Capon Crossing’s grass-fed cattle are at the center of a farm that finds time to pick and grin
Located on Route 259 just short of the Hardy County line, Capon Crossing Farm got its name because you have to cross the Cacapon River to get there, no matter where you are coming from.
Farm owner Sandy White shares the farmhouse with daughter Aliza, her husband Buddy Dunlap, and their 3 sons, Ben, Will and Sam. Sandy’s son Jake lives elsewhere on the property, in a cabin behind a now unoccupied house built by Henry Frye, who founded Capon Springs.
The farm is known for its grass-fed beef. Its use as a venue for special events came to a halt due to limits placed on public gatherings, but once restrictions are lifted, it will again be busy with monthly Bluegrass in the Barn concerts and with weddings.
Business is up since the meat shortage earlier this year. They have been butchering more cattle, and Buddy notes “we haven’t bought meat in a long time.”
At first they worried their butcher might run short of the plastic wrap used for the meat, since the North Carolina factories that manufacture the wrap were shutting down, but so far they have had no problem.
The beef they sell is grass-fed, start to finish. Back in 2006, Sandy tried comparing a grass-fed steer to one that had been fed corn, and realized he could fatten his cattle just as well on grass. None of the cattle has been fed corn since then.
Grass is a cow’s natural diet, and grass-fed beef is widely agreed to be healthier — leaner and richer in vitamins, antioxidants and beneficial fats.
There are approximately 124 head of Black Angus cattle on the farm, all pastured on the far side of the river in fields fenced back 21 feet from the water, as required by their conservation easement.
Buddy plans to cut cedar trees growing in the pastures for posts to fence more land. “We’re all about functional,” says Aliza.
They bring the cattle to the near side of the river for the winter, to make it easier to keep an eye on them, and to haul hay when needed.
Hay is their biggest expense, but Buddy estimates it would cost almost as much to grow it as it does to buy it.
They would need their own haying equipment, and the fields used for hay could be used to raise more cattle instead. Buddy says it makes more sense to extend grazing, slaughtering some of the extra cows if necessary to pay for the hay they need.
Sandy put the current herd together in 1991, after travelling to Montana to talk with such well-known Black Angus cattlemen as Dale Davis of Rollin’ Rock Angus. “I learned from the best,” he says.
He has given management of the farm over to Buddy and Aliza, now describing himself as a “consultant” — though he still heads out to shepherd cattle and look over the fields most mornings, carrying a thermos of coffee and a peanut butter sandwich.
He bought the land making up Capon Crossing Farm in 2003 and 2004 — first the Frye Farm, which sits right on the Hardy County line, and then the neighboring farmland, selling Willow Grove, his family farm in Winchester, and applying for a conservation easement that now protects all 555 acres of land.
Aliza says it was the farm that brought her and Buddy together.
Sandy was staying on the farm alone, with his wife back in Winchester, when he broke 8 ribs in a horseback riding accident. Aliza and Buddy started caring for the farm, even though they had only been dating a few weeks.
Sandy was still feeding the cattle corn, and Buddy could lift the 100-pound bags, endearing him to Sandy as well as Aliza.
Buddy was the first to use the barn for a special event, expecting maybe 20 people to come to the first concert of his award-winning band Bud’s Collective.
Seventy people showed up, and within a year audiences grew to 400. They have now offered Bluegrass in the Barn concerts monthly for 8 years without a cancellation for reasons other than snow, until this spring.
Then someone asked if they could get married in the barn, and now the farm does weddings.
Wedding groups are allowed to use the property as they wish, some marrying in the barn and some outside. “It’s always neat seeing what people do — every wedding is different,” says Buddy.
The farm store now sells grass-fed lamb along with beef. Aliza tends a herd that has grown from 4 Katahdin sheep to about 40, and says they do well if protected from the coyotes, but have “predator issues.”
She wants some Great Pyrenees, dogs bred to herd sheep and guard them from bears and wolves. Cows deal with coyotes on their own, but sheep need protection, she says.
They have a home garden but don’t raise vegetables to sell commercially — too much work, and do well enough with the meat they sell retail out of their farm store their meat not to need it.
Except for the loss of wedding business (no wedding in the barn this year) and Bluegrass in the Barn performances, the family says things on the farm haven’t changed much due to COVID-19.
The children were already being homeschooled.
Buddy has been kept home more, with no gigs, so he is training a couple of horses for extra income.
The farm store is open, business has been good and life goes on much as usual on Capon Crossing Farm.