Dick McElhaney grew up with Shorthorns. His dad raised them on his farm near Pittsburgh on land that would have qualified for Centennial status 35 years ago except for one little thing. The farm was taken by Eminent Domain in 1970 for airport expansion. The farm, serves today, as the entrance to the new Pittsburgh International Airport terminal which opened in 1995.
When McElhaney decided to continue with the family business, he moved 45 minutes northwest and started the McElhaney Stock Farm in Hookstown, PA. It's family owned and operated and he still raises Purebred Shorthorn cattle which he sells as breeding stock and premium beef at local farmers markets.
Dick and his wife, Kay, bought the 100-acre farm in 1971. They lease another 250 nearby acres which gives them room to raise about 150 Shorthorns. They sell their beef from a retail meat business at the farm and five local farm markets, two Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, a golf club and two retail markets.
It's a good business that usually takes about five steers a month to serve. Active word-of-mouth is probably their best sales tool. "A lot of people like to talk with the people who raised their beef," he said. "So we like to be at those farm markets and talk with them about how we raise our cattle."
We use an independent processor for processing the meat and this brings the same problems faced by the big guys, of course.. We sell a lot of flank steaks, skirt steaks, petite tenders, tri tips and briskets, for back yard chefs."
Now, 34 years later, it's still a family business. Dick ran the operation part time with a lot of help from his family until he retired from his job after working for 31 years as an aircraft mechanic for Trans World airlines until he retired in 1995.
Today, even at 79, he still runs day-to-day operations. "I'll probably stay with it until somebody closes the lid," he laughed when I asked how long he planned to farm.
An orderly family transition is in the works, though. Long before the lid closes, his son, David, will take on more responsibility. Today, he volunteers with the cattle and handles marketing and promotion. Kay is the office manager, handling the books, tracking the pedigrees and functioning as the on-site computer expert. Their daughter and son-in-law, Diane and Don Anderson, have their own nearby farm, but they also help out. Another son, Joe, is deeply involved in the computer software industry.
It's that family involvement that gives Dick time to volunteer with ag organizations like the Pennsylvania Beef Council; Pennsylvania Farm Bureau; Washington County Cattlemen's Association; American Shorthorn Association, and the National and PA Grazing Lands Coalition. In his spare time, he founded the Beaver County 4-H Stockman's Club; participates in the Beaver-Lawrence County Farm Bureau, the PA Shorthorn Association, PA Livestock Association; the Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia Cattlemen’s Association.
Like every CBB member, all that volunteer work turned him into a 'well-seasoned' cattlemen who could bring years of hands-on experience to the job.
"I enjoy working with the National Grazing Lands Steering Committee," he explained as he talked about his volunteer work. "We have a lot of land in this country that is only suitable for grazing and we need to manage it for best productivity."
"I got involved with the NCBA at first and I spent several enjoyable years working with those folks. When the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau asked if I would volunteer for the CBB, I agreed. I really didn't think I would be selected."
He was selected, though, and he was appointed by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. He serves on the Innovation Committee. "I find the work to be very interesting," he said, explaining that there are a lot of interesting people on the board. "They work very hard, getting a lot of bang for the buck. I'd like to see more money in the pot, there hasn't been an increase in funding since we started and we're working with only half the money we had, but we still manage to do an amazing amount of work."
Caring for the land
In 2004, McElhaney Family Farm was named a Region I Honoree in the prestigious Environmental Stewardship Award Program. Read more about conservation at McElhaney Family Farm here. The ESAP has annually recognized the outstanding stewardship practices and conservation achievements of U.S. cattle producers from across the nation. Regional and national award winners have been commended for their commitment to protecting the environment and improving fish and wildlife habitats while also inspiring the next generation of land stewards. While the program highlights stewardship, it also provides fellow cattle producers with examples and ideas which may be useful on their own farm and ranching operations.
The Environmental Stewardship Award Program was established in 2009 by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and is made possible by the generous sponsorship of Dow AgroSciences LLC and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the United States Department of Agriculture