Empowering an Organic Dairy

Terry Ingram operates Threlkeld Farm and has participated in both state and federal cost-share programs to enhance his farm and dairy program. Operating an organic dairy requires understanding and serious cooperation with nature. A farmer must plan to manage the land in a way that essentially allows it to care for itself. By implementing Best Mangement Practices, Terry has taken a double step forward in managing his dairy and enhancing his farmland.


As a farmer who just recently started his dairy, Terry was able to design Best Management Practices which assist the movement of cattle between grazing pastures and provide water in every paddock. These projects allow him to manage the land organically; protecting natural resources by keeping the cows out of the streams, the nitrogen in the soil, and the natural processes wholly functioning.

  • Acreage: 250 acres for grazing and occasional haying if the pasture is far from the dairy barn.
  • Type of farm: 170 milking cows (mostly Jerseys) plus calves, bulls and heifers for a total of 300.
  • Funded Conservation Practices:
    Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Soil and Water Conservation District hardened surface paths and stream crossings and cross fencing — 10 year contract
    SWCD organic cost-share, rotational grazing and hardened lanes — 3 year contract

Best Management Practice: A voluntary farm installation that improves water quality.

Hardened Stream Crossing: Hardened area to provide access across a stream for livestock and farm machinery. This improves water quality by controlling bank erosion and reducing sediment by providing a controlled crossing and stream access.

Rotational Grazing: Type of management in which livestock is periodically moved to fresh paddocks to allow pastures time to regrow.

Hardened Lanes: Protection of water quality by stabilizing travelways used by farm equipment and livestock to prevent erosion.

An Interview with Terry Ingram

In the summer of 2010, PEC Fellow Sarah Brey interviewed Terry about the successful Best Management Practices he has established on his organic dairy farm in Culpeper:

When did you start farming?

This farm has been in my family since at least 1828. My great uncle and my grandfather had the two remaining original tracts of the land that my mom's family owned and my grandfather kept a dairy here. I started farming in 2005 on a leased farm and I moved here to my current farm in 2006.

How did you hear about Best Management Practices?

My mom has been active in conservation programs for a long time. There is a concrete trough that she installed on the land that runs from a spring. It is continually flowing, fed by gravity, and then the water just flows on into the stream (like it would have unimpeded).
I heard about the special programs they have for organic farmers and grazing cattle by word of mouth from other farmers.

Once you decided to implement Best Management Practices, how long did the process take from start to finish?

We had nothing set up on the land for pasture grazing when we started here four years ago, just some old fence. Since the eighties, there were row crops where all my pastures are now, so it has taken a while to get the grasses back up to how they look now.

Were there any setbacks?

Weather can sometimes get in the way. It's also important to know that you have to wait 30 days to get your cost-share money.

Are there any aspects of the process which you figured out along the way which would have been helpful to understand in the beginning?

The comprehensive plan is what it looks like on paper but it is important to hedge what you are spending in case something doesn't come out exactly like the original plan. It has to work out on the paper and on the ground, so you have to take your time with the planning and actually go out and look at the physical measurements of a project.

Have your projects yielded any economic benefits?

We did most of the improvement work ourselves, instead of hiring out contractors, and I was able to save money that way. Plus, the bank was more willing to give me loans for projects because it is a program guaranteed through a government agency.


Has the character of your land changed in any way as a result of the project?

The cost-share projects have led to cleaner farming. The cows aren't going down in the creek and getting muddy and the lanes don't become such a mess to trudge through. It's not like on other grazing farms where they run 100 cattle twice a day from the barn on the same lanes. That can get to be quite a mess.

Has the project led to any other changes in your land and the way you use it beyond the projects specific purpose?

We try to do everything (breeding, calving, etc.) in sync with nature and the seasons. There have also been changes in the use of specific fields. There is one field which is a good distance away and is on the stream which I can now use just for haying instead of grazing so far from the barn.

Are you considering any continuing practices after your contracts retire?

Having interior fencing and water sources everywhere is very important to my system of seasonal management. We also have been able to put in freeze proof waterers so we are not limited to one area of the farm during the winter season. I will continue to keep up the waterers and fencing system for the ease of management of the farm.

How do you feel that your participation in the program fits into the larger picture of things?

It benefits the farm and the taxpayers.

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