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Farmer’s bout with drought

By CAROL SONES SHETLER - | Sep 15, 2020

MONTGOMERY – To everything there is a season and at the Sherman Cattle Farm on Brouse Road, the babes of summer come, grow and go on an annual basis. Calving begins in early spring doubling the size of the herd. “I hate delivering calves in cold weather, so through artificial insemination, we’re able to time birthing for early spring,” said herdsman Michael Sherman.

The herd’s patriarch is ‘Thunderstruck’ transported here from Utah and according to his owner, “Produces smaller calves causing less stress during delivery. The calves can grow outside and grow they do, gaining as much as four pounds per day. The first six months they nurse then are weaned,” Sherman said.

“The herd spends most of its time in outdoor pastures. To eliminate over-grazing, they’re rotated daily from one paddock to another where water is pumped then gravity-fed to each lot,” he said. Signage notes the farm has earned the Chesapeake Clean Water Award.

As summer days move along, preparations are made for winter feeding when calves are gone and the next season beckons. Sherman said, “Due to lack of rain, this has been a challenging year. Our hay crop is usually cut three times. This year the first cutting yielded about forty percent of the regular amount, the second cutting about ten percent, probably not enough to pay harvesting costs.”

For a supplement, the farmer planted a Sorghum-Sudan grass which grows well during dry seasons. “With no moisture, the grass germinated in 80 hours. In four weeks with only one shower it has grown waist-high. By harvest time, it should be tractor high and though a lesser quality, will maintain the herd over winter,” he said.

The grass will be feed first, then as gestation time progresses, the pregnant cows will be given the good quality hay to ensure their health and that of their offspring. For the 1995 Warrior Run High School graduate, a class in Forage Production Management was part of his Animal Science degree earned at Penn State University.

These babes are not bound to cross the local auction block for they are part of a herd of Registered Pollard Herefords. “Two years ago black Herefords were added making us the only breeder of its kind in the state. As this is a more calmer breed than Angus, we and perspective buyers are able to walk safely among them while mother’s barely give us a glance,” Sherman said.

“Our animals are guaranteed to be raised hormone free with the end result to provide the best product. When customers purchase premium certified Angus beef, a large percentage can come from black Herefords who produce tighter muscle content,” the herdsman said.

Of the new generation, females may become replacement cows for the home farm or for buyers. Bulls are purchased to provide other herds with their much sought after DNA. And too, some males are specifically chosen to be kept for a time at the PA Livestock Evaluation Center at Pennsylvania Furnace near State College. At the site, the animals food consumption is gaged with weight gains charted. Expenses are deducted from owners when the animal is sold. Billed as the largest consignment bull sale on the East coast, it occurs the last Friday in March. As yearlings, the bulls can weigh up to1200 pounds. Sherman farm animals have won many awards in both he Pollard and Black Hereford Classes.

At the farm, “No animal gets special treatment ensuring a true record that if it doesn’t measure up, its cut from the herd. To keep the profit line, everyone must earn their keep,” said the herdsman.

Sherman acknowledged that, “Farms are a great place to raise a family.” The couple spent five years in Philadelphia where his wife, the former Vanessa Amme of Turbotville, earned a Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering and is currently employed at Merck & Co, Danville.

The couple has three sons; eight-year-old Weston; Dylan, age 11; and Owen, age 13. As the latter is taking an on-line production course from Penn State, there is a look forward to farming by the future generation.

Although Michael was raised in Watsontown, he and his father, Don Sherman, Jr, came to his grandparents farm to help during harvest and haying season. Acquired in the 1950s by Don Sherman, Sr, the grandson purchased 100 acres for his cattle raising endeavor. Sherman is an 18-year employee of the U. S. Department of Agriculture with five years in the Philly area, and 13-years as Executive Director of the Lycoming County Farm Service Agency.

Sherman noted that, “Conservation is about living in cooperation with nature. Due to an over abundance of wildlife, we don’t raise our own food.” Instead, much of the families time is relegated to fields and barn where next spring, the cycle will repeat with calves who will come, grow, and go.