maintaining and utilizing performance records for over 30 years.Standard records are kept on the entire herd, such as birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight and average calving intervals.In addition, a state grader scores all the weanlings and yearlings for quality, condition, frame, muscle and structural soundness.The strong record base and overall performance of the cow herd has contributed heavily to the Oakdale herd's strong EPDs.
"EPDs are a very important tool, the best we have right now," diZerega
says, "but breeders need to remember that they are only part of the total program.I feel more comfortable with the EPDs of cattle that come from a strong performance herd that keeps good records, than I do with low accuracy EPDs."However, diZerega
still places strong emphasis on visual appraisal.
"There is a wealth of information out there, and we use it all," she
says, "but, no matter what, you still have to look at those animals."
With their strong performance program and the attention to the basics, Oakdale has established a very strong bull market over the years.This can be attributed, in part, to a bull sale held each year in March.The 1999 edition will be the 15th Anniversary of this highly successful event.
"In the beginning, I had been working towards having a production sale," diZerega
explains, "but I realized I didn't have the labor necessary to take on such a big project.Instead, I decided to just have a bull sale.""When we started the bull sale, it was on a shoestring.The first two or three years we really beat the bushes for buyers," she
says, recalling that for the first few years many of the bulls sold for beef prices.
More recently, the sale has enjoyed around a $2,000 average, and most of the Oakdale customers are repeat buyers, a testament once again to the popularity and consistency of the Oakdale program.Another indicator of the popularity of the program with commercial customers is the distance they travel for Oakdale genetics.
"It takes a long time to build a market," diZerega
explains."We stay in contact with our customers and find out how our bulls do for them."
Oakdale Farms markets 45-50 bulls a year in their sale and 30-40 more in tests and private treaty sales.These bulls are mostly fall yearlings (18 months), with some yearlings.After weaning, the bulls are graded and culled again.Then they are placed on an on farm feed test.
says the success of the bull sale has also benefited the marketing of Oakdale females."Our females kind of sell themselves," she
says."We sell some females in consignment sales, but the biggest part of our females are sold private treaty.Producers come to the bull sale looking for females, that's where our biggest group of female buyers come from."
Recently, Oakdale Farm
has entered into a carcass test evaluation that will provide valuable carcass data on one of their premier herd sires, Oakdale King 4037P.In conjunction with Morlunda Farm
in West Virginia, Oakdale provided the semen and clean up bulls to breed 200 of their cows (the majority to Oakdale King 4037P).Oakdale has retained ownership of the calves, which were weaned October 1.
...diZerega also serves on the Virginia Tech Animal Science Department's Advisory Board, a position she has held since 1991.
Through the years, diZerega
has not only devoted her
energies to building a successful Charolais herd, she
has also been a leader in the industry.She is a charter member of the Virginia Charolais Assoc. and has served as treasurer of that organization since 1993.She is also a past president, serving in that position from 1986-88.In 1996, she was elected as Area 15 Director of AICA and currently serves as secretary of the AICA board of directors.She is also chairman of the AICA Breed Improvement Committee.She is a long-time member and supporter of the Virginia Cattlemen's Assoc. and served as director from 1993-1998.She was also named chairman of the Seedstock Council in 1998.
As one of the founding directors of the Virginia Beef Exposition, diZerega
had been very active in the development and promotion of that event.She served as president of the Virginia Beef Expo in 1994 and 1995.
Along the way, as the Oakdale herd has grown, diZerega
cattle have been recognized for their excellence and accomplishments.Oakdale bulls have topped bull tests in both Virginia and West Virginia.diZerega
has received the Virginia BCIA Charolais Get-of-Sire Award twice and in 1994, she
was named Virginia Seedstock Producer of the Year by that organization.In 1995, the AICA
Purebred Seedstock Producer of the Year and in 1996 she
was honored as the Virginia Cattlemen's Assoc.
has also been recognized for her
conservation efforts, an honor for which she
is especially proud.Because of her
dedication to the environment and the land, diZerega
has been named the Conservation Farmer of the Year twice by the John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District.She
was also presented the Clean Water Farm Award in 1988 by the Virginia Department of Conservation
"You know the cattle wouldn't exist without the land," she
says."The land has been an important part of my family for over 200 years, they made their living from it.We work hard to maintain that."
"I believe farmers are the very best conservationists…They have to be.If we don't take care of the land, it won't take care of us."