The Pastures of Rose Creek farm in Watkinsville, Ga., has been a family farm for four generations. Now run by Will Powers and his sister Francie, the land that was once worked by their great-grandfather is now home to 100 grass-fed cows and 150 free-ranging chickens.
Will began farming in January 2011. He had just returned home from working as a raft guide in Colorado. Francie joined him a year later after quitting the job on Capitol Hill she’d held since graduating college. They came home to begin something bigger, to contribute to an effort that was stitched into their very DNA.
Their tasks were just as physical as Will’s adventures out West, if not more. They began spending their days dedicated to a garden, working hard to grow while following Certified Naturally Grown practices despite the heat-and-insect-ridden morass that is inescapable in the South.
“I really didn’t enjoy going out at three in the morning and weeding because it’s too hot at 12 in the afternoon,” says Will, whose emphasis has now shifted to the cows and chickens he raises on the land. “But two years later, we had beef to sell, and it really made a difference on the turnaround of what we were deciding to do.”
With the first hundred head of cattle, Will practiced herding them from one portion of their 180 acres of pasture to another. He has perfected this process, developing a system that he now likens to using his land like a person would eat pizza. He keeps the cows in one slice of the pastures at a time and rotates them after they’ve essentially depleted the grass in that area. The cows are limited to those acres (but still given substantial space to roam) by temporary electrified fences that he moves with the herd. This allows each "slice" of grassy pasture to recover as the cows are moved from one section to the next.
Will and Francie work tirelessly to make sure that their cows are given the best possible treatment. “I spoil these cows,” Will says, “they are spoiled rotten. The worst part of their lives is the trailer to the [slaughter], and that’s the hardest part of my job, too.”
Will and Francie made their process more holistic by bringing in chickens. The chickens rotate behind the cows to clean up after them, scraping the piles of cow pies and eating the bugs that could otherwise wreak havoc on the cows. It's a delicate process, because to put the chickens behind the cows too soon would allow them to eat the bugs that the soil needs, like dung beetles. Typically, the chickens are moved onto a section of pasture three days after the cattle have moved over. This eliminates the need for chemical insecticides. It’s ultimately beneficial to the chickens, the cows and the consumers of the Pastures of Rose Creek products.
“In order to get those orange yolks, like you guys want and like we would like more of … [the chickens] have to free range,” Will says. “You can’t put them in a pen. They have to go around and eat the bugs in order to get the nutrients to produce the yolks like that.”
After years of intensive work and the occasional harsh reality alongside daily victories, life at The Pastures of Rose Creek is becoming systematic. Their output is growing. The farm now sells its cattle, eggs and produce not only to restaurants, at the Athens Farmers Market, the Oconee Farmers Market and at their Sunday farm stand, but now they are also offering the option to buy their beef in bulk. Family packs that contains a chuck roast, a sirloin, New York strips, cube steak and ground beef can be reserved via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). For those with less space in their freezers, a smaller pre-selected grouping of their favorite cuts, priced to save bulk shoppers $1 per pound, is also available.
“I could have had an easy, carefree life, but this is the bigger picture,” Will says. “This is more than me, this is the whole family and everybody involved here. Sometimes you gotta think past yourself. And I get to be outside, so I can’t ask for more than that.”
Story by Jodi Cash - First published in a Flagpole Magazine series called The Locavore
Photos by Paige French