Pratts turn boy’s dream into notable Angus farm
By JANE W. GRAHAM
ATKINS, Va. — A love of farming is the foundation of Echo Ridge Farm, a registered Angus seed stock operation that began with the purchase of one cow on Christmas Eve in 1965 and a boy’s dream.
C.W. Pratt, then an FFA member, purchased the cow that still has descendants on the farm, which is known for raising quality bulls for commercial cattle producers.
He has followed his childhood dream and in the process created a farm with a reputation for excellence.
Last year the Evergreen Soil and Water District gave the C. W. Pratt Family its Conservation Farm Family of the Year Award.
C.W.’s son, Jason, recently left a position with Virginia Cooperative Extension and has joined his dad full-time on the Smyth County, farm.
Jason’s wife, Dr. Paige Pratt, is also involved in the farm and works full time for VCE as state youth livestock specialist.
The younger couple, married in May 2011, returned from Hawaii last month where they were second in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Excellence in Agriculture competition.
They won the Virginia competition and represented the Old Dominion at the national convention.
The trip they won at the national level also served as their honeymoon, Jason said. Haymaking had taken precedence over a wedding trip after they were married on a hill at Echo Ridge.
The trio talked about the farm as they checked on a herd of cows and calves.
They attempt to market 80 registered Angus bulls every year to serve commercial herds here in Southwest Virginia as well as in the neighboring states of Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Their location, near Virginia’s borders with these states, helps in their marketing efforts.
The farms in these areas tend to be smaller operations where farmers running a few good cows are eager to buy quality bulls nearby.
The Pratts marketing strategy is simple.
They sell them in production auction sales on the farm twice a year. One is held on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
“There is no shopping here,” Paige quipped, referring to the day many Americans begin their Christmas gift shopping in earnest.
The second is held on the first Saturday in April.
The Pratt’s hold their sales in a new multi-purpose barn that is equipped with sale ring, bleachers and pens behind it for the cattle.
The operation that started with one cow now runs around 200 cows with spring and fall calving herds.
While they keep many of their replacement heifers, the Pratts do not have a closed herd.
In the 1970s, C.W. purchased some cows from the Graham’s Angus Herds in Albany, Ga.
“At that time it was one of the top performance herds in the country,” he said. “They were known for having cattle with a lot of growth and milk.”
These purchases contributed to the Pratts’ foundation for building a performance based herd.
The cattle are fed on steep hillside pastures and get hay when it is needed.
The Pratts said while they would like to feed some corn silage the terrain is too steep for the equipment needed to grow it.
They have just finished installing a CREP water project that involved putting in a 400-foot deep well near the top of a hillside.
Water is pumped from the well three hours a day, and fed to five watering troughs downhill from the well. The pump is equipped with a timer.
They have also developed some springs on their farms and used big equipment tires with concrete bottoms for troughs.
C.W. credited Danny Boyer, now retired from NRCS, with helping develop those systems.
Asked if it was a hard decision to leave his job as Extension agent in Pulaski County, Va., Jason said he learned a lot there and met a lot of good people.
“I’m back home,” he continued, “doing what I enjoy. When I had the opportunity that made my decision a little easier.”
His enthusiasm is apparent as he talks about his decision to return to the farm.
“This is what we live for, mating cows and getting calves on the ground,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate to select cows that are getting better and better.”