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Veteran and Family Pivot Back to the Farm with Irish Dexter Cattle

After years in government and corporate careers, Corey and Esther Read, Cumberland County, decided to pivot their lifestyle two years ago. “We wanted to raise our daughters on my family’s farm in Wyoming County and try to return the operation to glory,” Corey shared.

“Farming was my life through high school,” continued Corey, “but I wanted to run away from it.” A U.S. arine Corps veteran and government security contractor, Corey’s career further propelled him away from the farm before he eventually felt called back.

“Over time the farm changed. There was an opportunity modernize the processes and make them more efficient,” continued Corey. “It’s overwhelming, but I think for veteran farmers it’s an easier transition because of the hard work component.”

Corey and Esther knew that they wanted to start a farm on the family farm, focusing on beef cattle. While Corey’s parents raised Angus cattle, Corey and Esther wanted a dual-purpose (meat or milk) breed, settling on Irish Dexter cattle.

Known as the “homesteader cattle,” Irish Dexters are approximately half the size of a full-size Angus cow. Easy to handle, the hardy cattle require small acreage and easily calve on pasture. With seed stock sourced from six states, Corey hopes to bring quality Irish Dexter Cattle genetics to the northeast.

“It’s a completely registered herd,” explained Corey. “Over time, we think we’re ahead of the curve, with a little niche. Purposefully, we thought it would be the best decision for business success. We can sell the animals for many different reasons.”

Long term, Corey and Esther intend to sell seed-stock live animals to other homesteaders. “While that’s our primary goal, we do have the option to sell beef,” said Corey.

Today, much of Shupp Hill Farms beef sales is Angus with half and wholes. “We added the retail because the demand was so high initially with COVID restrictions out in the market,” remembered Esther.

“Launching a business plan during COVID was tough,” Esther remembered. “It’s where we’ve learned to improvise and think about things differently. We also discovered regenerative agriculture. How do we change our farming practices from the previous three generations? How do we move in a completely different direction with smaller animals and leave a smaller carbon footprint? It’s been an exciting journey and we’ve enjoyed every step of the way.”

Corey agrees. “We’ve failed in various areas, but learned a lot of good lessons in the process,” he said. “Our business plan is a living document, constantly changing. As an example, COVID didn’t exist when we wrote the initial plan.”

Corey and Esther point to a trifecta of federal, state and private money, including three different USDA grants and the jumpstart grant, for their initial success and their farming network including the Pennsylvania Veteran Farming Project.

“The jumpstart grant really helped us update our equipment,” explained Corey. “We purchased a new-to-us baler and wrapper so we can take hay off faster, with more cuttings and better quality in our rainy northeast summers. The grant is elevating us to the next level on our farm quicker.”

The Reads also earned Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) tax credits. Tax credits provided by the REAP program helped Corey off-set the costs of implementing conservation practices on the farm, such as cattle walk to keep animals out of waterways. 

In the near future, Corey wants to use the new state tax incentive programs, referenced in the “Who Will Farm the Land?” article in this issue, that help new farmers work with neighbor farms to lease and purchase additional lands for expanding operations.

Learn more at: shupphillfarms.com or on Facebook or Instagram at @ShuppHillFarms

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