When Benson and Jamie Tiralla moved onto Benson’s family farm in 2007, the land had laid idle for a decade and a half. Like most farms in the region, Monnett Farms had been a tobacco farm, though some livestock had been raised as well. Monnett Farms was in need of a new farming strategy.
Both Benson and Jamie were working off the farm at the time. However, they began raising some livestock as a hobby and to supply their family’s needs. Friends asked if they could buy some of their meat, so they began to expand to the point that Benson was able to quit his surveying job and farm full-time. What has emerged is a multi-species livestock operation of which to be proud.
The farm is designed for pasture rotation and to keep the livestock in and the critters out. Most of the open land, about 40 acres, is fenced with seven-wire electrified fencing. Even their huge Angus bull is no match for the strong electric fence. They use Kencove electric polywire fencing to set up the temporary pastures, moving the animals every one to seven days to new pasture, depending on the conditions and paddock size.
Benson led the tour around the farm, pointing out its features, the qualities of the breeds, their farm management practices and farming philosophy. The breeds are carefully selected for meat quality, maternal characteristics and ease of care. The cattle, sheep and goats are all grass fed and are part of the pasture rotation. That helps to control pests and undesirable plants. They do not spray herbicides. He allows the pasture one to one-and-a-half months to recover, before the animals return to graze. Leaving roughly six inches of grass helps the pasture during dry spells. Their pastures looked good during the tour even though the summer has produced about half of the normal rainfall.
In the winter, they feed the livestock hay, moving the feeding locations around the pasture. They grow all of their own hay but aren’t sure that they will continue replacing the equipment. It may be more cost efficient to buy hay when needed.
Similar to Joel Salatin’s approach to pigs, they keep them mostly in the shade, along the forest edges, giving them a place to dig and wallow, while they also help control the forest from taking over the pasture. When they raise meat chickens, they move them around on pasture in a structure. However, they believe that processing is difficult, and not very cost-efficient, without a regional facility for poultry. They keep about 40 layer chickens near the house.
When it comes to marketing, Jamie is a real asset for the farm. She is a writer and is a regular contributor to the Southern Maryland This is Living and American Farm Publications. She maintains the Monnett Farms website and writes a farm blog.
They sell at two farmers markets. At the beginning of the year, they started selling at the Calvert County Farmers Market at Solomons Island. Then fellow START members David and Jennifer Paulk of Sassafras Creek Farm convinced them to sell at the California Farmers Market in the BAE parking lot. That market has brought them a number of new customers. They also sell sides of their beef and pork directly from the farm.
Jamie and Benson are very important members of the farming community. Their upbeat and proactive attitudes are appreciated at Young Farmers meetings and the START Farmers Network. Jamie is President of the Calvert County Farm Young Farmers Committee.
Benson mentions that they have had a lot of luck with their successes on the farm, but when you listen to him talk, it is quite evident that they have researched everything very carefully and followed the right steps. And healthy animals and healthy pastures with good fences help to allow them time for raising a family.