Near the mountains of Rosedale, Va., sits Stuart Land and Cattle Company, the oldest operating cattle ranch in the country. Sixteen thousand acres of grass and timberland make up the 1774-established family ranch run by a board of directors, ranch hands and —the glue holding it all together — Lynda Stuart.
Rewind to the 1950s and Stuart was growing up in the California sunshine on her father’s dairy farm.
“My father was a veterinarian in California,” she recalls. “When I was about 6 years old, he sold his practice and went into the dairy business, producing milk and shipping bred dairy heifers to Hawaii. I grew up at his side. Where he would go, I would follow.”
Soon her father expanded his business and began doing genetic consulting for dairies in the territory, starting his company, Genetics Incorporated. Already hooked in the business and eager to learn more, Stuart started working for her father straight out of high school, doing bookkeeping and pedigree work.
“After seven years, we sold to Carnation Farms (now Alta Genetics) and began to work for them,” she says. “We got very involved in the beef side of the AI industry.”
Through her work experience obtained by working alongside her father, Stuart found herself being appointed director of promotions and public relations for the National Association of Animal Breeders in 1972. Putting her tactical thinking and knowledge into action, Stuart rolled up her sleeves and began to campaign for a way to make AI technology more available to the commercial beef breeder.
“At the time, AI was new and the breeds were requiring AI certificates, making it very difficult for commercial breeders to use AI,” she says. “I was trying to pitch the idea that we needed to advertise to the beef industry as a whole on the merits of AI, because that’s how genetic progress is made — by opening up the herd books.”
The wild Virginian
Stuart’s career had her traveling to different events and conferences, speaking with the people of the beef industry. It was July 1974, and the American Simmental Association was opening its headquarters’ doors in Bozeman, Mont. Stuart was at the event where someone asked her if she knew the trustee, Alexander “Zan” Stuart. She brushed it off, saying she knew who he was, and the formal introduction never took place. A month later in Toronto, Canada, she saw Zan at another conference, again going about her business and not formally meeting him.
“Then, on Nov. 18, in Louisville, Ky., at the North American International Livestock Exposition, we met,” she fondly recalls. “He walked into the presale party and immediately saw me. Walked on water, came over and said, ‘I think I love you, will you marry me?’”
Head of Select Sires at the time, Dick Chichester, was a good friend of hers and happened to be standing there watching the proposal unfold.
“I turned to him and said, ‘Chicky, is he drunk or sober?’’’ to which he replied, ‘I don’t know, I’ve seen him both ways and you can’t tell the difference!’”
And the rest is history, Stuart says. The two courted for the next year at all the events they mutually attended and were married a year later.
“I moved across the country, leaving my job, and decided to become a homemaker, take up gardening and canning and teaching exercise classes,” she says. After six years, the farm bookkeeper retired and Stuart was right back to helping. “My training in bookkeeping, office management and accounting came back into action.”
Zan himself was quite the forward thinker, and together the couple pushed their ranch toward more progress.
“He kept data like a dairyman,” she says. “Every single thing about each animal was recorded.”
And while this type of recordkeeping was uncommon for commercial herds, the duo felt it was absolutely necessary.
“You cannot make genetic progress with your animals if you don’t have information on them,” Stuart says, matter-of-factly. “From birthweights, matings and calving history, udder scores — it was all there. We kept track (and still do) of body-condition scores, treatments and weights. In fact, every chute except one on the mountain, which we use only once a year, has a scale, so every time an animal is processed, we can get its weight.”
While the farm has chosen to remain in the commercial business for marketing reasons, it has seen a variety of breeds over the years. Murray Gray, Red Angus, Chianina, Red Poll, Brangus, Gelbvieh, Shorthorns, Horned Hereford and Black Angus genetics have all walked the ground of Stuart Land and Cattle Company. The company has done young sire testing with the Select Sires, the American Gelbvieh Association and is currently working with the American Simmental Association in their Carcass Merit Program.
It wasn’t until 2006, when Zan’s health began to slip, that Stuart became more hands-on in the outside operations.
“My husband used to say he didn’t want to be the generation that lost the farm, working here full time from 1949 until he died in 2008,” she says, quietly. “He was a vibrant person — said he would never retire, unless they stopped paying him.”
And with that, her world was changed forever. In an environment where, Stuart says, people tend to play more gender-specific roles, she had her work cut out for her.
“Everyone expected me to move back to California and not take this job,” she says.
But that’s not what she wanted. Instead, she got to work, pushing to continue Zan’s work for progress on the farm.
“The biggest challenge I’ve had is breaking past others’ mindsets of ‘That’s not the way we’ve always done it.’ Because I’ve implemented a lot of changes.”
One change in particular was improving the cattle-handling skills on the ranch from rodeo-ready to slow and easy. Others have revolved around business decisions, the use of DNA technology and environmental practices — something the farm family is very passionate about.
Continuing the legacy
Stuart Land and Cattle Company is made up of a board of directors of family shareholders. While she’s not part of the ownership, she’s hired by the company as the general manager to make the day-to-day decisions. Because her budget and major infrastructure decisions are approved by the board of directors, Stuart makes an effort to keep everyone educated on information pertaining to the business. Each year, she invites everyone out to the ranch together for a weekend full of fun and business to reconnect with the operation.
“We’ll go on picnics and the local Extension agent, Scott Jessee, will come out and speak to them about body-condition scoring, rangeland control, hay quality and related topics. Then, because we’re all very competitive, we’ll have scavenger hunts for different types of forage and a body-condition scoring contest,” she explains. “At the end of the weekend when it’s time to sit down and approve our business decisions, they have a better understanding of practices that need to be done to ensure the farm keeps moving in the right direction.”
While she’s not certain if a family member or outside manager will take over her position when she’s through, she doesn’t plan on hanging up her hat anytime soon.
“My goal is to live another 30 years and be productive,” she laughs. “My father lived one month short of 95. A couple of years after Zan’s death I brought him to Rosedale.“
The dairyman had hopes of getting the cattlewoman back into the dairy business but soon found her heart was set in a different place.
“He said, ‘You have no plans to get back in the dairy business, have you? I cannot believe you have forsaken the dairy cow.’ To which I responded, ‘No, it is the beef cow I now love.’”
See the full article and more in the digital edition of the September issue of Drovers/CattleNetwork.