Big Oak Farm a family affair
By Joanie Morris
For the Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS — A little farm straddles the county line between Cabarrus and Rowan counties, just south of Enochville. Stretching across 60 acres, Big Oak Farm has been in Mike Smith’s family for at least 150 years.
“This farm was my grandmother’s,” says Smith, standing on a patch of dry grass gazing out over the young cattle he has fenced at the farm. “She was a Goodnight.”
His grandmother got the farm from her family and it’s since been split mostly by geography, as Coddle Creek cuts through both parts of the land. The other side of the creek belonged to the brother and his family and has since been sold to developers.
“When my grandfather had this farm, he had a couple cows, some horses, mules, chickens and some goats, but he used to grow row crops,” Smith explains.
Visitors to the farm can still see the terraces where the land was built up to prevent erosion — a practice not in use anymore.
Smith’s fences follow along those terraces pretty closely in spots, but now the farm is strictly cattle.
“I am what’s known as a cow/calf producer,” says Smith.
As he stands on his farm, young cows work their way over to the fence, mooing at him. They know he’s there to feed them.
In all, he has more than 80 head of cattle across Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties, but only the ones waiting on a date with the cattle processor are at the farm here — about 40 cows. The brood cattle and bulls are in other pastures.
Also at an uncle’s pasture in Rutherford County are his four sow pigs and about 40 piglets.
“What I sell is a product of my farm,” says Smith.
He sells Big Oak Farm beef and pork out of his home in Denver, as well as at the Davidson Farmers’ Market, the Conover Farmers’ Market and the G-Town Market in Gastonia.
Since everything he sells comes from his farm, he knows there are no antibiotics, growth stimulants or steroids in his beef. All of it is pasture-raised lean beef.
“I can say that with confidence because it’s born and raised on my farm,” says Smith.
He and his wife Dawn live in Lincoln County and do almost all of the farm and market work themselves.
Business has been good lately, adds Smith. So much so, he’s keeping an eye out for other pasture land to lease for cattle and hay production. If he finds something, he can expand and raise even more cattle.
“The thing that’s limiting us is available land and how much we produce,” says Smith.
His goal in 2012 is to acquire more land for raising cattle for beef.
“We’ve got the business. As a matter of fact, we turn down business.”
The cattle on Smith’s farm are Charolais-Angus crosses, from Charolais broods and Angus bulls. The cattle used to be a pure Charolais, but Smith says he didn’t get as good a “growth vigor.”
When weaned, Charolais weigh about 600 pounds. The cross weighs around 700 pounds when weaned.
Once the cows are weened, they are moved to the farm in Cabarrus-Rowan and fed a fat diet of hay and feed. When slaughtered, they’ll weigh about 1,000 pounds.
Smith was born and raised in Concord, but spent a lot of time at his grandfather’s farm growing up. Always an avid outdoorsman, Smith enjoyed working the farm with his grandfather and later went on to study forestry at a local community college.
“When he passed away, this place was pretty well grown up,” says Smith.
As his grandfather got older, he stopped farming some areas. Now, there are areas that are completely re-forested, but Smith can still see where terraces were.
“A lot of work went into getting this place back to a working farm again,” Smith says.
While he doesn’t have to be out on the farm in Cabarrus every day — with a no-freeze watering system and springs in place, plus large round bales of hay, it’s not necessary with his operation — “I love to just come out here and spend time,” says Smith.
“I would say most of your farmers do live on the farm itself,” he adds. “That’s one good thing about beef cattle verses dairy cattle … we don’t have to come out here every day.”
Smith puts out enough hay at the farm to last three or four days. If weather is expected to be wet, he’ll put the round bales of hay up on their side, but if it’s going to be dry, the bales do best lying flat. If a storm hits, he says he always comes out to check the fences and make sure the cattle are all right.
He has about 500 round bales of hay saved up for his cattle to last through the winter.
That’s another good thing about his operation. He produces most of the hay himself off his land — for every head of cattle, about 3 acres of hay pasture is needed to feed them. He has a hand in every aspect of his operation.
“I’m not comfortable or happy staying inside or sitting behind a desk,” he adds. “I’d rather be outside doing stuff. There’s a ton of satisfaction and self-gratification when you do stuff out here with your hands and you see it work out.”
For more information about Big Oak Farm, visit www.bigoakfarmnc.com.
Joanie Morris is a freelance reporter for the Salisbury Post. She can be reached at 704-797-4248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.