Slowly but Surely
Having grown up on a farm in Indiana, Roy Ramey decided very early that he would never be a farmer. He went to college, chose a course of study for its relative ease, and following graduation, joined the armed forces. After his tour he stayed in, serving in the National Guard and currently employed at Marshall University for the ROTC program.
But working the land was deep inside him and soon he and his wife Fran were searching the Ohio River Valley within commuting distance of Huntington for a farm. Mason County has some of West Virginia’s prime agricultural land, but Roy found it to be a bit beyond the budget. Annoyed he was no longer in line to inherit acreage, he purchased 37 acres in Lesage pretty close to Hillbilly Hotdog but on the uphill side of Route 2, calling it Avalon Farm.
His goal is to provide food for his family, and to sell the excess to the public. He is excited about the plans for the Wild Ramp market in Huntington, but feels at this time he would only be a small producer able to bring products to the market sporadically.
It has taken him several years to clear the overgrown farm and the woods roads to access the upland meadows. His three goats are useful for that job; he pens them in an area that he has partially cleared and in a matter of time, the brush has provided forage and he can re-position the pen. He plans to run cattle in the upper meadow area and is considering Dexters. He also plans on obtaining some hogs and will run fencing for them to forage on acorns in the woods.
Right now, he has chickens and enjoys their eggs and meat. He told me how he had incubated the eggs. I learned that the breed of chickens he has is not good at sitting on their eggs, so in order to actually have live chicks, he needs to use the incubator. He then segregates the chicks for a few weeks until they get large enough to pasture.
Some chickens are kept up the hill where they free range during the day and return to a fenced pen and shelter at night. He also keeps some chickens in a movable pen (called an EggMobile) in a pasture in his creek bottomland. By moving the pen daily, the manure works into the soil and does not need to be otherwise removed. The grass regrows quickly. He has modeled many of the concepts he is implementing based on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
The chickens in the pasture are protected from predators, forage for insects and eat feed he provides every two days. He provides water twice a day. In time, he will slaughter the birds. He is planning to build a WhizBang Plucker. After plucking his last batch of chickens by hand he looks forward to a 4-bird 20-second pluck that he can watch.
Roy took me around his acreage in his 4-wheeler and showed me his apple trees. Planted years ago and neglected, he plans to take cuttings and nurture a small orchard to maturity. In several other areas he showed me where the wild raspberries are growing and how he plans to clear some to more easily harvest the crop. Near the top of the farm is a meadow filled with blooming clover, an ideal place for some bees. In addition, he has a considerable amount of sassafras on the land and has enjoyed making tea. Roy showed me where he had built some raised beds for planting vegetables. He explained that the a group of Marshall students who belong to the Student Environmental Action Coalition came out to learn how to develop a small raised bed for square foot gardening. The SEAC also has become active with Roy’s guidance in collecting kitchen waste from the cafeterias on campus for composting
I asked Roy to describe a typical day, because it sounded like he had an awful lot on his “To Do” list and I wondered how he managed all that. He leaves home each weekday morning between 5:30 and 6 to head to Marshall for PT. He leaves Marshall between 4 and 5pm. Once he gets home and changes clothes, his first priority is always the animals and what he calls “preservation of life”. He makes sure food and water is adequate and the pens are safe and secure. Only then can he get to a project: working the garden, building new pens, building the plucker, repairing a shed, and clearing more brush. And of course, there is Fran and their 3-year-old Abby, at home and the heartfelt reasona why he is trying to get Avalon Farm up and running well.
Roy Ramey-Avalon Farm