On a sunny but chilly March morning in Waterford, Va., I stood in an 18th-century barn with the owners of Buchanan Farms, Sharon Buchanan-McIntosh and Burt McIntosh. The mixture of hay, livestock and aging wood created that sweet but earthy smell that barns always seem to have.
The farm is, wholeheartedly, a family-run business, and the McIntosh’s come from a long line of farmers in the area, dating back to 200 years. Burt farms over 1,000 acres—about half is rented and half is owned—and they have approximately 300 head of cattle that he manages.
Buchanan Farms specializes in black angus beef, heritage breed pork and lamb. “We are a closed herd, and a closed operation,” says Sharon. “So, we’re not buying any livestock.” Burt explains, “That prevents disease—not buying cattle out of the market and bringing them back here with shipping fever.”
As Sharon starts to speak, a cell phone begins to make engine-like “vroom, vroom” sounds from Burt’s pocket. With a snicker, Sharon makes note of his manly ringtone before she goes on to say, “The cows are always out on pasture, and we also provide their feed ourselves.”
Burt grows his own corn, barley and hay, which he uses to make different mixtures of feed for the livestock. “Everything we do– the bottom line– is to make a better meat product in a natural way,” says Sharon.
Buchanan Farms takes great pride in their beef. “Anything that is not market fit, or is what we feel ‘not perfect,’ goes to the market auction, so it’s not getting into our sales,” explains Sharon.
When a steer reaches 19 months and around 1,300 - 1,400 pounds, Burt begins to dry finish them. “Burt picks out the best of the best- the fat cattle, and he continues feeding them.” During the last 90 days, the cows are only fed ground, dry corn and dry hay, which helps make “the meat more tender,” says Sharon.
The finished product can be found at the Leesburg Brambleton Farmers’ Markets on Saturdays. “We sell quarters, halves and whole cows. And we’ll sell pigs whole, as well,” says Sharon.
After we left the barn, we walked out into the field with the cows. Watching Burt ahead of us, Sharon proudly says, “It’s a labor of love, and he loves doing it.”