When Ronnie Nuckols and his brothers inherited Overhome Farm from their father in 2008, they split the land and the herd of cattle between them. The land handled the transition well; the cattle did not.
“Cattle socialize, they form groups, so they became unsettled and more difficult to handle,” Nuckols remembers. “I was so inexperienced, and I think they fed off the stress they could see in me. It was traumatic for everyone.”
That was the first step on a steep learning curve, and Nuckols has been learning ever since. “The first year I just tried to survive. But I started to ask myself, how can I turn this around so that I’m managing the cattle and they’re not managing me?”
Tips from more experienced cattlemen led him to the Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), serving Goochland and Powhatan counties. “They came out and gave me hands on instruction on how best to do things. They also led pasture walks and farm visits on other operations so you could see how they were managed.”
With the help of that knowledge base and the cost-share programs available through the Monacan SWCD and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nuckols improved the 60-year-old boundary fencing on the property, added interior fencing to protect the streams and ponds where cattle had done some serious damage, and installed alternative livestock watering sources. He says that the improvements, along with designating some wooded buffer zones, meant that about 50 acres of land were no longer available for livestock use.
That may seem like a lot, but what the cattle lost, his family gained. “Once we got the cattle out, we could use those areas for other things,” he says. “We created a trail by the river that my wife, Cheryl, and I really enjoy walking along. We were able to put in a playground, a tree house and a zipline for the grandkids. It’s been a great opportunity to let them enjoy what nature provided.”
Nuckols completed his stream-exclusion practices with the Monacan SWCD in 2010. He was so impressed with how well they assisted the farm community, he says, that he ran for a four-year director position. First elected in 2011, he is now serving his third term.
In order to protect his 175-acre portion of Overhome, Nuckols donated an open-space easement on the property to VOF in 2016. The easement eliminates the possibility of dividing the land, makes the stream buffers permanent, and limits the impermeable surface allowed on the property. Nuckols converted the tax credits from the donation into cash so that he could invest in additional fencing, pasture reseeding, and improvements to farm structures.
Nuckols now hosts farm visits at Overhome to help other landowners manage their cattle sustainably. Because he practices rotational grazing, he has been able to turn some of his surplus pastureland into wildlife habitat. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recognized his efforts in 2019 with a regional award as an outstanding land steward in the cattle industry.
With all he’s achieved at Overhome, Nuckols says he isn’t done learning yet. “I hope it never stops changing. I want to keep trying new things, even if they might not all work. I want to keep that open mind in the future.”