LAZY CREEK FARMS – (1902 to 1986)
Lazy Creek Farms is a new name for the farm owned by the Layne Family and recognized by Virginia as a “Century Farm” (family owned 100+ years). We’re located in Beaverdam, a small community in Hanover County, VA. The original part of the farm was a 100-acre tract bought by Welford Hall Sr. (also known as Daddy Hall) in 1902. Daddy Hall was Gary Layne’s great grandfather; Gary has operated the farm since 1986. Gary’s grandmother and father were both born on the farm.
The farm was operated by Junior Hall (Daddy Halls’ youngest son and Gary’s great uncle) for many years until the summer of 1985 when he passed away. At the time Gary was interning at Deseret Ranch in Florida which had 33,000 mother cows running on over 300,000 acres. Gary had planned to return there as a junior manager after finishing his senior year at the University of Florida majoring in Animal Science; however, Gary’s mother and father were able to work with all the multiple heirs to keep the farm intact and they purchased it allowing Gary to move to Beaverdam, VA and begin the path to what is now Lazy Creek Farms.
LAZY CREEK FARMS – Gary’s Experiences (pre-1986 to 2013)
In Gary’s words:
When I came up here [to Lazy Creek Farm] I had a practical and in-depth beef cattle education. Florida is “cow country” and I was very fortunate to have some older professors that came from a ranch education. Mr. Don Wakeman was one of them. As a young man in the 50’s he managed a ranch, but devoted his life to teaching others. He developed a program called “Hands On” where students fattened multiple breeds of cattle and then slaughtered and analyzed the meat at the nearby school meat plant. I was a student in the program and later lived and worked at the university’s farm. The feeder cattle came from all over Florida where generous ranchers would basically donate for the students’ benefit. The breeds ranged from Angus to Zebu, literally. We were given a thorough education of the whole process: cattle to food.
Overflowing with knowledge and enthusiasm, I needed to get to work. There wasn’t much hope to live off the place, try as I may. I worked for several local farmers who all had something in common; they all had funny-looking, tall, skinny, black and white cows. Yes, I was in the middle of a very strong dairy area and boy did I feel out of place! Getting to know them I recognized they were very good cattlemen ….different, but the same. I sold bull semen (tried to anyway) for a year, worked through Virginia Tech for 5 years sampling milk and organizing dairy records, started and operated a dairy-beef enterprise for a few years with borrowed money, which miserably failed when corn that I needed went from $2 to $5 per bushel in a very short period simultaneously with what I sold going from 90 cents to 35 cents per pound (all of which was out of my control and just the nature of a generic commodity farm enterprise). At that time Dana (my wife) and I had Brittany and Dana was pregnant with our now 17 year old son, Montana, when I decided that I must find stable employment. We decided the winter of 95/96 I would pursue getting a Class A Contractors license.
I succeeded in getting the license and was blessed with many years of prosperity made possible by some very good employees and we were able to add land to the farm. When the Impression hit in 2008 it was bittersweet. The bitterness lasted for quite awhile as the sweetness simmered under the veil of hope. Fully recognizing the toll of time on me, developing a viable and sustainable farm enterprise that would outlast me was always in the back of my mind. Had it not been for the abrupt disruption perhaps I never would have dedicated the time necessary to start a food business where customers don’t rely on credit to transact with you and also get away from the generic commodity business of selling livestock on the conventional market, where no matter what you do to enhance your product you received no additional benefit.
Not fully comprehending it at the time, but in 1986 my cattle to food knowledge was already outdated. Economies of scale along with intense regulations had fractured the industry and pushed out small local business. The beef industry was extremely mature. Indeed, it was the meat packing methods that inspired Henry Ford to use the assembly-line method to build cars for the masses back when Daddy Hall was a young man. Very soon after this, foundational laws were put in place regulating the meat industry, which was motivated by Upton Sinclair’s novel published in 1906, The Jungle, that described unsanitary conditions in the meat packing industry. Today cattlemen are only paid for pounds and it doesn’t matter what makes the cattle gain, if it’s economical. It’s no wonder implanted hormones and low dose antibiotics have become routine. Small and medium sized meat packers have been forced out and now there are only 4 extremely large ones responsible for about 80% of all beef production. I’ve seen the once strong dairy farms in my area slowly and methodically erode with more than half of them getting out of the very difficult, low margin, generic commodity market.
Farming is tough business. I am a friend of agriculture, big or small, and I won’t demonize the practices, but how we produce beef is much different than the faceless, generic beef most of us eat. Globally, there is a need to feed a very large and growing population and to do it efficiently. Lazy Creek Farms can’t compete on price with the long established, high volume systems, but consumer choices drive the marketplace and their awareness that “the jungle” is more alive than ever has motivated us to start a unique enterprise of processing our own, wholesome meat and eventually slaughtering right here on the farm. We are choosing a path that we hope will honor the one Daddy Hall laid down for me and that is one to a continued future beyond my visit here. We are betting all but the farm in making a good workplace for many, a great farm for cattle, and pristine meat facilities to provide you wholesome and fresh beef delivered to your door. We hope and pray you will support us. We pride ourselves on producing good beef right here in Central Virginia that you and your family can enjoy and we guarantee it. This is where we are today.